Shark attack leaves 8-year-old with leg wound in Phuket but beaches declared safe by marine expert
The attack comes as Thai authorities are battling to prop up the shark numbers off the kingdom’s coasts with a falling population and birth rate. There have been other isolated reports of shark attacks on Thailand’s beaches in recent years most commonly linked with bull sharks. Officials in Phuket led by Deputy Governor Pichet Panapong have assured the mother of the boy in this latest incident that everything possible is being done to respond to any potential danger and protect the public using the beaches on the island, among the most popular in the world which, in the past, have attracted up to 10 million visitors a year.
It has been confirmed that an eight-year-old Thai Ukrainian boy was bitten by a shark on Sunday while swimming in 1 metre of water at low tide at Kamala Beach in Phuket. Authorities on the island are moving to erect signage and notices but an American marine expert who confirmed that the bite mark suffered by the child was the work of a bull shark, also allayed public concern by saying that the beaches in Phuket are not threatened by sharks and are quite safe to holidaymakers bathing on the seashore.
A senior Thai official and an American marine expert have confirmed that a Ukrainian Thai boy who was injured at Kamala Beach in the Kathu district of Phuket on Sunday was the victim of a shark attack believed to be a bull shark, a species known to feed in waters off the resort.
On Sunday afternoon, a family group of about six people including the Ukrainian father of 8-year-old Napat Chaiyarak Christenko visited Kamala Beach where the tide was out approximately 30 metres from the shore.
The children of the family had been playing in water approximately 1 metre deep when they began to call adults for help.
Brave boy punched the shark, reported to be about 1 metre long, who immediately appeared to swim away
Napat afterwards told rescue workers that he had caught sight of the shark approaching in murky water and had reacted violently when the shark bit him on the right calf of his leg by punching it, a act which appeared to cause the shark, reported to be a metre in length, to desist and swim off.
The boy was rushed from the beach with a gaping wound which was bleeding profusely.
Taken to Bangkok Hospital Phuket initially, he received thirty stitches to close the wound and was later transferred to Mission Hospital Phuket where he was visited on Monday by senior officials including the Deputy Governor of Phuket, Pichet Panapong, as well as an American shark expert who confirmed to authorities that the bite was that of a bull shark.
Some locals suggested it was a barracuda fish
Initially, some local business owners including Mr Abhisit Anan had suggested to the media that the bite was related to a barracuda fish, a species which also lives near the shore in Thailand and has been known to attack human beings while growing to over a metre in size.
Mr Abhisit recalled an incident two years ago where it was understood that such a fish had attacked a Chinese tourist. Other local people suggested that the incident may have been caused by sea pike fish.
However, on Monday, Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong of the Centre for Marine and Coastal Resources Research in the Upper Andaman Sea confirmed that he thought the attack and injury to the young boy was caused by a bull shark.
On Monday morning, this was the firm opinion of Mr David Martin, an underwater photographer and marine life expert who was called in by Thai authorities to definitively state what had caused the severe but uniform bite marks seen on the young boy’s leg.
US marine life expert, David Martin, certain it was a shark, categorically ruled out a barracuda fish
Mr Martin was sent an image of the wound on Sunday and examined it closely. He said it was quite distinctive and he was convinced that it was the work of a shark.
He pointed out that bull sharks are known to use the area as feeding grounds and explained that the creature has a sensor on its nose that acts as a radar in murky waters.
He categorically denied that a barracuda fish was responsible.
‘We can rule out any doubt about a barracuda. Because the area at the scene of the incident is not a source of barracuda. Specifically, the wound was a wound caused by a shark. Both upper and lower teeth are combined. It was a sharp wound on both sides and had both upper and lower teeth snapped at the same time,’ he told reporters from his home in Phuket.
Senior marine official concurs with American expert but says such attacks are extremely rare in Thailand
This was elaborated on by Dr Kongkiat who appeared to be in full agreement with the American expert.
The Thai official pointed to the fact that the shark had desisted after the initial attack and said that such attacks were extremely rare in Thailand.
‘The area where the accident occurred was a stationary zone where the sharks were active. The incident was caused by the movement of the injured in the cloudy water. The shark then came in for food and thought it was food, therefore, biting the injured leg. But when it bit into it, it was not food. Therefore, it did not attack again. And it is very rare for this kind of event to happen,’ he explained.
The American, Mr David, also went to lengths to point out that bull sharks do not pose a direct risk to human life. However, he accepted that they can cause injury.
‘An adult bull shark grows to 3 metres in length. While the bull shark is not a vicious shark or harmful to humans, it just might misunderstand. And think of people as prey that can be eaten as food. In nature, bull sharks feed on smaller aquatic animals such as squids, shrimps, sea urchins and sea turtles. Bull sharks can swim in coastal areas or murky water. Because there is a radar at the tip of the nose, it recognises the movement of something in front of it very well.’
Phuket beaches not threatened by sharks or other species and are quite safe for holidaymakers to enjoy
The American went on to assure the public that, in his opinion, beaches in Phuket were safe environments for humans which are not threatened by sharks or other forms of marine life.
The boy attacked by the shark is part of a family with a Thai mother and Ukrainian father who live on the island.
Officials in Phuket told reporters that the boy’s mother has been assured that everything was being done in response to the attack including first of all confirming the species responsible and fully understanding what happened on Sunday.
Warning signs are expected to be erected quickly to alert tourists, particularly foreign tourists, to the situation as well as a move to increase beach guard patrols.
‘From now on, there will be beach guards to supervise tourists swimming in the sea. At the same time, warning signs and towers must be placed to watch over tourists during the arrival of the fish along the coast. And another thing might be using drones. But in the end, the best method is warning signs for tourists,’ explained the deputy governor Mr Pichit on Monday.
Other reported shark attacks in Thailand
Phuket’s beaches are noted to be among the most popular in the world and are a key reason why the island has, in the past, attracted up to 10 million foreign tourists a year.
Over the years there have been regular reports of shark attacks at popular Thai tourist resorts involving foreigners.
In 2018, Norwegian man Werner Daniels, a foreigner with a Thai wife, was believed to have been the victim of a shark attack at a beach near Hua Hin in April of that year.
Thai beaches are relatively safe from shark attacks when compared with other coastal regions such as Florida
That incident was also attributed to a bull shark mistaking the Norwegian’s foot for prey or food in murky waters.
At the time, there was reported tension between fishermen in the area and local authorities over the government’s conservation programmes designed to protect the bull shark population with some fishermen and locals suggesting that it was already too high in the area.
Two years later, in 2020, back in Phuket, it was 75-year-old German tourist Hans-Peter Malten who was then admitted to Bangkok Hospital Phuket when he was also bitten in the leg by a bull shark in waters off the beach in Phang Nga Bay.
German died from injuries in 2000 attack while diving off Ko Pha Ngan, never confirmed as a shark attack
There is also one case of a German tourist dying off the island of Ko Pha-ngan in January 2000 although this has not been confirmed as resulting from a shark attack despite one medic suggesting that it was from the victim’s injuries and bite marks.
35-year-old Stephan Kahl suffered traumatic injuries from bites to the rear calf of his right leg and right hand in an attack which occurred while diving 160 metres offshore.
The German passed away after being rescued to a beach after suffering severe blood loss from the wounds.
Thailand’s plan to conserve shark numbers
Despite this, marine experts and conservationists are working with the Thai government to counter what is seen as a crisis off Thailand’s waters with a steeply declining population of sharks.
It is thought that this is due to excess fishing and a lower birth rate among some species threatening to make them extinct.
In 2021, the Department of Fisheries under the Minister of Agriculture launched a conservation plan Thailand National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Shark, 2020 to 2024.
This proposed initiative was designed to step up conservation measures to help develop and grow the shark population while also improving the image of shark fishermen involved in the industry.