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Sharks may mistake some humans for birds

New report suggests kite surfers may be at risk
  Wikimedia Commons
Kite surfing, Oahu, Hawaii
High speed and intermittent touching of water surface could prompt strong feeding stimulus for sharks
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"We hypothesize that the shark may have confused the motion of the kite surfer, who was pulled by his kite without the board, with a bird overtaking the water."

—Eric Clua, French Polynesia-based marine biologist and veterinary surgeon

A case report documenting a fatal South Pacific shark attack suggests sharks may mistake recreational water users for birds. The report, published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, theorizes kite surfers may be at risk for such confusion. The victim, a 15-year-old kite surfing male, died after being attacked by a tiger shark in New Caledonia.

"We hypothesize that the shark may have confused the motion of the kite surfer, who was pulled by his kite without the board, with a bird overtaking the water," stated lead author Eric Clua, a French Polynesia-based marine biologist and veterinary surgeon.

Clua studied the victim’s remains along with study co-authors Pierre-Marie Bescond and Dennis Reid. Examination of the body determined the shark wrapped its entire mouth around the person's left leg, removing significant amounts of tissue in the process. A second bite was inflicted with almost no tissue loss. The location and nature of the attack along with tooth impressions on the body revealed the bites were inflicted by a nearly 3m tiger shark.

When the attack occurred, the teenager was kite surfing with a group of five others off the city of Koumac, on New Caledonia’s northwest coast. Water conditions were clear and warm with a temperature approximately 26 degrees Celsius.

The authors stated "when a kite surfer does lose his board and is pulled by his sail (kite) along the surface, such as in the present case, with relatively high speed and intermittent
touching down on the surface, it could represent a strong feeding stimulus for a shark."

Sharks in waters off Florida, Papua New Guinea and Western Australia have also attacked kite surfers but surfers suffer more shark attacks and fatalities. However,
as kite surfing grows in popularity, more attacks are expected. Tiger sharks and certain other sharks are known to feed on birds, as well as sea snakes, fish, turtles and marine mammals.

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