Shark tears Frenchwoman's hands off in attack off Polynesian paradise island

Henry Samuel

AFrench tourist has lost both her hands in a rare shark attack in the Pacific islands of Polynesia, say emergency services.

The 35-year-old woman was swimming during a whale-watching trip on Monday off the island of Mo’orea - a honeymoon destination in the French overseas territory - when the oceanic whitetip shark bit into her chest and arms.

"Luckily for her, there were two nurses on the scene who could deliver first aid," firefighter Jean-Jacques Riveta told AFP.

“When we got to the hotel jetty, she was conscious but in a critical condition. She had lost a lot of blood and both her hands had been cut off at the forearm," along with part of her chest, he said.

She was airlifted to the nearby island of Tahiti, some 11 miles northeast. Her condition is reportedly stable.

The conservationist and oceanographic researcher Jacques Cousteau described the oceanic whitetip as "the most dangerous of all sharks”, notorious for picking off survivors of shipwrecks or downed aircraft.

However, attacks near land are uncommon as it prefers off-shore, deep-ocean areas and rarely approaches the coast.

The French tourist was attacked by an oceanic whitetip Credit: Jacek Dybowski/Mercury Press

Experts said the sharks, dubbed locally “parata”, are known to follow dolphin pods.

Pierrick Seybald, president of the Ma’O shark protection foundation and local whale-watching guide, said they can be approached as long as “you always keep eye contact with the shark and adopt appropriate body language with guides who know how to redirect them”.

Their numbers have declined steeply in recent years as they are prized as the chief ingredient of shark-fin soup.

Attacks are rare in French Polynesia but the French Indian Ocean island of La Réunion has suffered a string of them in recent years - 31 since 2011, including 11 fatalities, two in 2019 - prompting it to shut certain beaches and surf spots.

Earlier this month, local fisherman reeled in a 4.6m (13ft) tiger shark off the tourist resort of Boucan-Canot.

Local authorities issued warnings not to bathe or use motorised craft outside of the lagoon and to respect warning flags signalling recent shark sightings.

The International Shark Attack File, the longest maintained database on worldwide shark attacks, this year stated that shark populations are dwindling, mainly due to over-fishing and habitat loss.

"On average there are only six fatalities that are attributable to unprovoked shark attacks worldwide, each year. By contrast about 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year by fisheries."

However, it added: “As world population continues its upsurge and interest in aquatic recreation concurrently rises, we realistically should expect increases in the number of shark attacks and other aquatic recreation-related injuries."

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