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Fish-feeding tourists may have drawn sharks

Image: A red danger flag flies on December 7, 2
A red danger flag flies on Tuesday at the beach in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resort where a shark mauled to death a German woman tourist . Illegal feeding may have sparked a rampage by a killer shark that has terrorized holidaymakers in Egypt's popular Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, a marine expert said. Str / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Experts in Egypt investigating an unusual series of shark attacks at one of the world's top diving destinations recommended on Monday strict fines for feeding the fish and dumping carcasses in the water.

South Sinai Governor Mohammed Shousha said Egyptian and foreign scientists also suggested building observation towers on the beach and running naval patrols to alert tourists against future shark attacks.

Last week a shark killed a 70-year-old German tourist while she was snorkeling, just a few days after sharks mauled three Russians and a Ukrainian tourist, sparking a closure of the beaches at Sharm el-Sheikh, an international holiday destination.

In their report, the experts, including George Burgess of the Florida Program for Shark Research, said the tourists feeding the fish and some livestock traders tossing carcasses into the coastal waters was behind the sharks' sudden interest in human flesh.

A decline in the numbers of fish the sharks are accustomed to eating due to warming waters from climate change and overfishing were also cited as possible factors behind the deadly spate of attacks.

'We were wrong'
Shousha admitted that the rush to reopen the beaches after a couple sharks were caught last week was a mistake. It was after swimmers returned to the waters that the German women was killed.

"I must say we were wrong at the beginning," he said, acknowledging that the two sharks caught were probably not involved in the attack. Beaches were immediately reclosed after the fatality.

Beaches should only be reopened once a system of patrols and observation towers was in place, said the experts.

They also recommended imposing strict fines on boat owners and tourists dumping bait into the water to attract fish for divers, relying on hotels and dive centers to educate visitors.

The governor added that past shark incidents can also be tied to the dumping of animal carcasses into the coastal waters.

The boat accused of sparking the latest incident by dumping dead sheep into the water has been fined $200,000, the governor added.

The resort at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula has boomed since the 1980s. There are some 100 hotels, long stretches of sandy white beaches, desert safari excursions and a vibrant night life.

Beach tourism is believed to contribute about 66 percent of Egypt's total income from tourism, which is expected to reach $12.3 billion by the end of the current fiscal year in June, Tourism Minister Zohair Garanah was quoted as saying in state-owned Al-Gomhuria daily.