A Spanish tourist was left with a lacerated forearm following a Christmas day attack by a shark at the popular Canary Islands resort of Gran Canaria, an unusually timed incident which local authorities have been quick to downplay.
The attack took place after 38-year-old Cristina Ojeda-Thies enjoyed a Christmas dinner with relatives. Entering the water off Arinaga Beach on the island’s east coast for a swim afterwards, Ojeda-Thies was startled to feel something pulling at her left arm. She paid the strange sensation no mind, however, as it felt “like a dog biting you when it’s playing,” News.com.au points out.
— The Sun (@TheSun) December 27, 2015
Heading back toward shore, Ojeda-Thies felt a second, more intense pull on her arm, and just a half second later she found herself in the grip of a three-meter-long fish. Striking at the shark with her right hand, Ojeda-Thies lashed out in an attempt to drive the predator away. It was only when the shark released its grip on her arm that she noticed its distinctive fins, watching as the animal quickly swam off.
Ojeda-Thies described the shark as a large, grayish-brown fish, recalling after she struck it that it possessed hard, rough skin. Before reaching shore, Ojeda-Thies ducked underwater to see if the shark was following her, yet she couldn’t spot the animal anywhere nearby.
— Filipe Moura (@SunKuWriter) December 17, 2015
The swimmer noted that her wounds caused her little pain, saying that she had suffered more in the past by falling off her bike or burning herself while cooking. The run-in with the shark left her shaken, however, and Ojeda-Thies noted that she was frightened by the experience.
Experts said that the species most likely responsible for the interaction is the silky shark, as the Daily Mail reports. This species of shark is found worldwide in tropical waters, and can grow to lengths of 10 feet. They average in size around seven-and-a-half feet long, and can be potentially aggressive if approached directly.
Hoy he tenido un encuentro cara a cara con un tiburón. Cosas que pasan cuando nadas en Canarias en diciembre. pic.twitter.com/aZ7qSmnEGC
— Cris Ojeda-Thies (@ojedathies) December 25, 2015
Silky sharks are known for swallowing their prey (which mostly consist of bony fishes) whole. Fernando Frias, President of the Canary Islands Shark Alliance, noted that the shark bit Ojeda-Thies several times while attempting to treat her arm as if it was a wayward prey animal.
“It’s bitten her two or three times trying to swallow her arm whole and has not been able to.”
— Lateral Line (@yourlateralline) December 3, 2015
Frias also noted that the attack, which was likely perpetrated by a shark measuring six-feet-long, was something of an anomaly. He said that beachgoers have little to fear from shark populations in the area, asserting that it is unlikely such an attack will transpire again “in the next 50 years.” His assessment was echoed by Pascual Calabuig, director of the Wild Fauna Recovery Center in Gran Canaria. Calabuig pointed out that the shark attack was a “very rare” event, citing global warming as a possible factor in the presence of species not normally found off the Canary Islands at this time of year.
Over four million tourists visit the islands each year, with some 700,000 of them heading to Gran Canaria. While sharks are known to inhabit the area, silky sharks are not normally found there at this time of the year. Though Ojeda-Thies suffered several bite wounds to her arm, silky sharks have also never been responsible for a documented fatal attack on a human.