A fatal shark attack has been reported in the French Caribbean territory of St Martin, shocking many in the eastern Caribbean region where experts say such attacks are extremely rare.
Government spokesman Alain Rioual confirmed the attack to The Associated Press but declined further comment ahead of a press conference.
He said it’s the first time in the territory’s recent history that a fatal attack has been reported.
The attack occurred in Orient Bay, a popular beach located in the north-east part of the island that St Martin shares with the Dutch Caribbean territory of St Maarten.
No details on the person’s identity or nationality were immediately released, although local media reported the victim was an unidentified woman in her 40s.
There’s only been one unprovoked and non-fatal bite reported in St Martin, and it occurred in 2005, Tyler Bowling, manager of Florida Program for Shark Research, told the AP.
Overall, there have been 34 unprovoked bites in the Caribbean region since 2000, four of which have been fatal, he said.
The most common shark species in the region where today’s attack occurred are Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks, which don’t pose a risk, Mike Heithaus, shark researcher and dean of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education at Florida International University, said in a phone interview.
He said tiger sharks and bull sharks occasionally appear as well.
“Most times they’re not a threat, but they can be dangerous,” he said.
The majority of shark attacks in the Caribbean have occurred in the Bahamas, with two reported last year, one of them fatal.
A shark attack also was reported in Cuba in 2019, according to the Florida-based International Shark Attack File.
Program Director Gavin Naylor told the AP that he was surprised about the attack.
“It’s pretty unusual in that part of the world,” he said.
While no details have been released, Mr Naylor said such attacks are usually tied to mitigating circumstances including spearfishing or chumming, adding that 95 per cent of shark attacks are accidental.
He said most attacks in the Caribbean occur in the Bahamas because of its massive tourism.
“We see a very strong correlation between shark bites and the number of people in the water,” he said.