Mexican fisherman decapitated by great white in first fatal shark attack of 2023

A Mexican fisherman diving for mollusks was decapitated by a great white shark in what is believed to be the first fatal shark attack of 2023, shark attack tracker Tracking Sharks noted Thursday.

The attack occurred on Jan. 5 when Manuel Niebla Lopez, 53, was between 36 to 59 feet deep in Tobari Bay off the coast of the Mexican state of Sonora, pulling mollusks off the seafloor. Doing so produces a sound that can attract sharks.

At around 11:30 a.m. Lopez was attacked by a great white shark estimated to be 19 feet long, according to Tracking Sharks. The victim was decapitated.

“He was diving when the animal attacked him, impressively ripping off his head and biting both shoulders,” José Bernal, a representative for local fishermen, told Sonoran news site InfoCajeme.

Fishermen had previously stopped going out on the water as of Dec. 30, 2022, after another mariner had an altercation with a shark.

“We decided to stop fishing after a colleague had an encounter with a shark when he was working, and then this tragedy happened,” Martín Ruelas, legal representative of the Loma Parda fishing cooperative, told Sonoran newspaper El Imparcial.

However, a government stipend of 7,200 pesos was not enough to sustain Lopez without the income brought in by fishing, especially in light of bad seasons for crab and shrimp.

“They had already warned us about the presence of sharks, we even had several days without going out, but the same economic crisis derived from shrimp shortages gave him courage and sadly death was his fate,” Mr. Bernal told InfoCajeme.

Bracelets purported to ward off shark attacks, given out after a fatal shark attack in the area in 2022, are ineffective, the fishermen say.

“They talked about the bracelet, that they were effective and then we realized that they are useless, we continue to be exposed and in danger of being attacked by an animal,” Mr. Ruelas told El Imparcial.

A resumption of fishing will now have to wait until the waters warm, driving the sharks elsewhere.

“More than anything for prevention we are going to have to stop removing [mollusks], we do not want another misfortune. At least between now and March or April, once the water temperature changes, we will return,” Mr. Ruelas said.

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