The key point about sharks in Thai waters is that there are no great white species. These are the killer sharks that have caused panic in countries like Australia and Egypt in recent times. In Thailand, it has been reported, in fact, that the shark population is falling. However, a spate of incidents in the last 20 years shows that there is an infinitesimal chance of being bitten by a shark if swimming in murky waters and at hours near dusk or dawn.

It is now believed that a 75-year-old European tourist, Hans-Peter Malten, was bitten by bull shark near the shore at a beach in Phuket on Sunday morning last. The man had decided to take a dip while out walking on the shoreline with his wife in the quiet of the early morning. A marine expert has suggested that the shark, a species which does not normally attack humans, mistook the Mr Walten’s leg for prey.

75-year-old German tourist Hans-Peter Malten in Bangkok Hospital Phuket prior to his release this week where he was given stitches for a large bite on his right calf and treatment for tendon damage. It is believed Mr Malten was attacked by a bull shark similar to the one which also attacked 54-year-old Norwegian Werner Daniels (inset left) while swimming in a secluded beach in Hua Hin in 2018.

An elderly German man has been discharged from the Bangkok Hospital in Phuket where he was treated for what marine experts believe was a bull shark bite early on Sunday morning at a beach in Phang Nga Bay near Phuket.

The story is disturbing as the man was swimming only 6 to 7 metres from the shore when the incident occurred.

Since then, some marine experts and commentators have come forward to point out that shark attacks in Thailand are rare and that in this instance, the bull shark mistook the German’s legs for prey. It is reported that after biting the man in the right leg, the bull shark disengaged and swam away.

German man believed by doctors to have been killed by a shark in 2000 despite official records

According to some reports this week including official records at the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, there have been no confirmed deaths from a shark attack in Thailand since records began in 1580.

However, while it may not have been confirmed by that institution, a doctor in 2000 who did a post mortem on 35-year-old German man Stephan Kahl who was killed that year after being attacked by some sort of marine species offshore on the island of Koh Pha-Ngan in Surat Thani province believed the man’s fatal injuries were the work of a shark.

It was suggested at the time, that the injuries to the German man’s right calf and hand were consistent with a bull shark attack although this was queried by local fishermen who were of the opinion that it was an underwater bass fish that killed the German national who was swimming at deep depths in the area.

Doctors at the local hospital told the media that the configuration and shape of the teeth marks on the German’s leg were however consistent with a shark bite. ‘I believe it was a shark,’ a hospital official asserted.

Mr Kahl died from severe blood loss from his wounds on the shore after being pulled from the water by friends.

Incidents of shark attacks from 2015 to 2018

There have also been several incidents of what are thought to be shark attacks between 2015 and 2018.

In April 2018, 54-year-old Norwegian Werner Daniels was rescued from the seashore after also being the victim on a what was thought to be bull shark attack on a secluded beach near Hua Hin.

A number of days later, a South Korean was also reported as being attacked. The Asian tourist only briefly attended hospital with minor injuries. He had defied a prohibition placed by local authorities after Mr Werner was attacked on the same beach as they investigated the attack and reports of heightened shark activity.

At the time, a local abbot and fishermen expressed concern about the expanding bulls shark population feeding near the beach.

In 2017, there was another reported shark attack in Phuket while in 2018 another was reported again in Surat Thani province, this time off Ko Tao island.

Australian woman bitten on the foot in 2015

Prior to this, in 2015, an Australian woman, 37-year-old Jane Neame was rescued from a Phuket beach by emergency services. She was found and treated with a bite to her foot which she suffered while swimming offshore. 

This was questioned at the time by a local shark expert. ‘It is very rare for a tourist to be bitten like this, and I have not been able to confirm precisely which kind of fish bit her foot,’ Tessapon Krajangdara told the media at the time.

This week’s attack occurred at 7.15 am on Sunday

The attack on the 75-year-old German this Sunday occurred sometime after 7.15 am. The incident was revealed to the press by the tourist police chief in Phuket Major Ekkachai Siri. The attack occurred at Ang Thong Beach in the bay.

Mr Malten had been taking an early morning walk with his wife on the seashore when he decided to go for a swim. He told authorities that he felt the presence of a large fish before he was bitten.

The German was rushed by rescue services and taken to a local medical centre before he was rushed to Bangkok Hospital in Phuket.

He received stitches for a large wound with a near 8-inch circumference. He also suffered severe tendon damage from the bite.

Marine expert from Kasetsart University suggests that German was bitten by a bull shark feeding near shore

Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat of Thailand’s influential Kasetsart University has suggested to the press that the attack on the German was likely the work of a bull shark due to the size of the bite.

Dr Thon suggested that the bull shark was engaged in early morning feeding near the shore and took a bite at the German man’s leg after mistaking it for prey in murky waters.

Caution should be exercised at dawn and dusk

Although insisting that shark attacks or bites in Thailand are extremely rare, the experts recommend that swimmers on beaches exercise caution about swimming near dawn or dusk as these would be the times for some sharks to move the nearshore in search of food.

Thailand does not have the same problem with sharks as other countries experience such as Australia

Thailand, however, does not have a serious problem with sharks offshore associated with horror stories like we see in Australia, Egypt, the coastline of Florida in the United States and South Africa.

The reason for this is that among the 14 types of shark that are found in Thai waters, the notorious great white shark is not to be found.

Dwindling shark numbers and preservation efforts

There are instead reports that the Thai shark population is dwindling according to some conservationists and tourists who enjoy underwater diving.

This has seen efforts to preserve shark populations such as the one near Hua Hin which provoked the concern of local fishermen before and after the attacks there in 2018 by the bull shark species.

However, as this week’s incident shows as well as the attacks between 2015 and 2018, there is also reason to be aware of the potential threat even if the chances are infinitesimal.

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Further reading:

German man bitten by a bull shark while taking early morning swim near the seashore in Phuket

Thai beaches are relatively safe from shark attacks when compared with other coastal regions such as Florida

Wife and mother from Northern Ireland flies to Thailand after tragic death of her husband

Phuket breakthrough on foreign tourism walked back on Friday by government spokeswoman