Beaches
These 4 shark attacks have been recorded in Malta over the years, but should you worry?
Know the risks.

Melanie Drury

There are no less than 36 known species of sharks in Maltese waters. The species include hammerheads, blue sharks and great white sharks. While most of the sharks pose no real risk to humans, great white sharks are known to breed near the islet of Filfla. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History (2012), there have been 22 recorded unprovoked white shark attacks in the Mediterranean since 1907, and the largest great white ever caught was in Maltese waters by a local fisherman.

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Truth be told, shark attacks have been recorded in Malta. But you can relax. In all recorded history, we know of just a handful of shark attacks in Malta, one of which is questionable. Therefore, you have a greater chance of being attacked by a dog. So what are the facts? The following shark attack files are reproduced from the Global Shark Attack File online

Shark attack in Malta 1890

On 25 February 1890, an incident took place in Marsascala by the Munxar Reef. Four fishermen - Salvatore Bugeja, Agostino Bugeja, Carmelo Delia and Carmelo Arela - were thrown into the water when their boat was rammed. Carmelo Delia and Carmelo Arela were rescued by two other fishermen, Felicjan and Tonio Delia, but Salvatore Bugeja and his son, Agostino, were never seen again. Some other sources state that the date of this incident was 25 April 1890 while others consider it to be the basis of the story attributed to March 1907, where an unknown father and son are also said to have perished to a shark.

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Shark attack in Malta 1907

On 7 March 1907, a father and son fell prey to a six-metre great white shark when they fell overboard during a violent argument while they were out fishing seven nautical miles off Marsascala. Both were taken in swift succession by the shark in view of other boats who attempted to rescue them. Joseph Carabott is a named witness to the incident but no official records have been found. Some believe this story relates to the incident of 1890.

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Shark attack in Malta 1956

On 20 July 1956, Tony Grech, a student, and Jack Smedley, his 40-year-old teacher from the Naval Technical School in Valletta, were out swimming near St Thomas Bay, when Mr Smedley was taken by a five-metre white shark While local newspapers covered the shark hunt for weeks and the tragedy kept the Maltese out of the sea all summer, there was also suspicion that ex-Naval Officer Smedley was actually murdered by Soviet divers for being an undercover British spy. 

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Tony Grech had described the incident in detail, "I couldn’t have been more than five feet away from Mr Smedley when suddenly he shouted, I turned to look at him and he had disappeared underwater. Next, I was being butted in the chest and pushed violently out of the sea. Underneath me was a large black fish. When Mr Smedley reappeared, he was doubled up in pain and his face was contorted. He said, ‘Help me!’ twice and then sank again.” When he failed to reappear, alone in the sea and afraid, Tony made for shore as fast as he could. The matter was reported to the police but no trace of Mr Smedley was ever found. 

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Shark attack in Malta in 2010

In 2010, 35-year-old David Bonavia had a close encounter with a three-metre shark of unknown species while windsurfing off Fort St Elmo, Valletta. Luckily, the surfboard got it and Bonavia lived to tell the tale. However, not everyone is convinced that the fish was indeed a shark, although the rescued man was treated for severe shock. 

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David Bonavia had fallen into the sea with panic when he noticed a fin next to his windsurfer. He quickly scrambled back onto his board and saw that the fin belonged to a shark. It kept circling the board for about forty-five minutes before biting a piece off the sail, after which Bonavia warded it off by hitting it with a metal hook from his harness. Bonavia's initial efforts to wave for help had been unsuccessful as people simply waved back, but eventually he managed to flag down a tourist boat and he was rescued by the Armed Forces. 

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The unusual behaviour of the creature in the 2010 incident led many to consider whether the big fish was a shark at all. Large tuna and dolphins are sometimes confused for sharks in ‘big fish sightings’. But, sightings do happen. A shark fin video uploaded to Facebook by jet skier Elian Mallia in June 2018 got over 76,000 views at the time of writing, and the video was published on the local news. 

There may be little need to worry about your own safety. However, many species of shark are actually protected in Maltese waters. Malta has research centres and programmes dedicated to shark conservation.

29th June 2019


Melanie Drury
Written by
Melanie Drury
Melanie was born and raised in Malta and has spent a large chunk of her life travelling solo around the world. Back on the island with a new outlook, she realised just how much wealth her little island home possesses.

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