Russia: Shark Attacks in Vladivostok

News of shark attacks normally come from places like Australia, California, Hawaii, or Florida. Even though these attacks do not occur that often, most people are terrified of sharks. Moreover, shark attacks have become a common theme in the horror movie genre. Reading news of shark attacks is like watching a horror movie; which makes it so difficult to believe that it might happen in places completely unknown for shark attacks.

On August 17, sharks appeared in the waters of the Japanese Sea next to Vladivostok and injured two men. This incident happened in the territory of the Primorsky Krai region – the southernmost part of the Russian Far East. August is the best month for seaside holidays in the region – it is the time when the sea reaches the ideal temperature, so that the many small bays of the area are bursting with tourists from the neighboring Russian territories who come to spend their vacations by the sea.

Hunger, by Flickr user Keoni Cabral (CC BY 2.0)

The Japanese Sea holds few real threats for people. Only clinging jellyfish represent a real danger for swimmers and then only during a short period, from late August to early September. This year, due to an abnormally hot summer, the jellyfish appeared in the water three weeks earlier [ru] than usual. Many people have suffered severely from their stings this season.

Jellyfish activity is not the only thing that has shocked the people of this area this season. Sharks are regular guests in the Japanese Sea, but their visits have never before been marked by attacks on people.

Jaws: Primorie edition

On the day of the first attack, a young couple was enjoying warm sea and a sunny weather, when the young man, Denis Udovenko, noticed a shark in close proximity – within about 30-40 meters from the shore [ru]. He sent his wife Polina to the shore and decided to attract the shark's attention so that it would not follow her. When the shark attacked the young man, by biting his arm, he demonstrated bravery and resilience by punching it in the nose. His efforts, however, did not stop the shark from attacking Udovenko's other arm. Luckily for him, some people on a nearby boat scared the shark off and saved the man’s life. Unfortunately, doctors had to amputate both Udovenko's arms below the elbows.

The next day, a 16-year-old boy was attacked by a shark while swimming several kilometers away from the place of the initial attack. People heard the boy screaming and came to his aid rapidly. The boy’s leg was severely injured, but the doctors were able to save it and informed that the boy that he would be able to walk again.

On August 23, the local news reported [ru] that a dead bear was found in the Japanese Sea. Two men were returning from a fishing trip when they noticed something black floating in the water. They carried the dead bear’s body back to the shore and discovered that the bear's paws were missing. They suspected that a shark had attacked the animal and mauled off its paws. Local authorities, however, believe the bear died of natural causes and that the missing paws were due to natural degradation of a body that has been in the water for a long period of time.

Hunting sharks

In the meantime, all this news caused hysteria in the region: people even started hunting sharks. It is said that several vessels were floating in waters where people had been attacked. The ‘hunters’ poured liters of blood into water and tried to attract sharks with chicken meat.

LJ user churkinsky_most pointed out [ru]:

[…] Note how they catch these sharks. As bait, liters of fresh blood is being poured into the sea, despite the fact that a shark has a sense of smell above average and can smell a drop of blood kilometers away. And here we have tens of liters of blood. And the blood is being poured near the islands, where normally a lot of people are resting.

There were even reports [ru] of local fishermen catching a shark of 2.2 meters long. Three men had difficulties pulling it into their boat. The local community reacted fast [ru]: people claimed that it was a Salmon Shark, which does not attack people, its jaws are not designed for cutting off pieces, that is why this shark has nothing to do with the two attacks.

Bloggers react and initiate a support campaign

These successive news stories have shaken the community of local bloggers. Some bloggers have written about the events expressing concern, while others have taken a more sarcastic tone to report about it. For example, LJ user Ditex joked [ru] that “there was no shark, it’s just a sprat from Fukushima that has overgrown.”

The governor of the Primorsky Krai region, Sergey Darkin, and Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, visited Udovenko in the hospital [ru] and have already provided assistance with his transportation to another hospital.

At the same time, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the leader of the newly-organized political party Pravoe Delo, expressed [ru] his desire to help the victims of shark attacks. No one, however, has yet contacted [ru] Udovenko or his relatives on behalf of Prokhorov.

It seems that some politicians have attempted to leap aboard the sympathy bandwagon, trying to gain points with the electorate by expressing their desire to support the victims. Certain bloggers have already highlighted the political undercurrent in this story, mocking Putin, referencing to the Prime Minister’s latest PR-stunt, during which he ‘accidentally found two ancient amphoras’ (video).

Putin and sharks by LiveJournal user YUSKEY_KUN

Putin and sharks by LiveJournal user YUSKEY_KUN

Or there is an alternative version of Putin riding a shark:

Putin riding a shark by LiveJournal user a_simakoff

Putin riding a shark by LiveJournal user a_simakoff

But the bloggers’ reactions were not only reduced to mocking of the politicians or defacing news images.

Acsinya, a blogger and Denis Udovenko’s friend, together with other users, organized [ru] an internet campaign raising money to help Udovenko get the proper medication and artificial limbs that he needs for recovery. Over the period of four days, the activists have raised 1.2 million rubles [ru] (approximately $42,000).

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