Dear Sir,

READING your article on the mysterious bites or stings suffered by bathers this summer, I agree with the statement from the Ministry of Agriculture that these bites are caused by a small bream. Not being familiar with the local names I cannot confirm the identity as “sargo”, but small bream are definitely the culprits. have recently returned from Minorca and I too was bitten while standing in shallow water at Son Bou. The first bite was to a partly healed insect bite. It felt like a pinprick. Using a facemask I was able to identify the culprits. They were small sandy coloured bream, about 5–6cm long, with slightly darker sand coloured verticle bars on their flanks. They are common in the shallows on the beaches and can be seen anywhere. I noticed that where a small group of these fish was present they would be attracted to me or my shadow while I was floating. If, however I put a hand or foot into contact with the bottom they became bolder and would approach closer and may take the occasional nip. They were attracted to wounds, as noted in your report, but not exclusively so, and they would also bite at other areas, including my legs and dead skin on my feet. These bites were not painful and only just noticeable. I assumed that the fish were performing a similar function to cleaner fish which are found on reefs and had mistaken me for a large fish, or at least a free snack. I spent some time observing the little rascals and noticed that they would follow me as I moved, so that they kept me company so long as I was in their territory. This is not the first time I have encountered this behaviour from these fish. A few years ago I had a similar experience at Cala Galdana, but although I have seen the fish on many occasions since, this is only the second time they have taken a culinary fancy to me. Perhaps the unusually high water temperature had something to do with it. PS. I found the bars very quiet while in Minorca and I asked a local bar–owner of my acquaintance if he thought the resort was quiet. He told me that the hotels and apartments were full but the bars were empty. He could not understand why. I think the hyper–inflated prices since the introduction of the Euro could have a lot to do with it. One gin in a bar, 3 Euros; one litre bottle of gin from the shops 9 Euros. It's not rocket science. It's better value to stay in our rooms and apartments. The bars are killing the golden goose.

A Gilbertson
Northumberland

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