Photo: C Veny
AN increasing number of bathers at beaches along the eastern coast of the island have been complaining that they have been bitten or stung by a fish which has yet to be identified. From the end of July this year, but above all during the month of August, some beaches and coves along the east coast have seen an increase in unfamiliar species of fish in the shallower waters, stinging and biting bathers. The principal theories about the appearance of these fish point to the heat wave and the effect that it has had on the Mediterranean waters.
A simple sting would not have raised the voice of alarm from dozens of people who were swimming in the affected areas, were it not for the fact that the biting and stinging was resulting, in some cases, in open wounds. I was really startled when I got such a nasty bite commented one bather at Porto Cristo which has been affected by the phenomenon this summer. Blood from one wound was attracting more fish to the spot, and they were coming in shoals, he added. Porto Cristo isn't the only place where biting and stinging have been reported. Cala Agulla at Capdepera, Cala los Camps in Artà as well as other beaches and coves in the municipalities of Felanitx and Santanyí are also places where bathers have testified to attack by biting fish. In fact, even the Ministry of Agricutlure and Fisheries has received reports of professional fisherman who have been the victims of such attacks. The Ministry comments: the culprits are possibly a species of fish measuring between 2 and 5 centimetres in length known as Sargo (a member of the bream family), and goes on to say that: although the Mediterranean is a breeding ground for these fish, their size witnessed most recently appears to be larger than normal. This contrasts with the opinion of the fishermen's association in Porto Cristo. Their head, Juan Antonio Vives, suggested, when asked for his group's opinion on the unusual reported attacks, that these fish may be barracuda. Barracuda are carnivorous fish with extremely sharp, pointed teeth, traditionally inhabiting shallow waters. During winter months, local fishermen have caught them inside the harbour area of Porto Cristo itself but they are not usually about in summer confirmed Vives, who added that the higher water temperatures could have encouraged their coming in closer to the shallower water of the beaches and coves. At the beginning of the summer it was the jellyfish; later a bloom of plankton on the Migjorn coast and now it seems that bathers have to put up with fish that bite. The introduction, and gradual growth in the number of species that thrive in warmer waters, could be one of the causes of the abnormal proliferation of this fish around beaches on the Island's East coast. A representative from a Sea Science Institute has confirmed the existence of the fish but says that no studies have been made of this particular species. It is possible that creatures that would normally thrive in tropical waters where temperatures have been traditionally higher than those of the Mediterranean, are now appearing in numbers in the Balearics.
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