A windsurfer claims to have narrowly escaped an attack by a big fish that he believes to have been a shark, when it circled his board for 45 minutes and bit through his sail.

David Bonavia’s pleas for help were mistaken for friendly waves by passing boats and each minute seemed like an eternity as he clung on to his board for dear life.

The 35-year-old from Valletta said he was surfing off Fort St Elmo on Saturday at about noon when he saw the fin of a large fish just before it ducked under his board – and he fell off in fright.

Struggling in disbelief, Mr Bonavia quickly got back on the board to see if he was “just imagining things”. It was then that he confirmed the presence of a three-metre fish, which circled his board for the next 45 minutes.

He said he could not windsurf to safety without re-entering the water because his sail had fallen on the wrong side and he would have had to jump in the sea to re-position it.

This left him at the mercy of passing vessels: “I kept waving to the sailing boats but they were too far away to notice something was wrong.”

The surfer told of how the fish changed tactics and, instead of simply circling the board, bit into his sail. It was then that he removed his harness from around his waist and, when the shark charged the sail a second time, he used the metal hook to hit it.

After that the shark “finally” started swimming further away but still remained in the vicinity.

Eventually, Mr Bonavia managed to wave down a luzzu that alerted the Armed Forces of Malta and he was rescued by a launch and treated for severe shock in a clinic.

This was not the only fin sighting on Saturday – a kite surfer alerted The Times that he had seen a large fin “which didn’t belong to a dolphin, but definitely to a large fish” about 300 metres off Exiles in Sliema at around 1.30 p.m.

Although the surfer was unable to confirm whether the fin was that of a shark, he said it surfaced slowly and turned over before vanishing into the depths.

The incident raised a few eyebrows on a surfers’ online forum and comments expressed scepticism about the incident. But several readers on timesofmalta.com voiced their concern.

Shark expert Alex Buttigieg, known as the Sharkman, also seemed sceptical. “I have my doubts about the incident for several reasons,” he said.

The Mediterranean investigator for shark attacks said his doubts revolved around the length of time the shark spent near the man. He also questioned the veracity behind the claim that the windsurfer sail had been damaged in an attack.

“I can understand that five minutes alone with a big fish would seem like a lifetime but usually sharks attack, bite and leave,” he said, adding that such long shark sightings were unheard of unless a large number of people were at sea, such as in the case of a shipwreck.

He also doubted how the shark had attacked the sail “which supposedly would float horizontally”, after seeing footage of the damage which to his expert eyes seemed unlikely to have been caused by a three-metre shark.

Mr Buttigieg, however, said he was unable to exclude the possibility of the predator being a shark “as it’s not the first time a shark followed a ship outside harbour”.

The shark expert said there should be no cause for alarm so far as the sighting was not close to shore where people would be swimming.

The police did not issue a public warning yesterday urging swimmers to take precautions, as they do from time to time when the sighting of a big fish gives cause for concern.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us