Hyatt staffers are not the only ones who say they have been asked not to talk to the press. Diving center managers told me they had been requested not to speak to journalists, while local officials and experts all referred me to the government spokesman. When I asked the spokesman for permission to speak to the Egyptian side of the research team, my request was denied.
So far, no one, including the experts, has a convincing explanation for the sudden change in shark behavior. The working (and credible) theories start with overfishing of tuna, which may have limited food sources out to sea and encouraged the sharks to forage closer to the resorts. Or maybe the sharks were drawn to a trail of sheep carcasses dumped over the side of cargo ships bound for Jordan, their appetites whetted for mammal flesh.
Most likely, Burgess suggests, it's a combination of these factors and others. According to his analysis, at least two different sharks of different species have been involved in the attacks. That suggests we're not dealing with "a crazy shark, the killer that stands on the roof and shoots at anybody who walks by," he says. Instead, a series of changes in the ecosystem might have made nearby sharks more inclined to bite people.
If few people know what led the sharks to go on a rampage, fewer understand what the Egyptian government is doing to stop the attacks. I hear about shark nets being deployed to keep the killers from the shores, mannequins being dropped into the water to bait them from the depths, and ultrasound rays being used to zap them underwater. According to the deputy governor of South Sinai, Ahmed Saleh al-Idkawi, eight members of the Marine Biology Institute are working on the case, although he could not elaborate how. Five National Parks boats are being used, but he could not explain where. And people from the environmental department of the South Sinai were involved, but he could not say in what capacity.
"I'm only a spokesman, not a scientist," Al-Idkawi said. He did tell me the Egyptian investigators were studying photographs and videos of the maneating sharks taken by divers, snorkelers and beach revelers before, during and after each attack. And that they were "studying biologically what's really happening in the water right now."
Meanwhile, the Egyptians working the main drag at Namaa Bay and elsewhere around Sharm worry their government's apparent ineptitude will cost them tourist dollars—and that its haphazard information campaign hasn't helped assuage the crisis, either. Recent news suggests the authorities are still inclined to act now and think later: On Sunday night, the government announced it would reopen the beaches in Sharm without having any clear sense of why the sharks attacked or how to prevent the same thing from happening again. There will be watchtowers and patrol boats around designated swimming areas, but little else in the way of new safety measures.
When Leanne Webb arrived here from the United Kingdom with her boyfriend, she was told by her tour operator swimming was not allowed because of a recent string of attacks; then it was safe, and then suddenly it wasn't. "We've heard so many different stories, there's no way I'm going in at all. No one knows what's going on, we had to buy the English newspaper just to find out," Webb says as we stand with our toes in the surf, as far as either of us apparently wants to go.