It’s the height of the holiday season but tourists visiting the popular French Riviera have been left high and dry after a shark sighting prompted a swimming ban.
The chilling alert was issued yesterday after lifeguards patrolling in a motorboat spotted a creature measuring more than seven feet long.
‘We were taking no chances and issued the swimming ban immediately,’ said Michel Cagnaire, who is in charge of public safety in the resort of Cagnes-sur-Mer, near Nice.
As swimmers ran out of the warm Mediterranean, the scenes resembled those in the famous movie Jaws, which is about a man-eating white shark which terrorises a holiday island on the east coast of America.
Red ‘no swimming’ flags were also raised in the resorts of Villeneuve – Loubet and St. Laurent-du-Var, as people in boats telephoned warnings about the suspected shark, which had a large dorsal fin and a white belly.
It was swimming some 150 feet off the coast, prompting fears that it might be wounded or ill, and might start attacking holidaymakers.
But Veronique Vienet, chief veterinary officer for the area, underplayed the fears, saying that the creature might actually be a large dolphin.
She pointed to the fact that there has only been one fatal shark attack in French coastal waters since the 1840s.
In July last year there was another shark scare at Antibes, but the creature turned out to be a harmeless ocean sunfish which only eats jellyfish.
The French ban was lifted by this morning.
It is high season on the Riviera at the moment, meaning beaches are packed out, often with Britons who are enjoying the school holidays in the South of France.
Jaws, which was directed by Stephen Spielberg and based on the novel by Peter Benchley, was a huge hit in 1975 and revolutionised people’s views about sharks.
They were portrayed as sinister, hugely dangerous creatures, prompting anger among conservationists and wildlife groups.