Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Death in the Bahamas-Shark Related?

The shark attack story coming from the Bahamas continues to evolve and as expected the industry has broken into two distinct camps. One look at either the Wet Pixel site or Scuba Board will give you a clear look at how high emotions are surrounding this unfortunate death.

As the hard facts coming from this event have all but ceased, speculation on what caused this divers death have ranged from outright shark attack, to embolism brought about from an uncontrolled ascent.

Even the dive sites location story line has changed from Tiger Beach to a new local somewhat prophetically called "The end of the world".

There are some hard facts that we do know:

1. The Bahamas Dive Association did send a Cease and Desist letter in 2006-7 to all operations in the Bahamas referring to non caged encounters with macro predators. They went as far as specifically identifying the species that might put divers at risk. It was clear and concise. There are some who might argue the legal weight of this C and D, but the fact remains we, as an industry who advertise, book and take divers to this pristine dive site were put on notice.

2. Jimmy Abernathy had no cages on site at the time of this shark attack.

Here's the official letter from the BDA in 2006-7:

Dangerous Shark Species Interaction Warning Letter

To: All Dive Operations Conducting Questionable Dangerous Species Shark Interactions in the Waters of The Islands of The Bahamas

From: Bahamas Diving Association, Official Recognized Diving Association for 36 members of The Islands of The Bahamas

To Whom It May Concern;

We have become aware that some dive operators have chosen to disregard standard safe-diving practices as it relates to interactions with Tiger Sharks and other potentially dangerous species of Sharks, in various locations within the waters of The Islands of The Bahamas.

The Bahamas Diving Association endorses and suggests all dive operators in the legal waters of The Islands of The Bahamas follow GMAC guidelines for conducting potentially dangerous marine-life and human interactions.

In such, we recommend all operations immediately cease and desist conducting open-water non-cage Shark Diving experiences with known species of potentially dangerous Sharks, such as Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, Lemon Sharks & Mako Sharks.

Species that we have determined safe to interact with outside of a cage are Caribbean Reef Sharks, Black Tip Sharks, Black-Nose Sharks, Nurse Sharks and Silky Sharks.

Many operators in the Bahamas conduct shark diving interactions with ‘safe’ species, and have done so for over 25 years without a major incident. However, due to the potential negative behavioral reactions of Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, Lemon Sharks & Mako Sharks, purposeful feeding or interaction with these species without a proper shark cage is highly discouraged.

The Bahamas Dive Association (BDA) would be glad to help communicate industry-standard safe shark interaction practices, should you need any assistance with your procedures.

This letter will be copied to the Bahamas Government, plus all diving insurance and training agencies serving The Islands of The Bahamas.


Mr. Neal Watson
Bahamas Diving Association


Kaz said...

As posted in response to the Miami Herald article where the so-called C & D letter was also published:I have known Jim Abernethy as a good friend for more than 10 years, and was lucky to be along on his very first "staged" shark dive off the Palm Beaches in 1997. The trips to remote parts of the Bahamas to dive with tiger sharks & hammerheads began later, about 7 or 8 years ago. Until this tragic event, there had been no serious injuries. The Shear Water has hosted hundreds & hundreds of divers (including many enthusiastic repeaters), as well as umpteen film crews & professional photographers. The Shear Water has successfully created one-of-a-kind diving experiences that those who now criticize said couldn't be done. The criticism smacks of professional envy & hubris. The public should know that many members of the Bahamas Diving Association offer no-cage shark dives. It is self-serving to state that some shark species are "safe" for this activity, and others not. Many experienced shark divers would adamantly disagree with the dichotomy presented. The "stars" of the Shear Water trips -- the tiger sharks – participate so regularly (without incident) that they’re known to divers by name. And tiger sharks are certainly welcomed at no-cage shark experiences at many other locations around the globe. As are bull sharks and hammerheads. As the article quotes Burgess saying, this is the first shark-feeding incident to result in fatality. Yes, tragic for everyone, but still the first. The sky is not falling. Shame on Neal Watson – who to my understanding has never observed the Shear Water shark operation first hand -- for his opportunistic and self-serving criticism. A more balanced perspective and tone is needed.

[I might add here that nowhere in the Miami Herald article was it mentioned that Neal Watson operates a competing dive charter business. Also, if memory serves me correctly, Watson was on the pro-shark-diving side during those Florida debates a few years ago.]

Maris Kazmers

Kaz said...

A final thought: regardless of the details of what happened, regardless of the motivation behind any words of criticism or support, this tragedy for all the parties involved is such that this "gotcha" finger pointing is not only ill-timed but utterly contemptible. Kaz

Horizon Charters Guadalupe Cage Diving said...

Great Point Kaz.

Anonymous said...

Darwinism stikes again!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this news.

According to the International Shark Attack File (to which this attack will very soon surely be added) yours odds of being fatally attacked by a shark in US waters is 1 in 264.1 million.

However, swimming/diving with baited sharks drastically increases these odds....

Anonymous said...

I guess I am getting to the point that if you do stupid things you will for sure die a stupid death.. Make sense? It's kind of like sticking a needle full of heroin or some other illegal drug into your arm.. Taking unnecessary risks are stupid moves to make....

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for the family, but that is so senseless. I have been hearing for years about these Shark Dives and come on, how silly can you be to chum the waters then dive in when you know sharks are coming. To me, it's really a rediculous decision to do with your life. I don't care how good of a diver you are, sharks are predators especially when you are chumming the waters to bring them in. Let's have a little brain power on this one. For years they have been trying to ban this type of activity but they still keep on doing it and now we see what happens and why they should not. It's shameful.

Anonymous said...

Some idiots will blame the sharks, not the moronic humans, who stir them into a feeding frenzy, by pouring blood into the sea. My sympathy is entirely with the fish!

Anonymous said...

This is truly sad for all involved and I cannot imagine what the family are now having to deal with. I am though as a very regular world business traveller always reminded of a statement I heard one evening and I quote "I never go swimming in the sea... It's the only time in your life you are not at the the top of the food chain" ...

the One called "Bitey"... said...

"I never go swimming in the sea... It's the only time in your life you are not at the the top of the food chain"

- precisely: humans cannot stand the fact that they are not the center of the Universe, so they invent gods and demons and refuse to face any circumstances that might remind them of this fallacy.
Shark diving is an essential lesson in humility - a lesson most people sorely need.....

Anonymous said...

In response to Kazmer, photographer and Jimmy Abernathy fan.

You and all the others like you are drinking the cool-aid mate. Sharks are dangerous but guys like you even more so. Here's why.

1.In your quest for better images of sharks you and those like you have pushed the envelope with these animals past the breaking point. Having an inside the mouth shot of a Tiger is just plain stupid, but it sells images right?

2.You do not hesitate to ask professional shark diving operators who have many levels of divers to contend with for these kind of non caged conditions.

3.Worse you fail to see what you do professionaly is not transferable to the commercial shark diving community at large.

You have also failed to see the Cease and Desist order Jimmy was under as anything but a joke. It was no joke and his ignoring it lead to a divers death. But you fail to see a lot of things in the quest for the next best shot you can sell to a magazine. Right?