The recent death of a scuba diver who was bitten by a shark during an organized shark dive has sparked an intense public debate about the safety and ethics of diving with sharks. Irresponsible media has falsely vilified both sharks and reputable shark diving operations, causing irrational reactions in many. In response, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has joined forces with Shark Savers and Blue Sphere Media to deliver a petition to the Bahamas Diving Association and the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism in support of diving with sharks.
Captain Paul Watson, Founder and President of Sea Shepherd, has issued the following statement on the safety of diving with sharks:
"Less than 5 people a year die from shark bites, yet every time a human dies because of a shark bite, the media goes on a hysterical binge of shark hatred. It's completely irrational. Approximately 100 people a year die from ostrich attacks. Dogs bite over 50,000 people a year and kill over 100. This makes dogs and ostriches 20 times more dangerous than sharks, yet we don't call for the eradication of big birds and puppies. On the other hand, humans slaughter tens of millions of sharks a year for soup. Which species is the monster?
Diving with sharks is less dangerous than playing golf. More people die each year of lightning strikes or bee stings on golf courses than from diving with sharks. If people are afraid of going into the ocean because of sharks, then they should also stay off of the golf course. Better yet, they should stay off the roads and freeways, where over 40,000 people die each year in automobile accidents. And maybe they should stop smoking, a nasty habit that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. They should also stop people from hunting, because hunting accidents kill far more people each year than sharks do.
I've swum with sharks all my life, including hammerheads, tigers, bulls, nurses, blues, makos, and great whites, and not once did a shark ever threaten my life. However, I was once robbed at gunpoint three blocks from the White House. I was safer in the sea with the sharks than walking down Pennsylvania Avenue."
Captain Paul Watson, Founder and President
In response to inquiries from supporters who are concerned about "shark feeding" and behavioral modification, Sea Shepherd Executive Director, Kim McCoy, has issued the following statement:
"Over the past few days, some of our supporters have expressed valid concerns about the potential implications of feeding wild animals. I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify our position on this matter. During my experience filming the Shark Angels project (www.sharkangels.com), there was no shark feeding involved. Rather than feeding the sharks, the dive operator we went with places frozen fish heads into milk crates, which are then tied to ropes beneath the boat, and kept securely closed at all times. The smell of defrosting fish attracts sharks to the area, but they do eventually lose interest once they realize there is nothing there for them to eat.
I have been diving in the past with operators who feed sharks during the encounter (both caged and cageless), and these were a very different sort of experience. But with responsible operators, the crates of bait are designed merely to attract sharks and hold their attention long enough for interested humans (often underwater photographers) to observe them in their natural habitat.
The reality is that sharks are extremely shy creatures who do not choose to spend time around humans without some sort of incentive. Unfortunately, it is difficult to convince people of the true nature of sharks (in particular, of the fact that they are not man-eaters) without capturing compelling evidence of such encounters on videotape or in still photography. I wish this wasn't the case, but it is. As such, sharing images captured during underwater experiences with sharks is one way in which non-divers can gain an appreciation for the beauty and magnificence of these misunderstood and falsely maligned animals.
In a perfect world, should humans use bait to attract sharks for the purpose of facilitating an up-close encounter? No. But in a perfect world, humans would not stand idly by and tolerate the senseless slaughter of a hundred million sharks per year at the hands of longliners and shark finners, all for the sake of greed and a bowl of tasteless soup. It is our hope that by helping people to identify with sharks and by showing them the more appealing aspects of their personalities, like the cute-and-cuddly land species who inspire such fierce protection, we will create ambassadors who will fight in defense of sharks, and thus work to preserve the health of their oceanic ecosystems and of the planet."
Kim McCoy, Executive Director
The following press release, issued jointly by Sea Shepherd and Shark Savers, announces the delivery of this petition in support of sharks and in support of the right to participate in safe and responsible cageless shark dives:
For Immediate Release
In Support of Diving with Sharks
Shark Savers, a New York-based grassroots conservation group, has partnered with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Blue Sphere Media to rally the support of the diving community by releasing a petition in favor of the right to dive with sharks without cages.
The coalition developed the petition in response to the media's reaction to the recent fatal, tragic accident in which a diver died in the Bahamas after being bitten by a shark. The dive community was deeply saddened by the news. In addition, many were taken aback at the news because, contrary to popular misconceptions, human accidents involving sharks are extremely rare, especially when diving with them. Before this week's accident, no known fatalities had occurred in the decades of commercial shark diving expeditions.
The petition, housed at www.sharksavers.org, has garnered more than 500 signatures to date and provides conservationists, divers, photographers, filmmakers, and others throughout the world an opportunity to express their continued support for shark diving, responsible shark diving operations, and the sharks themselves.
Contrary to common perceptions of sharks as 'man-eaters', people who have gone diving with sharks, including many of the petition signers, describe sharks as 'intelligent and peaceful', 'charismatic', 'magnificent', and 'non-aggressive' to humans.
Some of the petition signers note that sharks are large wild animals and that, when humans step into the sharks' habitat, there is some risk involved. A frequent comment suggests that with proper safety protocols, a high level of diving experience, and guidance from a reputable dive operation, the risk is small when compared to the reward of an up-close encounter with one of these great co-inhabitants of our planet.
The petition was met with an outpouring of support for Jim Abernethy, on whose expedition the fatal accident took place. Many of the divers discussed their own personal admiration for Mr. Abernethy and the rigorous safety protocols he employs in his shark diving expeditions.
Shark Savers' co-founder and director, Julie Andersen, along with Sea Shepherd's Executive Director Kim McCoy, recently spent a week on Abernethy's boat, the Shear Water, diving with the sharks of the Bahamas. Andersen and McCoy were joined by fellow shark conservationist friends Rob Stewart, Director of Sharkwater; Alison Kock, Marine Biologist with the Save Our Seas Foundation; and Shawn Heinrichs, owner of Blue Sphere Media. The entire trip was captured on film, as part of the Shark Angels project.
Surrounded by a dozen large tiger sharks and over 50 lemon sharks outside of the cage, the Shark Angels team experienced first hand what it was like to dive with Abernethy's operation and with large, predatory sharks. "My experience was amazing and completely contrary to what most people have been programmed to think about sharks," said Andersen. "They literally went out of their way to avoid causing us any harm."
A scuba diver for 14 years, Andersen has logged hundreds of dives and has spent countless hours underwater with sharks. "Jim is the singularly most responsible dive operator and passionately committed shark conservationist I have ever met."
The team's experience and the footage they captured is being shared with responsible media outlets throughout the world.
"We filmed Shark Angels in November to shift the public's thinking about sharks and raise awareness of their desperate struggle to overcome extinction. It also clearly highlights Jim Abernethy's commitment to safety and captures the non-aggressive and magnificent interactions between sharks and divers," stated Heinrichs.
"Operations like Jim Abernethy's in the Bahamas allow tens of thousands of divers to safely go beyond the constraints of cages and responsibly experience compelling shark interactions. As a diver, photographer, and shark conservationist, I urge everyone to sign this petition. For the preservation of the species, we need to ensure we can continue to enjoy this unique experience," remarked Andersen.
Shark Savers considers shark diving, while a personal choice, an effective and powerful conservation tool. Each of the organization's six founders have themselves enjoyed positive close encounters with large sharks while diving. It is that experience that brought them together to create Shark Savers as a way to reverse the alarming rate of man's extermination of sharks.
McCoy agrees. "Shark diving expeditions enable individuals to develop a healthy respect and compassion for sharks - a dramatic reversal of the image of sharks portrayed in popular culture and media. This compassion is essential if mankind is to fight to preserve the critical role of sharks in the ocean's ecosystem."
In addition to the petition, a fact sheet that addresses the myths and misconceptions about the incident, shark diving, and sharks has been posted on the Shark Savers site in the hopes of providing the press and public with another perspective - and validated information.
The petition is addressed to The Bahamas Diving Association and the Ministry of Tourism. The Bahamas is also one of the few places in the world where diving with large, predatory sharks is still possible. Sea Shepherd, Shark Savers, Blue Sphere Media, and the hundreds of signatories on the petition urge the Bahamas Diving Association and Ministry of Tourism to preserve and advocate for responsible shark diving.
Petition may be found at:
Comments may be found at:
To learn more about Shark Angels:
Shark Savers (www.sharksavers.org) is an international non-profit membership based organization seeking to increase awareness, educate people, bring organizations together, and empower a grassroots effort to protect and sustain sharks on a global scale.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (www.seashepherd.org) is an international non-profit organization specializing in marine wildlife conservation. Sea Shepherd directly intervenes against the illegal slaughter of marine animals worldwide and operates under the UN World Charter for Nature to uphold international conservation laws.
Blue Sphere Media (www.bluespheremedia.com) is inspired by the ocean's natural wonders. Its mission is to bring a voice to creatures of the ocean, to educate people on the beauty of this world and to take a stand in protecting the largest and most diverse ecosystem on the planet.