As reported on ap.google.com
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ask any shark diver why they do it and the answer is quick and simple — the thrill. From Cape Town to California, Florida and the Bahamas, adventurous divers can slip into the ocean with an experienced guide to observe some of the world’s fiercest predators.
But some say the search for a thrill has gone too far: baiting the water with bloody fish parts and getting face-to-face to the most aggressive species without cages or protective gear. An Austrian tourist on this kind of dive was fatally bitten by a shark this week.
Bans on feeding sharks in Florida and federal waters have pushed some shark diving companies to the Bahamas, about 50 miles off the coast, where 49-year-old Austrian lawyer Markus Groh’s tour took him Sunday. He was bitten on the leg and died a day later.
Critics liken the practice to feeding bears or any other wild predator, and say the more contact sharks have with people, the more likely they are to attack.
But others say such attacks are rare and that the dives, popular among international tourists as well as adventurous Americans, actually help educate people about sharks and conservation.
“People just misunderstand these creatures,” said Sonja Fordham, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s shark conservation program, who advocates some shark dives.
Groh’s death was the first reported fatality from a shark attack during feeding, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File.
Burgess fiercely opposes feeding wild sharks under any circumstances, claiming it turns them into “trained circus animals.”
“Ecotourism for animals is a great concept, but it is most successful in situations where people watch their natural behaviors from afar and not intrude,” Burgess said.
Fears about diver safety and altering shark behavior led Florida to ban feeding sharks in 2001. It’s also banned in Hawaii and in federal waters, which generally begin just beyond a state’s three-mile territory and extend about 200 miles out.