Bahamas shark bite aboard Shear Water, official thread

Bull Shark in the Bahamas<br />Photo: <a href=Eric Cheng" />
Bull Shark in the Bahamas
Photo: Eric Cheng

This is the official thread on the February 24, 2008 shark bite (what some are calling a shark attack) in the Bahamas.

On February, 24, 2008, a 50 year old man was bitten by a shark in the Bahamas while on a shark diving expedition aboard the M/V Shear Water (also mentioned in the press as “Shearwater” and “Sheerwater”). The man was bitten in the leg by a shark while scuba diving and was reportedly flown via Coast Guard helicopter to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami for treatment, where he passed away.

I just spoke with Jim, who is just clearing immigration right now back in Florida. At the moment, he is completely swamped with everything that must be done. He did say that he is praying for the diver’s family and loved ones, and that the accident was extremely unfortunate.

UPDATE: February 25, 2008— We are looking for testimonials about Jim Abernethy, his dive operation/Shear Water, and Markus Groh, the diver who passed away. You can also sign a petition in favor of shark diving in the Bahamas.  If you want to do more, we have posted a suggest list of actions you can take.

The Wetpixel staff would like to share our condolences with Mr. Groh’s family, and hope that this accident will not adversely affect anyone in the diving industry in the Bahamas.

We’ll report facts and news coverage links as we get them.

Note: the Posted date of this article is inaccurate. The original post date is early afternoon, February 24, 2008. We’re updating the post date as we go to make sure this article floats to the of the page after each change.



(reverse chronological order)

June 12, 2008

Shark Huggers: Tourists can’t wait to get next to them – even if they are eating machines - The first fact-based article I’ve seen about the incident, and about general shark tourism in the Bahamas and Florida (it covers a wide variety of shark topics). The author, Amy Guthrie, wrote me a one-line email some time ago asking if Wetpixel’s July trip was still scheduled to go as planned. I don’t remember if I even replied. Worth a read, if you’re into sharks (or if you’re afraid of them).

March 3, 2008

Time, When Adventure Tourism Kills - talks about the greater issue of risky adventure tourism. Also talks about lawsuits and what might go down if Groh’s family sues. I was pleased to see the article link to an in-depth article called Under Attack that discusses sharks and the threat of extinction.

March 2, 2008

Miami Herald, Tourist’s death sparks shark-diving debate - talks about both sides of the shark baiting debate, and also mentions Jim’s supporters and the SharkSavers petition. Also, this is a good sign: “When the dust settles, pro-cage-less divers may have little to worry about… Michael Braynen, the Bahamas’ director of marine resources, said none of his government’s agencies restrict any form of diving, and as of Friday afternoon, he hadn’t heard of any effort to change that.”

March 1, 2008

Palm Beach Post, Chum dives called bad for divers, sharks alike - Some articles are starting to talk about the greater issue: baiting sharks.  This one interviews people who don’t agree with Jim, but some of them say that Jim conducted safe dives despite their disagreement about principles.

CNN Video, Shark dives debate - people are releasing more footage. The piece starts with a great white shark putting its nose in a cage, shot by a diver who says that people should be allowed to dive with sharks if they assume the risk, and then shows actual footage of bull sharks from End of the Map, supplied by Shark Diving International.  The piece continues with an interview with Neal Watson and footage from Sharkwater / interview Rob Stewart.

NBC Today Show, Shark population in crisis - finally, a piece that talks about threat humans face to global shark populations. My buddies at the Bimini Biological Field Station did a great job explaining the issue.

Februrary 29, 2008 - More news.

AP, Shark Feeding Questioned After Attack - this article tries to associate “dangerous” sharks with “diving in the deep, open ocean.”  The story isn’t very sophisticated, and superficially quotes opinions from both sides of the shark diving debate. I’m sure it will be picked up by local news everywhere. It also features Neal Watson’s soundbite.

February 28, 2008 - The media continues. Most stories released today seem to be based on the old facts and are only a few paragraphs long. But some are starting to show both sides of the story.

RedOrbit, Shark Enthusiast: Most Recent Death ‘Freak Accident’, Feb 28, 2008 15:00 CST - a shark enthusiast comes says that diving out of the cage with tiger sharks might be risky, but that he is contemplating doing the trip anyway. “They’re not interested in you,” he added. “They’re interested in the fish.”

February 27, 2008 - MSNBC’s The Today Show and CNN feature Bahamas shark footage online and interview both Neal Watson and Rob Stewart. Other news articles are starting to be varied instead of all regurgitating the same content.

TODAY: People, Fatal shark bite highlights danger of sport, 6:32 a.m. PT, Feb 27, 2008 (with video) - The article puts Neal Watson’s comments next to Rob Stewart’s comments to show both sides of the story. It includes a video that primarily shows footage from other operations. Ironically, most of the video footage shown is of reef sharks feeds around divers, which have a much more aggressive look than footage of the slow movements of larger sharks (which are not actively fed on Jim’s trips). The real irony is that the footage looks similar to what might have been taken on one of Watson’s trips.

The Today Show did use some footage provided by the Shark Angels project (which I am involved in), which shows clips from Rob Stewart’s dives with Jim Abernethy. Although the footage was from Tiger Beach, you can see that the sharks are not excited; they are moving slowly, and are milling around, drawn to the area by the scent of fish in the water. Shark Angels provided the Today Show with minutes of non-sensationalist footage they could have shown. Instead, they chose to show more aggressive footage from operations whose underwater practices are nothing like those conducted by JASA.

CNN Video, Shark talk - CNN’s Kiran Chetry interviews Rob Stewart, who comments about the shark bite on Jim’s boat.  CNN shows more typical footage from Jim’s operation, with lemon sharks swimming around calmly. Strangely, they also show footage of a great white shark trying to get bait on the surface while Rob is still talking about the specific event.

Sun-Sentinel, Austrian killed by shark was experienced diver, father says - Article writes about Groh’s family and interviews divers who have been out with Jim Abernethy, all of who have positive things to say. There is a poll included in this story that asks whether authorities should regulate or ban these expeditions. So far, 81.5% of 2739 responses say that they should be.

Also, this story states that the current investigation by the Coast Guard is not a criminal one: “The inquiry is not a criminal one at this point. ‘It’s simply a maritime accident we’re investigating,’ Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil said. ‘Whenever you have a maritime accident, we look into it to determine what the causal factors are and to prevent a reoccurrence.’”

Miami Herald, Shark-dive boat operator in a tight spot - article states that the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s office listed Groh’s mode of death as accidental, but that the autopsy report was not yet finalized as of yesterday. The Bahamian Ministry of Tourism is reported by be evaluating whether Abernethy violated any of the country’s charter-diving guidelines.  Here’s a good one. Nalini Bethel, the Ministry spokesperson, said it was a tiger shark that killed Groh. Just yesterday we were complaining about Shark Diver’s misleading blog, which implies that a tiger shark bit the diver, and today, it’s in a news article. Oh, and Patric Douglas of Shark Diver was quoted in the article. I hope it was coincidence.

Fox News, Shark Kills Austrian Scuba Diver in Baited Water (with video) - Greta interviews Doc Anes of San Diego Shark Diving Expeditions: “You’re dealing with wild animals here. It is not like going to the zoo and looking at the lions and the tigers… Think of yourself on a safari. You’re walking through the Savannah there, and you have a guide with you. Now, you’re doing everything that you can to mitigate the risk. But suppose you have a leopard that is in a tree that you did not see.”

CNN, Rob Stewart makes a statement on Anderson Cooper 360 - I can’t find the video of the Anderson Cooper 360 segment, but I hear that it was a balanced discussion between Rob Stewart and George Burgess of the Shark Attack File.  I know that in the background, CNN actually took the time to listen to folks who wrote in with some hard facts about the issue, which may have turned the piece into something about diving with sharks instead of a public lynching of Jim Abernethy.  If someone finds the video, can you post a link here?

February 26, 2008 - Shark Savers has put up a petition in favor of shark diving in the Bahamas. Please add your name to the list if you support the cause.

February 26, 2008 - It looks like other members of the Austrian press are picking up on information from the nullzeit.at article that claims that the lawyer came into contact with the bait, and that the lawyer died of a pulmonary embolism (CNN reported blood loss as cause of death).

February 26, 2008, 4:57pm - WPTV NBC5, Dive community reacts to rare, deadly shark attack - “Rare. But widely publicized. It’s why divers debate whether any further change in shark-diving laws would be an over-reaction. But almost all agree any further demonizing of these creatures - would be misplaced.” Finally, an article that is quoting people who don’t have agendas!

Februrary 26, 2008 - CNN’s article states that Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office said that Groh died from loss of blood. Neal Watson continues to bash Jim.

CNN, Shark tour leader was warned of danger, diver says, 3pm, Feb 26, 2008 - “Groh, 49, died from loss of blood resulting from the shark attack near the Bahamas, The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office said.

“Watson told CNN he also offers a cageless shark tourist experience in the Bahamas, but only with less dangerous species: Caribbean reef sharks, blacktip sharks, blacknose sharks, nurse sharks and silky sharks.  [Watson wrote] ‘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, and mako sharks.’”

Lemon shark? Has Watson ever been in the water with a lemon shark?  Wait, let me guess, their operation doesn’t do lemon shark dives. Therefore, they are dangerous? I’ve been told that Watson’s operators hand-feed reef sharks. Personally, I’d take a baited tiger shark over a hand-fed or chumsicled reef shark any day.

February 26, 2008 - Shark Diver spreads misinformation about the geographic location of the shark bite

Shark Diver, Death on Tiger Beach-Why It Matters, Feb 25, 2008, 6:53PM - Shark Diver, a shark diving operator (with cages), titles their blog post, “Death on Tiger Beach.” This suggests that: 1) the incident happened at Tiger Beach, 2) the diver died at Tiger Beach, and 3) there might have been a tiger shark involved.  In the article, they use a photo in blue water of a diver surrounded by sharks.

We know that the bite did not happen at Tiger Beach.  Going further back into Shark Diver’s blog, all of their articles about the event have stated that the accident happened at Tiger Beach. Some of them even show photos of tiger sharks. Don’t these folks know how to check facts? What irresponsible reporting.

We have posted a letter from Andy Sallmon to Shark Diver, and Shark Diver’s dismissive response.

February 26, 2008, 8:50AM PST - The story has now hit major news networks, including the Today Show, CNN, and others. Rob Stewart of Sharkwater will be on the Today Show tomorrow, and is expected to comment on the bite.

CNN.com, Diver in chummed waters dies after shark bite, 3:18am EST Feb 26, 2008

February 26, 2008 - In-depth articles with information from reporters on the ground are starting to appear.

Miami Herald, Cageless shark-feeding dive turns fatal - this article, marked as being released on February 25 even through it wasn’t online until the 26th, is more in-depth than any others to date. It quotes George Burgess, Director of the International Shark Attack File, as saying that this death marked “the first time anyone has ever died in a shark-feeding incident.” In my experience, dives at this dive site are not shark feeds, and it would be unfair to characterize them as such. Neal Watson is also quoted. Note that no article so far has pointed out that Neal Watson runs a competing diving operation. They only quote him as president of the Bahamas Diving Association.

February 25, 2008, 7:00PM PST—The Shark Angels, a team of engaging, young conservationists, respond with a press release.

February 25, 2008, 11:10AM PST—a diver in our forums reports:

“The shark was a bull shark and the incident occurred far to the south of “Tiger Beach” in about 75 fsw in Bahamian waters. The diver was bitten in the calf and was assisted to the surface immediately by Shearwater crew whereupon the Coast Guard was summoned immediately for an evac and professional first aid was administered to the diver by Shearwater crew.

“The diver was transported by USCG helicopter to Jackson Memorial hospital in Miami. He died.”

February 25, 2008 - Nullzeit.at reports that the death was as a result of pulmonary edema from rapid ascent. Has this been confirmed by a death report? It seems highly speculative.

Bahamas: Österreicher bei Haiköderung getötet 25.2.2008 16:58 [translated to English] - “According to the last news, the cause of death was, by the way, not shark bite. Instead, as it seems, the panic ascended to the surface too fast. The resulting pulmonary embolism may have caused the deaths.” (translated)

It’s good to see that they are not referring to sharks as mindless killers: “Sharks are not the dangerous monster they are always portrayed to be. They are just free-living wild animals. Humans are not in the shark’s normal list of prey, and sharks do not attack divers unmotivated. But if you are putting bait in the water, they can—like any predator—behave erratically…” (translated)

February 25, 2008 - The media bloodbath starts. Neal Watson is associated president of Bahamas Diving Association, but also owns a competing shark diving operation. Watson’s operation features an organized shark feed.

Sun-Sentinel, Man bitten by shark off S. Fla. dies, February 25, 2008, 1:41 PM EST (including video) - The man is identified as 49-year old Markus Groh, a lawyer from Vienna Austria. Neal Watson, a competing Florida diving company owner, calls Abernethy “irresponsible.”

February 25, 2008—news reports are coming in that say that the man died in the hospital. This is a devastating loss for the diving community, and our thoughts are with the man’s family and loved ones.  The man was identified as 49-year old Markus Groh, a lawyer from Vienna, Austria.

One news report says that “divers on the trip have said the man was bitten by a bull shark at a dive site called ‘The End of the Map’.”

Local10.com, 50-Year-Old Man Bitten By Shark Dies, February 25, 2008 11:15 am US/Eastern - It’s been made public that the diver did not survive the shark bite.

UPDATE: Florida Diver Dies From Shark Attack, February 25, 2008 2:00pm US/Eastern - A SwimAtYourOwnRisk blog entry on the attack includes a misleading photo of a great white shark.

DIVE UK: Shark dive tragedy, February 25, 2008 - DIVE Magazine UK coverage mentions the death is being investigated by Florida police.

NBC WPTV5: Austrian diver dies after shark attack - cites Wetpixel.com as source. Has a photo of Markus and mentions bull shark as the shark who bit him.

February 24, 2008, 11:30 AM PST - AP/Reuters article is starting to hit the news. The best way to search for these articles is by using “sheerwater” in the search because the first article that came out misspelled the boat name. Here’s a google search that will bring them up.

Sun-Sentinel, 2:32 PM EST, February 24, 2008 - reports man bitten at 10am and evacuated to Miami

Miami Herald Headline: Shark Bites Man Off Ft Lauderdale - February 24, 2008 - Headlines make it sound like it was right off the beaches of Ft Lauderdale, even though it was in the Bahamas. Media truth distortion already starting.

NBC6 S.F., Diver Attacked By Shark Off Fort Lauderdale, 4:43 PM EST, February 24, 2008 - With the circumstances still unknown, the incident has become a shark ‘attack.’

CBS4.com, Diver Bitten By Shark Off Ft. Lauderdale, February 24, 2008 2:48 pm US/Eastern - What’s with everyone saying it was in Ft. Lauderdale? This bite was more than 4 hours by boat from Ft. Lauderdale.

WPTV.com, Diver on a Riviera Beach boat is bitten by a shark, February 25, 2008 12:18am US/Eastern - Misidentifies the boat as the “Shear Dimensions,” but does include a comment by a dive instructor stating how rare shark bites are.




Tragedy Occurs During Shark Dive: Shark Angels Express their Condolences, February 25, 2008




Scubaboard forum discussion: Shark bites liveaboard guest

Digideep forum discussion, in German: Attacke an Bord der M/V Shear Water