Archive for March 2008

Shark Diving Tragedy in the Bahamas   Leave a comment

I would like to weigh in on the criticism being directed at Jim Abernathy.
Before I became a shark photographer I went mountaineering quite a bit. It is a very different discipline but it makes an interesting analogy for the types of shark encounters that one can have. Whether you’re climbing solo or on a guided expedition you can make mountaineering as safe or dangerous as you wish. Of course, the pinnacle of personal achievement is to summit Everest and if you are not a professional (or an extremely accomplished) mountaineer there are a number of guiding companies that will help you get to the top.
Not everyone makes it to the summit and sadly of those that do, not all of them make it back to base camp. In fact, tragedies on big mountains are so commonplace that unless the body count really racks up, they are no longer front page news.
At 8000 meters the lack of oxygen severely impedes brain function. Consequently, guides working at extremely high altitudes can barely tie up their boots let alone ensure the safety of their clients. There has been much criticism in the industry from those who believe that high altitude guiding should be banned completely but money continues to change hands and wealthy adventurers continue to put their fate in the hands of professional guides who may or may not bring them back alive.
In the climbing world, the right to risk ones life in the pursuit of the extraordinary remains firmly with the individual, as I believe it should.
Considering how few divers have been killed while diving with big sharks I think that it is fair to say that it is much safer than climbing Everest or K2. But statistics aside, should shark diving operators who have little or no ability to intervene if the sharks become aggressive, be allowed to put their clients in harms way? In my opinion, we all have the right to make our own informed decisions regarding the personal risks we wish to take. There is no question whether diving with tigers in the Bahamas is dangerous. It is the K2 of shark encounters. Is it a smart thing to do; maybe not. But that does not mean that once an individual has been informed of the risks they should not be allowed to do it.
Jim Abernathy has pioneered some amazing dives and his trips have attracted thousands of divers from around the world. His clients include hundreds of professional and amateur photographers, numerous documentary crews, as well as marine biologists and many others who simply wish to experience one of natures masterpieces at close quarters. If Jim is convicted as a result of this witch hunt it will be a travesty.
Likewise, if the Bahamian government decide to ban companies from facilitating this type of shark encounter it will be a huge blow to those of us who freely choose to swim with sharks. And although it will be tougher, we will eventually find other ways to get to the sites that Jim and others presently run organized trips to.
Like everyone else, I feel very sorry for the family of the diver who lost his life but he was informed of the risks and chose to take them. This was his decision to make.

Andy Murch

Staff Photographer at Shark Diver Magazine.
Creator of the Elasmodiver Shark and Ray Picture Database

Posted March 3, 2008 by Andy Murch in Environment, Nature, Sharks, Uncategorized