Shark Feeding Death triggers debate

A 49 year old Austrian attorney died after being bitten by a shark in the Bahamas with Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures (JASA). The deceased was on a shark feeding trip where the sharks are baited using chum and the participants are not in cages. The shark apparently missed the food, bit the leg of the deceased and released him. However he bled out before he could be transported to help. See When Adventure Tourism Kills, Tourist’s death sparks shark-diving debate and Sharing the Truth About the Shark “Attack” in the Bahamas.

Shark watching is big business. It has grown substantially over the past several years. Florida has numerous shark feeding businesses; however Florida law does not allow chumming. The (JASA) had moved from Florida to the Bahamas allegedly to avoid the law.

Ignoring the issues of training sharks to associate food with boats and humans the articles have tackled numerous legal issues, some correctly, some incorrectly.

There has been an extensive debate over the civil legal issues in this case. However the accident occurred in the Bahamas with a non-US citizen so US law does not apply. Bahamian or the law of the release (if one was used) will probably control any litigation. Admiralty law may be the law applied to the case which although more generic by country is still not US law. For more information on jurisdiction and venue See: Pennsylvania court case highlights importance of where a business is located, Jurisdiction can affect the potential outcome of a case and Choice of Law and Venue — What Law Applies and Where? (Subscription Service)

Another raging debate is the fact that cage-less shark feeding is relatively a less risk sport. A group called Shark Savers, is defending the acts by saying that shark diving is safer than many other sports. However the sports they are comparing themselves too are unguided sports. There is a higher level of care or safety expected and received from a guided trip then from an unguided trip. That is why you hire a guide, to provide you with the knowledge, skills or safety from the risks that you do not have.

Shark Savers also states that “biking, swimming and boating” have significantly more injuries a year than shark feeding. This is probably correct. However the number of hours that people spend feeding sharks a year versus biking, swimming or boating does not make a fair comparison. If shark feeding had as many people spending as many hours feeding sharks as people riding bikes then the number of injuries would be significantly more. The website is comparing apples to oranges and skewing numbers to make the sport look safe.

There are some real issues however that can be educational. The JASA website is full of statements that would be difficult to support during any accident or could lead to liability in this case. The JASA statements include:

….to provide the very best in diving adventures, in a safe, professional, and fun environment.

Our goal is to insure that whether you are visiting for the day, or staying for a week, you have a safe, fun and memorable trip.

We will have crew members in the water at all times to insure diver safety.

Three prominent statements telling possible guests that they will be safe. And yet someone died. Either the website is wrong, guilty of over promoting itself or this was a rare accident, which statistics show is not true.

On top of that is the fact JASA is a Florida based business. The website is quite clear that they are based in Florida and have a Bahamas operation. If you serve the business in Florida then Florida law may apply, absent a specific jurisdiction and venue clause in a release. Even if there is a release signed by any victim a complaint alleging negligence per se, because of the violation of the regulations may be successful in brining the defendant under Florida law.


3 Comments on “Shark Feeding Death triggers debate”

  1. Bahamas Diving says:

    Yes it was. By one full year. JASA continues to this day to offer non caged big predator encounters in the Bahamas. Ego trumps Law in this case.

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  2. Wow. If that letter was dated before the incident and received by JASA that is pretty much a slam dunk in most countries. Lock the door and hand the keys to everything to the heirs.Thanks for the post!Jim

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  3. Bahamas Diving says:

    Not to mention JASA and owner Jimmy Abernathy was under a Cease and Desist order at the time regarding non caged shark diving from the Bahamas Dive Association here it is:Dangerous Shark Species Interaction Warning LetterTo: All Dive Operations Conducting Questionable Dangerous Species Shark Interactions in the Waters of The Islands of The BahamasFrom: Bahamas Diving Association, Official Recognized Diving Association for 36 members of The Islands of The BahamasTo 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.Signed, Mr. Neal WatsonPresidentBahamas Diving AssociationThe “Shark Savers” support of JASA is also linked to a film they made with Jimmy weeks prior to the attack where they were diving with his company. The film was ironically meant to highlight how safe these animals are without cages in a baited situation.The film was called Shark Angels.

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