Florida beaches shut as killer sharks lose their fear
By James Langton in New York
Sunday, April 22, 2001
SEVERAL Florida beach resorts popular with British holidaymakers are
under pressure to follow the example of Deerfield, near Fort Lauderdale,
which has banned tourists from diving with sharks.
The expeditions are intended to give people the chance to swim with
harmless species of sharks. However, wildlife experts fear that it is only
a matter of time before the bait of seafood attracts predators such as
the great white to attack humans.
George Burgess, the director of the International Shark Attack Study
at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said: "You wouldn't go to
Africa and throw raw meat at a lion." The group's latest statistics
show that Florida experienced the highest number of unprovoked shark attacks
in the world last year: 34 out of the 79 people bitten.
Several beaches around Orlando were closed briefly last week after six
attacks in 48 hours. The culprits were believed to be young spinner sharks
that mistook swimmers' feet for fish, fuelling fears that sharks are being
confused by the new phenomenon of diving trips. The increasing frequency
of attacks is blamed on the rapid growth of this form of tourism, which
has seen adventurous swimmers venturing into shark feeding grounds.
Shark dives, increasingly popular in the Bahamas and Florida, promise
the thrill of swimming with sharks without the danger. Most of the species
attracted are large but harmless nurse sharks, lured by buckets of bait.
Coastal authorities fear that the diving trips will make sharks associate
people with food and that the organisers would be helpless if more dangerous
species arrived. Stephen Picardi, a Florida diver who is campaigning for
tougher laws, said: "It is only a matter of time before something
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is planning stricter
regulations for the dives. Officials at Palm Beach introduced tougher regulations
last month, including an agreement that the sharks would only be fed fresh
seafood to replicate their normal diet.
Edwin Roberts, the head of the commission and a keen diver, says he
has seen evidence that sharks are losing their fear of man, much as bears
have done in some American national parks. He said: "I'm concerned
about the precedent of humans interacting with wildlife in this way."
Jim Abernethy, who runs diving trips from West Palm Beach, is unconcerned.
He said: "It is obvious to me from being in the water with them five
days a week that they want nothing to do with us. We are not part of their
Supporters of the dives point out that out of the 10 fatalities in the
world last year, only one was in Florida. He was Thadeus Kubinski, 69,
who was taking his daily swim when he was attacked and killed last August
by an eight foot bull shark weighing about 400lb.
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