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March 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Kill ’em but Don’t Feed ’em?

a campaign to ban shark feeding!

from the March, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Should shark feeding by divers be banned in federal waters? John L. Russell thinks so and even started his own Association in order to pursue his obsession.

Way back in 2002, after a spate of shark bites on swimmers along the panhandle coast of Florida, the State government, driven by the powerful angling lobby, banned shark feeding (by divers) for the purpose of observing sharks, rather than just for harvesting them. So Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures with his vessel Shear Water, along with other operators out of Fort Lauderdale, relocated their activities to the nearby Bahamas -- hence the ongoing reputation of dive sites like Tiger Beach, this month's feature article. These operators use bait or chum to attract sharks so their customers can get an up-close and personal encounter.

Other operators simply headed out beyond Florida's waters. Randy Jordan with Emerald Dive Charters (Jupiter) and Calypso Dive Charters (Lake Park) are notable among those doing so, but Russell, of the impressively named Florida Association of Diving Instructors, the self-styled "Shark Detective," is trying to stop them. For some years Russell has been actively fighting for a bill to be introduced in Congress that would make all shark feeding by divers illegal.

Russell alleges that Emerald Dive Charters facilitates shark feeds illegally in Florida's waters and wants to see the law more rigorously enforced, with greater penalties and with jurisdiction widened to encompass all U.S. waters.

"I think feeding wildlife is ridiculous. Only irrational folks would lead you to believe sharks are the only animals on the planet not influenced by food," he says.

Randy Jordan is defiant. His web-site says, "At Emerald Charters, we know how to find the sharks. Here in Jupiter, we see a variety of sharks on a regular basis. While we can't guarantee that you'll spot sharks on every dive (since they are wild pelagic creatures), we almost always see a variety of sharks. Some of the species we've seen include Bull Sharks, Hammerheads, Tigers, Lemon sharks and more."

Russell has worked hard on the shark feeding issue, and bill S.3099 is now claimed to be before Congress. Russell is asking for donations of $100 or more to promote the bill to help stop shark feeding tours at a gofundme page.

"Russell says Florida Law has kept divers safe for 15 years and wants to extend that to include all Federal waters."

We had difficulty finding any members of the Florida Association of Diving Instructors other than Russell himself, who PADI dropped as an instructor in October 2012. He says, "Do not publish shark feeding photos. Boycott boats, captains, instructors, divers and businesses that break Florida law by feeding or baiting fish for amusement and to avoid shark education awareness scams. Be a Shark Detective, file charges/report all violations of law to the FWC by calling the Wildlife Alert hotline at 1-888-404-3922."

Dubbing it the 'Markus Groh Law' after an Austrian diver who was accidentally bitten by a shark in The Bahamas and died while diving with Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures, he illustrates his cause on his GoFundMe page with a picture of Scarface, the tiger shark that's a regular at shark feeds in Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. That doesn't do a lot to help his cause to ban the activity in U.S. waters!

Russell says Florida Law has kept divers safe for 15 years and wants to extend that to include all Federal waters. But most of these activities occur outside Federal waters. So what is his intention? Does he want to ban shark feed dives from U.S.-registered vessels? That would probably please the Bahamas operators, who see American operators contributing little to their local economy. In fact, those same operators would most likely switch to the Bahamas for their base of operations.

Clearly, many divers enjoy these events -- they see the sharks that turn up for a free handout of food as ambassadors for all sharks and say that they are not the mindless predators so often depicted. Monetizing live sharks also gives them protection from the burgeoning shark finning industry. Shark-feeding dives are orchestrated in the Bahamas, Cuba, Fiji and French Polynesia, to name but a few locations outside the U.S.

At a time when the diving world is mourning the untimely demise of Sharkwater director and shark conservationist Rob Stewart while filming sharks in the Florida Keys, it's appropriate to consider this topic. Many people form opinions about sharks merely based on what has been portrayed by the movies and sensational press coverage.

Many shark dive operations put fish scraps in tight boxes that only leak blood and scent so the sharks aren't fed. Others hand out tidbits of bait. Divers occasionally are bitten, albeit accidentally.

Scientists studying sharks in the Bahamas and Florida found that shark feeding, and scuba diving with them, had no significant effect on their natural behaviors, such as the range they traveled. (Undercurrent October 2016)

Have you actually joined a shark feed dive as a diver anywhere in the world? If so, what's your informed opinion? Should shark feeding by divers be banned? Are you sympathetic to John L. Russell's cause? Vote YES or NO and tell us what you think.

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