International Law

Lawyer's Death After Shark Bite Ignites Legal Debate

The death last week of an Austrian attorney who was bitten by a shark has sparked a debate about cageless shark diving.

The practice, which involves baiting the waters with chum to attract sharks, is illegal in the United States but permitted in the Bahamas, where Markus Groh was headed with a boating party when a shark bit him instead of the food, reports the Miami Herald. More details of the incident, which the newspaper says is apparently the first death associated with shark-baiting, are discussed in an earlier post.

Separate investigations are being conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and authorities in the Bahamas, with the help of Miami-Dade police. However, Groh, 49, who was flown back to Miami, died from loss of blood, according to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office, which found his death to be an accident.

Meanwhile, those who support the practice of diving into the water with sharks without using a protective cage are concerned that publicity over Groh’s death could prompt Bahamian legislators to impose a ban, as Florida did in 2001. The Bahamas could also revoke the permit under which Jim Abernethy, who operates a tour-boat business out of Riviera Beach, Fla., takes diving groups into Bahamian waters.

Proponents say cageless diving promotes a better understanding of sharks, but opponents contend that it presents an unjustifiable risk.

”Feeding the sharks changes their behavior,” says Denise Herzing, a marine mammalogist at Florida Atlantic University who blames the practice for attracting sharks to small boats whose operators aren’t seeking such close encounters. “It’s just like feeding bears at Yellowstone. It makes them associate humans with food. It makes them more aggressive. It endangers people.”

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