Diving with Sharks

This is a personal opinion from Paolo Stanchi and Undercurrents

On a baited shark dive during the seasonal sardine run this summer at South Africa’s Aliwal Shoal, Paolo Stanchi, a 22-year-old American research diver, became part of the food group. He was bitten by a 10-foot-long dusky shark, and his left leg and both hands were badly mauled. (The boat captain saved his life by stemming the flow of blood, and Stanchi was airlifted to Durban for surgery).

What made the sharks go after Stanchi?  Blue Wilderness, the dive operator, believes it was his fins.  Stanchi was wearing split fins with grey and black  stripes, and Blue Wilderness owner Mark Addison says  the shark apparently bit at his fins in a case of mistaken  identity, thinking they were really a small shoal of fish.

That’s why Jim Abernethy, who runs his Scuba Adventure shark dive trips in the Bahamas, recommends  his divers don’t wear split fins. “They’re easier  to swim with but you have to kick more. You have to  kick faster to get the same speed as when wearing normal  fins. That means more movement, and that attracts  sharks. The faster you fin, the more you look like prey,  and sharks come in to investigate.” And on a shark  dive, the last thing you want to do is to attract attention  to yourself.”

Ralph Collier, head of the Shark Research  Committee and author of Shark Attacks of the 20th  Century, says the shark might have struck Stanchi’s fins  because they were closest to it when approaching the  bait. “Sharks frequently bite limbs before [they bite]  the torso, especially in the case of divers, because they  are more readily available to the shark as it nears the subject. Further, I would assume that the vibration  patterns emitted by the split fins is different than that  produced by a natural prey, the sardines. Therefore,  additional motivation could have been the difference  between the fin and prey vibrations, and not that they  duplicated one another.”

Both Collier and Abernethy say the case of ‘mistaken  identity’ is overemphasized. All pelagic sharks have  good vision. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be such great  hunters – – and far more humans would have ended up  as shark food by mistake. “In clear water, they’ll realize  what you are before they get there,” says Abernethy.  “And they definitely don’t want us.”

Kathy Dowsett



About Kathy Dowsett

I believe in protecting our oceans, lakes and rivers, as well as their aquatic life. I respect the work of conservation groups such as Save the Sharks, Save the Sea Turtles and Save our Wrecks. I believe that the use of plastic bags/bottled water should be discouraged as plastic finds its way to the ocean. I also support Diving for the Disabled and Swimming for the Disabled. As a PADI-certified diver, my interest in diving led to the opening in July 2008 of kirkscubagear, my online business. My site offers more than 2,000 products, including freediving, swimming and outdoor equipment. My continuing goal is to encourage diving and offer customers a shopping alternative for the purchase of scuba gear.

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