The Daily Herald reports today that an employee of a local dive shop was bitten by a shark on friday afternoon when it bit her calf. The risk of being bitten by a shark will be greatly increased if you take bait into the water to attract the relatively shy ocean dwellers. Luckily, she did not sustain any major injury, only a wound that required some stitches.
“This was not an unprovoked attack by the shark, but was a result of baiting the water to specifically attract sharks,” according to Nature Foundation. Feeding of animals is prohibited in protected waters around the country. Sharks, like sea turtles, are protected from harm or interference by local and international laws.
Nature Foundation is still investigating the incident to determine the exact location the incident took place. If the incident occurred in an area where it is not allowed or if there was behaviour that can be considered reckless or endangering either a wild, protected animal or divers in the water, legal steps will be taken by the foundation against the offenders.
The shark encounter is said to have occurred some three kilometers offshore in St. Maarten’s territorial waters, where the employee of Dive Safaris went on a dive expedition to photograph sharks in their natural habit. She presented the bait to a shark, which then “mistakenly bit” her calf, according to the finding of a Nature Foundation investigation. The foundation wishes the injured diver a speedy recovery.
Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets, when asked about the incident, told The Daily Herald the incident is “clearly not the fault of the shark,” but was a result of persons who may be unfamiliar with sharks feeding a large, wild animal thus causing a change in natural behaviour.
“Sharks are not inherently dangerous and usually shy away from humans, but if bait is presented in the water to attract the animals, there is an associated risk, which the diver was aware of,” he said.
Bervoets reiterated that the incident was “the result of an employee of a dive operation bringing bait into the water and feeding sharks, which caused an animal to mistakenly bite a professional dive employee at a dive operation.”
The dive shop employee was transported to Bobby’s Marina by dive boat, where she was met by two bike patrol police and paramedics around 3:00pm. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance.
A worker at Dive Safaris’ Simpson Bay office did not wish to disclose any detail to this newspaper about the incident when asked. She only said the injured person would “be okay.”
A worker, presumably the boat’s captain, was asked for information by security guards stationed at Bobby’s Marina on the scene, as they are expected to file reports on happenings at the marina. However, according to information gathered by this newspaper, the boat captain seemed to have panicked and declined to answer them. He was said to have quickly gone back on the boat and left the marina with a number of passengers on board.
The dive trip carried out by the boat originated from Dive Safaris’ Simpson Bay location. The injured woman was brought ashore at Bobby’s Marina as it was said to be the closest spot available.
Update Monday, November 3:
Shark-attack victim to be flown out to see specialist
The injuries suffered by a dive instructor who was bitten by a shark turned out to be more serious than initially reported. A large chunk actually was bitten from the woman’s calf, with skin and about half of the muscle on the calf having been ripped off, and more muscle laid bare.
The woman is due to be flown out to receive surgery for her injuries following the bite. The injuries are serious enough that surgery is necessary to attempt to rebuild her leg. She will be taken to a specialist hospital where plastic surgeons will attempt to restore her leg’s functionality.
The instructor, who works for Dive Safaris, had been on a dive expedition that includes sharks being baited by the instructors, so that tourists and others on the dive tour can observe the animals and have photographs taken with them. The dive school insists that all attention during the tour is given to observing the sharks’ behaviour.
Tourists therefore have to abide by certain rules and are not allowed to touch the sharks or distract them from their natural behaviour and habitat. A clear safety briefing is given before each dive.
Although fierce-looking, the sharks that are observed in the expedition do not normally pose a threat to divers. However, as they are wild animals, their reactions never can be predicted fully.
The owner of Dive Safaris was shaken about the events.
“A group of three divers and three staff members went on the dive. Additionally, there was a fourth staff member on the boat, taking notes. As a dive school, we are very strict about safety precautions and especially on shark dives we have a high ratio of staff for each diver,” the owner explained.
“Unfortunately, on this dive, an unpredicted action from a wild animal meant that someone was injured. We followed the safety protocol. I coordinated the rescue operation and everyone acted following my instructions. We managed to get the lady out of the water and onto the shore by boat. Paramedics were called and met us on the shore.”
The owner is full of praise not only for his staff, all of whom are first-aid trained, but also for the divers who were on the tour. “Everybody was calm and acted quickly and professionally,” he said.
The group was met by paramedics at Bobby’s Marina. “There was a police patrol who spoke to the victim. I asked that they direct their questions to me so the victim could be taken to hospital as soon as possible. All questions were answered and the police had the details of the dive school,” the owner explained. “Reports that the boat driver panicked and left are untrue.”
The owner, who was not allowed to go to the hospital in the ambulance, went back to the dive school with his staff and the divers. “At the dive school, we had a full debrief and time was taken by all present to talk about the terrible experience they just had,” he explained. “I want to praise my staff as well as the divers. Everyone reacted appropriately and the rescue went as well as it could, despite the unfortunate incident.”
The owner has been contacted since by the authorities and is cooperating with the investigation. “Our thoughts at this moment are with our colleague. She has expressly stated that she doesn’t want any personal information to be given to the media, so I respect her request,” he concluded.