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Shark tour leader was warned of danger, diver says

  • Story Highlights
  • An Austrian lawyer died after being attacked by a shark Saturday
  • He was part of a cageless shark tour led by Jim Abernethy's company
  • Bahamas Diving Association president says he implored Abernethy to stop the tours
  • He says Abernethy's dives specifically targeted dangerous shark species
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From Susan Candiotti
CNN
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The leader of a shark tour whose customer was mauled to death Saturday was warned that his practice of allowing people to swim close to hungry sharks could lead to tragedy, a colleague said.

Markus Groh -- an Austrian lawyer -- died after being gnawed during a dive led by Jim Abernethy's south Florida company.

Groh, 49, died from loss of blood resulting from the shark attack near the Bahamas, The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office said.

Neal Watson, a president of the Bahamas Diving Association, told CNN he implored Abernethy to stop what Watson considered a dangerous practice: Cageless shark dives specifically targeting dangerous shark species.

"I hate to say I told you so out of respect for the victim's family, but I've always said it wasn't a matter of whether something like this would happen, it was when," he said.

Abernethy did not return phone calls from CNN seeking comment. The shark dives are advertised on the Web site of his company, Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures.

"Abernethy has been swimming with sharks almost his entire life, and is a pioneer in diving with tiger and great hammerhead sharks," the site proclaims. "No one can get you closer, or get you the best photographic opportunities!"

In shark-dive excursions, dead fish and fish entrails are used to attract the sharks and bring them close to the divers. Cageless dives put divers and sharks in close proximity, without a metal underwater cage protecting the diver.

Watson told CNN he also offers a cageless shark tourist experience in the Bahamas, but only with less dangerous species: Caribbean reef sharks, blacktip sharks, blacknose sharks, nurse sharks and silky sharks.

Shark feeding was banned in Florida in 2001, so dive operators take customers out to Bahamian waters, Watson said.

Watson said that he had sent a letter to members of the Bahamas Diving Association in July 2007 urging them to stop cageless dives with about 10 dangerous species. He said he wrote the letter to everybody, even though Abernethy is the only dive operator he knows of who does it.

The letter read in part, "We recommend all operations immediately cease and desist conducting open-water, non-cage shark diving experiences with known species of potentially dangerous sharks such as tiger sharks, bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, lemon sharks, and mako sharks. ... Purposeful feeding or interaction with these species without a proper shark cage is highly discouraged."

Watson said the letter was copied to the Bahamas government, which he said has not outlawed the practice.

Abernethy did not respond, Watson said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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