Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Neal Watson is not a shark expert..... he is a vulture.

Roger Horrocks freediving with a 12ft tiger shark

This self-styled diving 'legend', who is the president of the Bahamas Diving Association, and runs a couple of dive operations in the Bahamas and some other places in the Caribbean, knows next to nothing about sharks. Unfortunately, the press people believe he does.

In several interviews following the tragic accident on one of Jim Abernethy's shark dive trips to the Bahamas last Sunday, Watson self-righteously claims that he has "warned" Jim for running cage-free dives with 'dangerous' sharks such as tiger sharks, lemon sharks, hammerhead sharks, bull sharks, and mako sharks.
His self-serving statements smack of envy, and instead of informing the media objectively about shark diving, he irresponsibly, and plain stupidly, fuels the reporters' hunger for sensationalism in lashing out viciously at Jim Abernethy, one of the most respected shark dive operators world-wide.

Read Watson's "warning letter" (undated):

Dangerous Shark Species Interaction Warning Letter

To: All Dive Operations Conducting Questionable Dangerous Species Shark Interactions in the Waters of The Islands of The Bahamas
From: Bahamas Diving Association, Official Recognized Diving Association for 36 members of The Islands of The Bahamas
To Whom It May Concern;
We have become aware that some dive operators have chosen to disregard standard safe-diving practices as it relates to interactions with Tiger Sharks and other potentially dangerous species of Sharks, in various locations within the waters of The Islands of The Bahamas.
The Bahamas Diving Association endorses and suggests all dive operators in the legal waters of The Islands of The Bahamas follow GMAC guidelines for conducting potentially dangerous marine-life and human interactions.
In such, 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 & Mako Sharks.
Species that we have determined safe to interact with outside of a cage are Caribbean Reef Sharks, Black Tip Sharks, Black-Nose Sharks, Nurse Sharks and Silky Sharks.
Many operators in the Bahamas conduct shark diving interactions with ‘safe’ species, and have done so for over 25 years without a major incident. However, due to the potential negative behavioral reactions of Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, Lemon Sharks & Mako Sharks, purposeful feeding or interaction with these species without a proper shark cage is highly discouraged.
The Bahamas Dive Association (BDA) would be glad to help communicate industry-standard safe shark interaction practices, should you need any assistance with your procedures. This letter will be copied to the Bahamas Government, plus all diving insurance and training agencies serving The Islands of The Bahamas.

Mr. Neal Watson

Bahamas Diving Association

These statements clearly show that Watson does not have a clue about shark diving. To encourage cage-diving with species he considers 'dangerous' serves no other purpose than to perpetuate the killer-image of these sharks.

Mark Addison, another highly respected non-cage shark dive operator from South Africa, has this to say:
"As you know cages spread fear, not understanding. It is never going to be enough to say why we do it but it is what we do. This is the time for understanding, not fear."

The tragic accident of Marcus Groh is the first shark dive fatality ever. Watson did not mention that to the press. Suppressing such a significant fact unmasks this not so honorable gentleman.

Neal Watson is, in my opinion, a disgrace to the diving industry.

These are the letters I wrote to this not so honorable gentleman:

From: Wolfgang Leander <wolfgang@oceanicdreams.com> Date: Feb 27, 2008 11:14 PM
Subject: Shark incident / Jim Abernethy
-->To: "NealWatson@aol.com" <NealWatson@aol.com>


This is an open letter to you
Mr. Watson:

You keep lashing out at Jim Abernethy - not only do you do the shark haters a huge favor but you discredit yourself and the association you preside over.

You would like to have others regard you as some sort of a diving "legend".

Well, let me tell you what you are: You are just an old vicious man without the slightest feeling for basic decency in a time when solidarity and compassion for both the vicitim`s relatives and your colleague Jim would be the appropiate behavior. Instead, you behave worse than a vulture. You maliciously feed the sensationalist press that is hungry for "Jaws" food.

Your classification of 'dangerous' sharks (Jim's sharks) versus 'safe' sharks (your sharks) is not only ludicrous, but shows quite clearly what your ulterior motives are.

Everybody in the trade suspects that you are using this most unfortunate incident to promote your shark operations with 'safe' Caribbean Reef Sharks while trying to eliminate a highly successful and internationally acclaimed competitor.

Shame on you!

Wolfgang Leander

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Wolfgang Leander <wolfgang@oceanicdreams.com>
Date: Feb 25, 2008 9:12 PM
Subject: Shark incident / Jim Abernethy
To: Neal@nealwatson.com

Dear Mr. Watson:

I was appalled at your published statements below:

-->"Most operators do a safe dive behind cages. But Abernathy, for whatever
reason, simply refused to comply with the safe diving practices in violation
of our standards in the Bahamas," said Watson, who operates a diving company
out of Fort Lauderdale.
It is tempting to offer a cageless option to customers: both the photographs
and personal experience would be enhanced. But the risks are too great,
Watson said.
"Him working with tiger sharks and bull sharks uncaged is totally
irresponsible and dangerous," he said. "It wasn't a matter of 'if,' it was a
matter of 'when.'
Instead of expressing solidarity with the victim's relatives and your colleagues, you lash out at them callously and unsportingly, and seem to relish at the fact that this incident "proves" you right.

I know Jim Abernethy, and I can tell you that he is probably the most professional shark dive operator out there. His safety record has been flawless - until this last Sunday.

Now, we all know that shark diving is not entirely risk-free - what sport is? Skiing? Mountain-climbing? Bike-riding? Would anyone try to ban these activities because people can get injured or even die practising them?

You are a seasoned diver, as am I (I started diving back in 1955) - you should be a bit more relaxed. Stuart Cove has not had an accident, not that I know of, and he must have organized thousands of shark dives with Caribbean Reef Sharks in baited situations. So, Mr. Watson, what is your problem??

I have freedived both in Tiger Beach and Aliwal Shoal (South Africa) with tiger sharks - no cages. I have to say that I NEVER felt threatened by these magnificent creatures in any way. Now, you could say, why does an old fart like me (I am 67) freedive with tiger sharks? Well, that is what I love to do. And let me tell you: I am not a dare-devil; I just enjoy swimming with sharks as do countless other ocean enthusiasts.

I would never ever dive within the confinement of a cage, not with tiger sharks, not with whites sharks. I would not even scuba dive with sharks - I only freedive with them.

People should decide for themselves what they want to do. If they want to take risks - fine. But who are you to tell others what to do, and how to do it?

I have to ask you again: Why are you so much against cage-free shark diving? And why are you crusading against it? Many thousands of divers dive with sharks all over the world - the safety record is as high as it can be. Unfortunatley, Markus Groh got bitten and died from the wounds.

As much as we are saddened by this deplorable accident, we should neither demonize the sharks nor should we blame people like Jim Abernethy who have done more than most in introducing thousands and thousands of divers to the realm of the lords of the sea.

Whoever has the privilege to dive with sharks becomes a shark conservationist. Shark conservation is, to Jim, more than just a fashionable slogan: He has dedicated his life to it by taking people out to swim with sharks so they can feel closer to nature which is what shark diving is all about.

We are disconnected from nature, and sharks represent, in a way, the paradise we have lost a long time ago.

Best regards,

Wolfgang Leander
Cochabamba / Bolivia



Felix Leander said...

I love the fact that Mr. Watson classifies Caribbean Reef Sharks as "safe". Has anyone seen Reefies in a feeding frenzy? I have, and let me tell you, they have bad table manners when they compete for food...

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Gene said...

Mr. Leander,
Stuart Cove,Neal Watson,George Frieze and myself were the pioneers of cage-free shark diveing and shark-feeding dives in the Bahamas back in the late 80's. Between the four of us we have well over 100 years of shark-diving and feeding experience. In Nassau alone,Stuart Coves and my dive operations took over a million divers on cage-free shark-feeding dives from 1989-2006, not to mention the non-feeding dives. I can catergorically state that your comments about Neal Watson, his motives, his dedication to sharks and shark-awareness and his experience with sharks are totally incorrect and out of order.

The facts speak for themselves....to my knowledge, in over 25 years and well over a million divers participating in both cage-free shark dive and cage-free shark-feeding dives by land-based Bahamian operators not one diver has been killed by sharks. How many has Jim Abernathy lost on his shark expiditions?

Gene Kruger