Something terrible happened the weekend before last…. a man named Markus Groh died.
News of his death has appeared in newspapers and on television screens around the world. There has been a great deal of press coverage on the matter, but the vast majority of these articles and reports seem to confuse facts, exaggerate occurrences, and generally demonize sharks.
The media’s response to this tragedy has been horrific. It is one thing for a reporter to cut and paste misinformation gleaned from another article… but seeing the blatant fabrication of “facts,” reports, and quotations in some stories has made me ashamed to have ever called myself a journalist. Physicians take the Hippocratic Oath when they enter practice… perhaps there should be a similar mantra for members of the media, to help guide them as they provide “truth” for the hungry eyes and ears of the world.
Truth… let’s revisit that, and start from scratch.
On Sunday, February 24th, Markus Groh, an attorney visiting from Austria, was participating in an organized shark dive aboard the M/V Shear Water in the Bahamas, when he was accidentally bitten by a bull shark.
Groh was evacuated by Coast Guard helicopter to a hospital in Miami, where he later died, apparently due to blood loss from the laceration on his leg (flesh was not removed by the bite).
This man’s death has sparked an amazing amount of debate. Some of those discussions have been germane, but most have been filled with misinformation, fear, and purposeful agenda.
This was a terrible and tragic accident. However, it was just that – an accident. The shark was biting at a crate of bait, when it accidentally bit Markus Groh on the calf. Realizing it had made a mistake, the shark released Mr. Groh’s leg, and moved on. His leg was cut, but no flesh was removed. If the shark was desirous of human flesh, or was intent on attacking any of the people involved in this dive, it could have easily finished the job, rather than releasing Groh’s leg and moving on.
Why one newspaper claimed that Groh was bitten on the thigh, I cannot understand. I will give the reporter the benefit of the doubt and presume he was not intentionally trying to make the injury seem more substantial than it was. However, when this single, mistaken bite on the calf transforms into a report that “his leg was nearly torn off,” as reported in another article, the intent of sensationalizing the story is apparent. The reporting gets absolutely ridiculous when we see this same single bite and release translated into, as one large network put it, Mr. Groh being “mauled to death.”
Early reports stated that the shark “got away before anyone was able to identify it.” This is completely untrue — we know it was a bull shark. Some reports have referred to tiger sharks, in an apparent attempt to stir greater fear. However, to claim the shark “got away,” suggests that it was fleeing the scene of a crime, and now has some people concerned that a killer shark is on the loose.
Adding to the media frenzy are quotations and interviews from critics and competitors of Jim Abernethy, the owner and operator of the M/V Shear Water. Abernethy’s customer list reads like the Who’s Who of underwater imaging, and his supporters and customers all insist that he is one of safest and most knowledgeable operators on the planet. However, the quotations that find their way into the media tend to be those laying blame for the accident, and those that call Jim irresponsible or unsafe.
It is human nature to seek a scapegoat and attempt to find someone to blame when bad things happen. However, the ultimate loser here is the shark. While the various industries involved bicker over who is right and what is safe, we are allowing the media to continue to present the public with an inappropriate view of these magnificent creatures.
Whether you are a colleague or fan of Jim Abernethy or are critical of the event, this is inarguably a time when many negative stereotypes and misconceptions about sharks come to the forefront… and into the public eye.
Whether you believe in cageless diving or oppose it…
whether or not you believe in baited diving, in chumming, or even in feed dives (there is a big difference between the three), the truth of the matter still remains: Sharks do not eat people, and sharks do not target people.
I’ll repeat that: SHARKS DO NOT EAT PEOPLE .
This event was a terrible, but freak accident. Roughly 40 people die each year in parachuting accidents in the US alone. An equal number die in skiing accidents, again, just in the US. In 2007, there was only ONE shark related fatality… worldwide. Yet, we managed to kill more than 100 million of them. =(
In the news, scary and sexy sells, but manipulating this tragedy to present sharks as mindless killing machines, and striking fear into the public about diving or swimming with sharks, or reporting on misguided allegations, is completely irresponsible and inexcusable… especially at a time when many sharks are at the brink of extinction.
To my scuba and film colleagues, and to all my fellow shark geeks: Please, let us put aside any differences, at least temporarily. Let us offer our condolences, and then unite under the common goal of sharing a new and accurate view of sharks – one that allows people to see that they are beautiful, important, and endangered creatures. This is critical to the survival of sharks, to the health of the oceans, and to our planet.
To my media colleagues: Please join me in a commitment to responsible journalism: to source validation, to accurate research and fact-finding, and to presenting truth without sensationalism. … and please join me in being the vehicle for this new view of sharks. Not only do they desperately need our help, but the world deserves to know.
To all you faithful readers: If you hear people talking about this event, or about sharks in a negative manner, please interject and help enlighten them to the truth about sharks. If you help convince even ONE person that the media hype is undeserved or sensationalized, you will have made a difference.