THE news of a fatal shark attack spread quickly yesterday.
It is a rarity in The Bahamas – thankfully – but not unknown. Its rarity makes it no less tragic.
From what we understand, a family from Pennsylvania arrived in The Bahamas yesterday morning on board the Harmony of the Seas cruise ship, and booked a tour that took them to Green Cay. That’s about half a mile north-west of Rose Island.
While the victim – the mother of the family - was snorkelling, police press liaison officer Chief Superintendent Chrislyn Skippings said her family saw a bull shark attacking her.
The boat company operators and the family brought the victim back on board and travelled to the nearest dock at Montagu ramp. However, the victim was pronounced dead.
The incident brings back memories of 2019, when a 21-year-old Californian woman, Jordan Lindsey, was killed while snorkelling with her family in waters near Rose Island.
At the time, concerns were raised about chumming. Chumming is when bloody meat or other material is thrown into the water to feed sharks. That attracts sharks – which makes a great sight for visitors, perhaps, but sharks drawn to an area by blood can include more dangerous predators from the species, that might do serious damage to a swimmer by mistake.
In another incident in 2019, an American man survived a shark bite in Abaco, a few days before the death of Jordan Lindsey.
That man, Jonathan Hernandez, told US television reporters that he blamed shark-feeding for the attack. He said: “They’re associating humans with getting food, and it’s making it very dangerous to be in the water, whether you’re spearing or you just happen to be snorkelling near where they’re feeding them.”
The government had received reports of chum dumping in the area at the time of the 2019 death – and it will be one aspect to look into during the investigation into this latest death.
It isn’t the only area that will need to be examined, however. After that 2019 death, the CEO of the Tourism Development Corporation, Janet Johnson, said that several safeguards were being considered to prevent further incidents.
That would include a requirement to have someone standing watch as a sentry to warn people and make sure they are safe. She also said: “There is improved technology that we can use now such as drones, you can have lifeguards posted at beaches, you can have game wardens monitoring and patrolling areas. So there are things that we can do but maybe we need to step up our visibility.”
There were also concerns about access to medical supplies and efforts to save Ms Lindsey’s life by staff in 2019.
It is too soon to know what the full circumstances of this latest are, but video footage circulating on social media yesterday showed efforts to save the victim’s life – while at the same time a woman called for an intravenous drip and fluids and demanded to know why everyone was standing around and not getting what was needed.
It should be spelled out what changes have taken place following that 2019 incident – and whether all of those measures were in place this time around.
The practice of chumming should also be examined.
As environmentalist Joe Darville said back in 2019, if chumming is done, people should not be in the water. It only takes a shark snapping at the chum and making contact with a diver and tragedy can ensue.
At the time of that incident, we wrote in this column: “We would hope that starting with the larger operators, they work to ensure that chumming is not used as a means of attracting sharks, and especially not when people are in the water. And if they don’t, then regulators should lay down the rules to be enforced. A tragedy has happened already. We must work to ensure there is not another.”
Sadly, there has been another – and we must take a very clear look at what lessons we have learned in the past, and whether everything was done to ensure safety this time.
None of these lessons will be of consolation to the family involved in this latest tragedy of course. For those mourning the loss of a loved one, we say a prayer, and offer our condolences.
We have said it before about preventing another tragedy – we clearly have not done enough.