Florida tourists 'are now shark bait'

by BARRY WIGMORE, Daily Mail

British holidaymakers were warned yesterday that they are 'shark bait' if they swim off parts of the Florida coast - because of the latest tourist craze.

The alert came after six surfers - including a girl of 17 - were savaged by a huge shoal of sharks in the waters off a popular resort.

Experts believe the ferocious fish are losing their fear of humans because of so-called 'Feed Jaws' excursions, which have increased hugely in Florida this year.

Holidaymakers pay £30 each for up to half an hour underwater watching scuba divers putting meat into sharks' mouths. The divers wear chain mail suits, but the tourists are unprotected.

The excursions are staged in an area known as Shark Junction between Miami and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, and in the Bahamas.

More than one and a half million Britons visit Florida every year and Professor George Burgess, who records shark attacks worldwide, said yesterday: 'They must be warned that if they swim in the seas down here, they are little more than shark bait these days.

'These shark circuses have got to be stopped. They have made the sharks lose their natural shy-ness. Now they're going looking for people - and see them as food.'

The attack on the surfers came during a competition at the east coast resort of New Smyrna Beach, near Daytona Beach, when man-killers such as bull sharks and tiger sharks were feeding on shoals of smaller fish.

Competition organiser Leon Johnston said so many sharks were near the shore that contestants had to jump over them as they ran into the water.

'It's not unusual to have a few sharks around here,' he added. 'Usually, they stay well clear of the surfers - but this lot seem to have lost their fear of humans.'

Surfer Bobby Kurrek said: 'I was riding in on some good waves when I was surrounded by sharks - probably five on one side of me and six or seven on the other. One went right under me and came behind me and just grabbed my foot and yanked me off of my board.'

He kicked the shark in the face and it let him go - enabling him to scramble ashore. 'I was terrified. I've been surfing here for years and never felt threatened before.'

Professor Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, said: 'The problem is twofold. These feeding dives attract sharks to the area, and at the same time they make the sharks lose their instinctive aversion to humans.

He has recorded 25 shark attacks associated with feeding excursions. 'Sharks normally avoid humans,' he added. 'Now they equate people with food. They're coming looking for people - and a shark can smell someone in the water two miles away. These Feed Jaws tours are absolute madness.'

Professional diver David Earp, of the Marine Safety Group, said: 'These shark circuses are out of control.

'They are attracting all sorts of vicious fish towards humans, including sharks, barracuda and moray eels.

'All those things have very ugly teeth. Tourists just don't realise the enormous danger they are in.'

Shark attacks have increased dramatically around Florida this year. Last month, eight-year-old Jesse Arbogast had his right arm torn off by a 7ft bull shark.

His uncle dragged the fish ashore and a park ranger shot it. Jesse's arm was recovered and reattached in a 16-hour operation, but he is still in a coma.

At Daytona Beach yesterday, lifeguards were patrolling on boats and jet skis. But many tourists were staying out of the water. Mother-of-three Lindsay Sampson, from Isleworth, Middlesex, said: 'I'm worried stiff about my children.'

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