February 28, 2008

Shark Enthusiast: Most Recent Death ‘Freak Accident’

SHALIMAR -- Shark attacks get Dick Brauer's attention. That's because his hobby is photographing sharks with the help of commercial dive operations.

On most of those expeditions, he photographs the sharks through a cage lowered into the water. But Brauer has also done open-water dives similar to the one that killed an Austrian tourist last weekend.

The Shalimar resident would do it again "in a heartbeat," he said. "Those are normally done safely. This was a freak accident, I would say."

The tourist was bitten on the leg Sunday while diving near the Bahamas in waters that had been baited with bloody fish, according to the Associated Press. He died Monday.

A Florida company ran the dive trip. Brauer didn't know anything about that company, but described two common methods of baiting the water.

On his open-water expeditions, a dive master kept the bait in a sealed container and opening it only to spear one fish at a time. The divers like Brauer sat in a circle and kept perfectly still, with their arms crossed in front of them. Sharks can confuse something light-colored -- like a waving hand -- with a fish.

"Sharks come from everywhere," he said. "You can't count them. They'll come in from behind, go over your head. I've had them brush up against me.

"They're not interested in you," he added. "They're interested in the fish."

Another baiting method involves freezing a barrel of fish and blood into a giant "chumsicle," which is tied to the bottom and melts.

Because it is a less controlled way to release food into the water, it is more likely to incite what Brauer called a "feeding frenzy."

Most of Brauer's recent shark trips have been in a cage. But he is contemplating taking a trip later this year that would put him in open water with tiger sharks.

He admits that it would be a little "risky." That might not keep him home, though.

In a 1994 interview with the Daily News, Brauer described a face-to-face experience with a great white shark during a caged dive.

"It's a religious experience in a way when you see that mouth open up in front of you," he said.