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Florida Panel Bans Shark-Feeding Trips Over Behavioral Concerns

November 02, 2001

KEY LARGO, Fla. — A Florida commission Thursday banned shark-feeding expeditions, saying the practice by some scuba boat operators could be altering the animals' natural behavior.

The seven-member Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stressed that there is no evidence connecting the feedings to recent shark attacks in the state's waters.

They said the ban, which takes effect Jan. 1, is aimed at assuring that the sharks do not become more dangerous.

Opponents of "interactive diving," in which scuba-diving tourists watch dive leaders feed chunks of fish to sharks, say the practice teaches the animals to associate people with food.

Shark dives bring thousands of tourists to the state.

Scuba boat operators and divers argued that the practice does not pose a danger to the public. They have sued to overturn the ban.

John Stewart, a spokesman for the Diving Equipment and Marketing Assn., said if shark feedings posed a danger to the public, a diver would have been attacked on one of the tours. There have been no such attacks.

Since 1994, the number of Florida shark attacks has exceeded 20 in every year except 1996, according to the International Shark Attack File.

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