Posted by on May 17, 2005 at 17:35:08:
The days could be numbered for the six-foot Moray eel, known as ‘Psycho’ which has become a main attraction on excursions to the Sandbar and Stingray City.
The eel like many of the species, is virtually blind, so finds it hard sometimes to differentiate between squid, which eels normally feed on, and an arm or a leg belonging to a human being, especially youngsters.
The situation got serious recently when the eel bit a young American tourist, who needed emergency surgery to avoid what could have been the loss of a limb.
Justin Weber was scuba diving with his parents off Grand Cayman when, perhaps attracted by the stainless steel diabetes bracelet Justin wears, the eel chomped down on his forearm with its sharp teeth and held on until his dad pried its jaws apart.
Blood poured from Justin’s severed arteries. “I saw the eel on my arm,” Justin said. “It was more pain than I’ve ever had. I was just scared,” said Justin, who was diving with his dad and mom at Stingray City.
Justin underwent six hours of surgery in George Town, Grand Cayman, where doctors used a vein from his leg to help restore blood flow to his hand.
The Webers arranged for a chartered medical jet, which cost $21,400, to fly Justin to Madison, where he underwent surgery on nerves and tendons at UW Hospital three days after the attack.
Nor was this the first time that Psycho had struck and probably won’t be the last. A young woman suffered an attack recently and visiting scuba diving instructor Kevin Bradley had a one-on-one with the eel during a dive in the area.
“It head butted my mask,” said Kevin, from Veroe Beach, Florida. “There is only one answer to the problem and that is, stop feeding him. The trouble is the dive master on the tourist trips usually throws food to the eel to attract him for the tourists’ cameras because he’s the show.”
Laura Weber said the family expects to resume diving vacations when Justin is ready, but they will never choose another destination where fish are fed.
“We believe this changes the way the animals react to human beings,” she said.
Gina Petrie, Director of the Department of Environment (DOE) said: “The DOE is aware of the incident and has had a long-standing position on not feeding animals that has largely gone unheeded by water sports operators.
“People are put directly in harm’s way when dangerous animals are fed. In any terrestrial park anywhere in the world, feeding of the animals is not allowed. However, in a marine environment, people tend to relax this rule.”
Noting the fact that people are being allowed to feed what scientists describe as “a dangerous predator and opportunistic omnivore,” Ms Petrie said, “The DOE’s warning against feeding is not only because of the danger to humans, but also because this practice has ecological consequences as well.
“If water sports operators and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, CITA, continue to ignore this warning then people will have to take responsibility for their actions.
Explaining that the DOE’s assistance has been requested to relocate the eel, Ms Petrie said: “We need to tell CITA that this will be the final time. We have had to relocate animals in the water that have gotten too familiar in the past.
“If they (CITA) continue to ignore the warning, we will consider them advised and they will have to take the consequences.
“To relocate the eel we will take it from a high visitation area to a reef or habitat typically not visited for recreational purposes.”
Asked about the possibility of the eel moving back to The Sandbar where the incident took place Ms Petrie said, “If that one does not move back another will probably move into its place.”
Lillian Hayball-Clarke, a local specialist, added that any new eel is unlikely to be a problem in the first instance but operators must continue to warn their divers about the behaviour of these creatures.”
Steve Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers, the operators of the boat the boy and his family were diving with, said in relation to the feeding of animals: “I know that new practices, which are still to be brought into law, are being proposed. These practices relate to the proper management of Stingray City and the Sandbar among which are included the limiting of food and other such items. As far as I know there should be nothing to stop these provisions from going forward.”
Post a Followup