Charter captain known to hand-feed sharks suffers bite

The captain of a Jupiter dive boat that specializes in shark encounters was bitten on the hand Sunday, suffering injuries severe enough that he was airlifted to St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Barbera said the sheriff’s Marine One unit picked up the owner of Emerald Charters after a distress call that he was bitten by a “sea creature.”

Related: Video of whale shark off West Palm Beach will leave you speechless.

Until December, Randall Jordan, was listed as the owner of Emerald Charters in state records. Ownership has since been transferred to 257 Charters, LLC, but Jordan is still named as the captain of Emerald Charters on its website.

Jordan was in good condition this morning, according to a St. Mary’s Medical Center spokesman, who confirmed he was still at the hospital.

A diver is delivered by paramedics to a Trauma Hawk helicopter at Lighthouse Park in Jupiter on Sunday. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

Deborah Toohey, who lives in Springhill, Fla., said Jordan is her brother and identified him from a picture taken Sunday by a Palm Beach Post photographer at 111 Love Street in Jupiter where the helicopter picked him up to take him to St. Mary’s.

“He tries to teach people to not be afraid of sharks,” Toohey said. “He’s an avid environmentalist when it comes to sharks.”

While Toohey didn’t know details, she said Jordan had to undergo “reattachment surgery.”

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Well-wishers left messages on social media for Jordan, but other dive charter companies did not want to comment for this story or about the practice of feeding sharks during dives.

Jordan did not return calls Tuesday.

In 2015, Jordan was sentenced to a year of probation, a $1,500 fine and 100 hours of community service after he was convicted of three misdemeanor charges stemming from illegally feeding sharks in Florida waters.

Florida banned feeding sharks in 2001, but it is still legal in federal waters, said Amanda Nalley, public information specialist for FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management.

A diver is delivered by paramedics to a Trauma Hawk helicopter at Lighthouse Park in Jupiter on Sunday. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

George Burgess, who investigates bites for the International Shark Attack file at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said a bite that occurs when someone is feeding a shark is considered a “provoked” incident.

He said he will investigate the bite, but doesn’t know how forthcoming people will be with information. Shark diving is a multi-million boon to Florida tourism and dive operators don’t like to discuss events that could appear negative to prospective clients, he said.

“The impression that shark diving operations give is that it’s a perfectly safe operation,” Burgess said. “It’s generally safe, but not perfectly safe.”

A report earlier this year from the ocean conservation group Oceana found that in 2016, shark dives generated about $337 million, fueled about 6,000 jobs, and $80 million in wages.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday that seven divers who were rescued 5 miles east of the Jupiter Inlet last week were separated from the Emerald Charter, but it is not investigating the incident and has no report.

Jordan isn’t the first charter operator bitten while on a shark excursion.

In 2011, Jim Abernethy was flown to St. Mary’s Medical Center after being bitten on the arm. The bite happened about 18 miles north of West End, the Bahamas.

 

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