A record breaking swim off the Cayman Island has caused controversy amongst conservationists after three sharks were apparently killed to allow the swimmer to complete her swim.
Renowned Australian/British marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey broke the world record with a swim of 67.25 miles between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman in a time of 40 hours and 41 minutes.
Along the way she encountered cross winds, adverse lateral currents and four Oceanic white tip sharks, Carcharhinus longimanus. Her support team reported that the sharks measuring between 6-9' long continually approached Ms Palfrey – coming within 5m of her.
Ms Palfrey was protected by a shark shield being towed behind her by a kayak and an inflatable boat. The shield emitted electrical impulses thought to repel sharks, however Ms Palfrey reported kicking against something thought to be a shark during her swim and her support team felt that the risk posed by them was too much.
A local fisherman in the support team baited the sharks using dead fish, hooked them and then apparently hacked them to death using a machete. He told the team that the sharks were aggressive and would have continued to threaten Ms Palfrey.
Mr Ebanks, who allegedly has a reputation on the islands as a shark hunter and killer, has since become famous for the words he uttered as he wrestled one of the sharks: “Not today, bo bo”.
Oceanic white tip sharks are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN but are considered Critically Endangered in the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic Ocean due to declines of 70%-98% within the past 30 years.
Todd Cameron, an open water swimmer, is quoted on a Facebook page dedicated to Ms Palfrey’s swim: “Baiting and killing sharks during an open water swim is far from proper safety norms and procedures when dealing with these animals. I can tell you that Penny was in no danger at any time from these gorgeous, curious animals. If they wanted to eat her they had ample time during the 40+ hour swim. They didn't, because they don't. As ocean swimmers we enter their home willingly, and they deserve our utmost respect: Nothing less, and certainly not to be senselessly killed in the incorrect belief that we are 'protecting' a swimmer.”
Ms Palfrey was also stung three times during her swim by jellyfish and was accompanied for a while by a pod of pilot whales.
Ed's note: Since we published this story, Mr Ebanks has denied these claims and there's now some debate as to whether the sharks were killed or not. For the latest version of events, see the article: Sharks killed during record breaking swim: Fact or fiction?
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