Alleged shark killing during Penny Palfrey’s Cayman Islands swim

White shark

Image by Ken Bondy via Flickr

EDIT: updated.

EDIT 2: See the results of the investigation here.

This may be the biggest subject in OW swimming this week.

Here’s a long story about killing of endangered (Oceanic White Tip) sharks during Penny’s swim. Here’s the follow-up with comments from Penny’s husband. Here’s Steve Munatones article on it.

I recommend reading the comments on all also to see some of the bile directed at Penny and crew and some different opinions. If my very limited experience of press is anything to go by, the truth will more complex than is currently being portrayed.

Some comments I would make as a swimmer:

  • There has to be complete trust between a swimmer and crew. The swimmer rarely knows the full story from the crew. Some swimmers want to be told the truth, some want to be lied to. Only distance swimmers and crew will really understand this dynamic. Afterwards or even during you might be angry or disagree with even simple things happening. But as a swimmer you’ve put your life into the hands of the crew. Make no mistake, distance swimming is one of the most extreme sports and it takes more than just the swimmer to accomplish.
  • I haven’t met Penny Palfrey (though we have people we know in common). I’m pretty certain that she feels as I do about the sea, that she loves it and all its glory in the way only someone who spends their life in it could. I sure she is upset at any loss, more so than people that have never swum a metre or spent time in the sea and even more upset at the coverage and the vitriol aimed at her swim, but I doubt she feels she should have sacrificed herself. I’ll be interested in her thoughts. IF the events happened as are being  portrayed, it’s entirely possible  that she wishes she’d been pulled but she would not have been aware of anything. The swimmer is both the boss and the least aware, at the same time, but never in charge. That apparent dichotomy exists in every swim. But it’s also possible that she is happy with the situation as I’m sure she knows more about it than we do. I’m not a mind-reader and can only speculate.
  • Any possible legal proceedings should it be determined there is a reason, would be interesting. Since I swim in water that doesn’t have fish (only dangerous sharks are called fish by OW swimmers), I don’t know whether they had to get any different permits for this swim. Or, if it happened outside territorial waters, then there will be no proceedings since as far as I am aware it’s not a protected area. Don’t misunderstand me there, I’m not saying something is ok or not depending on where it happens.
  • The bile and hysteria toward Penny is completely unwarranted. People who wring their hands dump plastic that kill birds and turtles. They flush their condoms to choke wildlife. They eat fish that are only caught by processes whose byproduct is the seas being emptied (e.g. shark bycatch). They throw and flush their shit and phosphates everywhere and dump their poisons in the sea and still lecture other people while they drive around in SUVs. Environmental improvements will never be achieved by screeching mobs or dictats but by consensus amongst everyone. This is actually one of the primary tenets of the environmental movement but unheeded both by Green politicians and many activists. (The sea led directly to me doing an environmental Master’s degree. The article I’d actually already written for today was about wildlife loss in the Atlantic).
  • “Fish skin is used as a source of gelatine as well as leather in making clothing, shoes, handbags, wallets, belts and other items. Larger fish are more suited to leather production owing to the size of the skins. Common sources of leather include shark […]. Shark cartilage is used in many pharmaceutical preparations and reduced in powder, creams and capsules, as are other parts of sharks, e.g. ovaries, brain, skin and stomach … Several splits by more product forms for several species have also been introduced, in particular for meat and fillets, as well as the introduction of shark fins in cured form.[…] UN – State of World Fisheries 2010.
  • Some 73 million sharks are killed by man every year, mainly for their fins. That averages out to well over six million per month, more than one and a half million per week, over 217,000 per day, upwards of 9,000 per hour, and around 150 per minute. In fact, in the 40 hours and 41 minutes it took Palfrey to break the world record for longest unassisted oceanic swim, over 366,000 sharks were killed somewhere in the world. – From the link above.
  • If I was in a situation where something the choice was between a swim and an endangered animal, I’d prefer to have my swim abandoned that have that endangered creature killed for my swim. But if a crew told me they killed a shark for my safety, I’d ABSOLUTELY believe and trust them. Those two things are completely compatible.
  • The fundamental question being asked by many is whether any swim is worth such a price. For this particular swim, I think we still need more clarity, and certainly not a rush to judgement.
  • I ask you this: if such swim are to be abandoned, then why is all the other mass- scale killing allowed? Personally, I have long been in favour of Marine Protection Zones (Reservations) rather than just a quota system. Quota systems, which are the primary method of marine protection are open to widespread corruption and lobbying and local political pressure. And they generally don’t work. The world has very few Marine Reservations. Marine biologists and environmentalists believe Marine Reservations (and outright bans) are the best way to protect species and habitats. If the Caymans were a protection zone or marine reservation, with NO marine traffic, then such swims should be abandoned. But let’s see how many will stand up for that. What, why we can’t go there? But how many creature are killed unknowing by propellers and dumped rubbish from boats and pollution? It’s hypocrisy to attack the swimmer and crew in ignorance while the rest of the world does its best to destroy everything.
  • I consider myself an aquatic creature. I have as much right to swim as any other creature. Being a thinking creature also, I seek for balance and understanding and an awareness of the world around me. I constantly fail.
  •  I’m also an environmentalist. But environmentalism has to exist in a real, contested world.
Disclaimer: The second article above seems to me to imply Steve Munatones is lying (I’d be very unhappy about it if I was Steve). I don’t believe this. Steve was there, unlike the others. If Steve says it didn’t happen, I believe him, it didn’t happen. Steve is the foremost promoter of Open Water swimming in the world, and is always open in his opinions. I know Steve from personal email discussions, he reads here occasionally, and he has featured my writing and interviewed me for Daily News of Open Water. (And Steve and I have disagreed in the past also, and no-one who knows me would accuse me of sycophancy).

11 thoughts on “Alleged shark killing during Penny Palfrey’s Cayman Islands swim

  1. Your full of crap. Abort the swim and don’t kill the shark. If you haven’t discussed this scenario with the crew you are a fool.


  2. Pingback: Beyond ‘JAWS’: The Truth Really Bites «

  3. No sharks were killed on this swim.

    Jeff Kozlovich was on the boat standing next to Norma Connolly (the reporter who started the shark killing rumor) when the shark was hooked.

    Steve Munatones was on the boat as well:

    These are the findings of the interview with Ebanks (the alleged shark killer) and the locals who were on the boat crew as well as the Department of Tourism findings on this matter:

    Sharks were hooked and dragged away, not good for the sharks… but far better than dying. Read the part of jeffs article where it talks about what Penny and her Support Crew had decided to do about sharks. Ebanks was part of the Boat Crew… there is a difference in the boat crew and Penny’s support Crew, the biggest distinction I can find is that Penny hand picked her Support Crew and the Boat Crew came with the boat. If I find that I am wrong about the latter I will post a retraction.

    When all this is put together the gist of it is more “sharks were hooked baited and dragged off by a fisherman whose only reply when he came back was I got rid of them and that was taken the wrong way by the reporter” rather than “3 sharks were chopped up and bleeding in the water around a swimmer thus putting her in more danger”

    No one is saying that no sharks were HARMED (hooks hurt), just that they were not killed.


  4. The Department of Tourism of the Cayman Islands and TheFlowersGroup have conducted an investigation into the matter and have not been able to find any eyewitnesses to a shark killing during Penny Palfrey’s swim. They state that images have been reviewed from various individuals who were on the boats. “From these findings, there is no evidence to suggest that any sharks were killed.”
    Since this finding was released, the photo journalist Norma Connolly |
    who initially reported the killings, has been unavailable.


    • You stole my thunder, well done. I knew about the investigation clearing Penny & Steve, but was waiting to publish it until tomorrow. I’m still particularly looking forward to publishing it. And sending it to some of the people who attacked Penny & Steve (and me for just talking about it, and not joining the same anti-swim bandwagon)



  5. You can make all the random excuses you wont my ignorant friend but we both know that Penny’s OW swim was meaningless! It especially doesn’t justify the killing of any conscious being in any way shape or form.


    • The reason the Oceanic Whitetip is now endangered is because of its illegal fishing for shark fin soup.

      Regarding my ignorance … the word is want, not wont. Also, punctuation is popular. I prefer Oxford.

      Also, just to help, there are many different definitions of consciousness. With respect to a shark, you will have to define what you mean. That it’s alive? (A shark is not different than a bacteria in this definition). A level of self awareness or self-hood? Non-sentient creatures don’t have a sense of abstract self-awareness outside primary biological functions. Maybe you’d be better off leaving comments on YouTube in ALL-CAPS.


  6. Hypocrisy may exist in all of us to some extent. I personally try to minimise mine as much as possible. I do recognise that there are a lot worse things going on out there than isolated shark kills for the sake of a swim. I recognise that I may contribute to some of them (indirectly or otherwise). But I would never consciously and actively support the killing of an endangered animal. This is crossing the line from the average hypocrite to the outright arrogant. The shark kill was wrong.


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