As we pointed out in the spring 2013 edition of the Alert Diver, even being a dive buddy has potential legal implications. So, to bump this up a notch, what about the diver training organisations themselves? Where do they stand? How do they relate to South African law? Are they all considered the same under our legal system in spite of the differences in organisational structures and training programmes? How does this affect their respective instructors and trainee divers from a legal perspective? These are not exactly simple questions. It is certainly true that the respective training organisations differ in a number of ways. However, this does not imply that there are necessarily differential legal implications for each of them. In fact, under South African law, the legal principles are common in all matters. Therefore, if you suffer a loss and you (or your estate in the case of a fatality) wish to recover damages, the legal principles would be applied commonly; whether you are driving or diving. Although not a frequent occurrence, there have been quite a number of law suits associated with diving injuries and damages in South Africa. This is not surprising, as the occurrence of law suits is really a function of “numbers”. As training increases, so do the chances of injuries and, with it, the chances of legal recourse. So, it remains wise to insure yourself, your equipment or your business in a proper and effective way. But before getting back to the potential differences amongst the training agencies, let’s first explore the foundational legal principles on which any civil claim would be adjudicated: inherent risk, negligence and duty to take care.
LIFE AQUATIC IN THE COMPANY OF POLAR BEARS ABOVE AND BELOW THE SURFACE Text and photos by Amos Nachoum My life began in Israel, far from the polar latitudes. But in the sweltering days of my youth I dreamed of the polar bears, icebergs and Inuit of the high Arctic. I became obsessed with the vision, and I made it my life’s mission to observe, study and understand Ursus maritimus — the polar bear. A half century later I am in Svalbard, hoping to document female polar bears nursing their cubs and hunting. Late spring is when to find mothers with cubs; having recently given birth, the mothers will be wandering about the shrinking pack ice hunting for sustenance. Polar bears’ range is largely within the Arctic Circle, which encompasses the Arctic Ocean, its sea ice and its surrounding seas and land masses. Although polar bears are typically born on land, they spend most of their time on sea ice. They hunt at the ice edge and live primarily off their fat reserves when no sea ice is present. These bears have evolved to occupy a narrow ecological niche: They are highly adapted to the cold and capable of covering great distances over snow, ice and open water. They’re also very adept at hunting seals, which make up most of their diet. Because of expected habitat loss in the changing global climate, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has classified polar bears as “vulnerable,” and at least three of the 19 polar bear subpopulations are currently in decline. Each day we set out on snowmobiles with camera gear and enough food and clothing for 12 to 14 hours. We synchronized our days to optimal light and the bears’ hunting patterns. There are no words to describe the experience of driving fast through totally white hills, moving from one fjord to the next and stopping every so often to take in the amazing landscape before us — it engendered a profound feeling of being alive. On the third day our guide, Einar, spotted movement about two miles away. Through his balaclava he whispered, “Mother and cub.” I looked through my binoculars and beheld the remarkable vision of a bear moving slowly along the ice with two cubs strolling behind her. They sniffed the air and the ground, trying to find a seal hole. Our guide calculated the wind direction and set about determining our best position with regard to light and proximity. For the next three hours we shadowed the family. Before long the mother bear stopped to sit. She exposed a black nipple to nourish the cubs with her milk. We closed the distance to 100 yards, and I quietly set up a tripod on the ice and mounted my camera’s 600mm lens to capture this tender moment among apex predators (see Page 6). The feeding lasted for about 15 minutes, and then the family fell asleep on the ice right in front of us. We had no choice but to stay put until the two rambunctious cubs began chasing each other and the somnambulant mother moved them on their way again. Only then could we move as well. The mother had to hunt. She would not have eaten during her pregnancy, and nursing two demanding young ones meant she needed food for them all. I saw her place her head close to the ice, sniffing, and then raise her head, close her eyes and sniff again. Einar informed us she was seeking a seal somewhere nearby. Stopping his snowmobile, Einar went totally silent, picked up his binoculars and with a hand signal demanded we be still. The mother bear had positioned herself with her hindquarters in the air and her nose nearly touching the ice. Einar whispered to us that she was on high alert and that this was a good hunting hole. We would have to be extremely quiet as any sound above the ice would be amplified greatly beneath it. We could scare the seal away from the hole and cause the bear to lose her opportunity. Slowly and with great care we set up our cameras and tripods. For once I was wishing for those hot sunny days in Israel — I was freezing my butt off. We had been there for almost two hours when suddenly the bear stood up tall and with lightning speed 38 | SPRING 2016
Photographing polar bears has been a lifelong obsession for Amos Nachoum. Staging expeditions to the Arctic specifically to encounter them has been rewarding and, at times, harrowing. For more information, visit BigAnimals.com. ALERTDIVER.COM | 39
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