Sunday, November 23, 2008

Deadly Catch: 8th Abalone Diver Found Dead off California's North Coast

And that's just this year.

At least 15 abalone hunters have died off Sonoma and Mendocino counties in the last 19 months, authorities say.

"Abalone diving is very hazardous," said Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Glenn Lawrence. "My understanding is [Su] was an experienced diver, but there were 12-foot swells. Even an experienced diver can get in trouble."

The body was found in about 20 feet of water with an abalone diver's weight belt still attached. There was no indication that the diver was caught in thick kelp, which has led to the drowning of other divers this year.

"He went down and never resurfaced," Lawrence said.

An autopsy will be conducted.

Abalone season draws about 40,000 free divers to the North Coast each year. The sport is riskier than it appears, and authorities say some divers do not appreciate the hazards. The use of scuba tanks is banned to protect the badly depleted species.

Abalone divers have been killed by being swept into rocks by unexpectedly strong waves, becoming entangled in thick kelp, or suffering heart attacks in the cold water. One was killed by a great white shark.

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