Dr. Erich Ritter, probably the most famous shark researcher, died on 28 Aug 2020 of a heart disease in his adopted home of Florida at the age of only 61.
Heiko Blessin, head of the JBL research expeditions, has a personal obituary: It is said that everyone can be replaced - but that’s not the case with Erich Ritter. His enthusiasm and commitment to endangered sharks was unprecedented!
Erich and I got to know each other at the water sports fair “Boot 2004”. At that time he was still with the shark protection organisation SharkProject.
JBL was planning a workshop with 80 participants at the Red Sea and Erich immediately agreed to visit us there and give our participants a lecture on shark interaction. In 2005 he arrived at Marsa Shagra in the afternoon and we talked for two hours prior to his lecture. I found his argument that sharks don’t recognise human blood quite convincing: sharks have never bitten menstruating women swimming in the sea! I don't know if this was Swiss humour or Eric's humour - but you never forget something like that. The next day he flew back to the USA without going in the water. His calf was severed in a shark accident, and he even saw the humour in this, saying that he would win any breakdance competition by just walking across the stage.
During our 2006 expedition to South Africa, we coordinated the times so that his group and ours were at the same hotel at Aliwal Shoal at the same time. In the evening, spontaneously, out of friendship and passion, he gave a lecture for the JBL team on white sharks. In the evenings we sat together for a long time and talked about our childhoods, in which the foundations of our passion for the oceans were laid. We realised that the TV series Flipper had probably been the deciding factor in our fascination with the sea for both of us. Erich was still working on his doctoral thesis on the perch when I became a marine biologist. But he moved to Florida and stayed much closer to our role model Flipper. Our last meeting was in the Bahamas in 2018 and when free diving world record holder, Christian Redl, Erich and I sat together in the bungalow in the evening, Erich usually occupied himself with writing research papers or using social media. One of the last things I can remember him saying was: "If you still aren’t getting decent pictures of sharks, you’re in the wrong job!“.