Shark diving can be a powerful and effective tool for shark conservation, but only if it is done in a responsible way. We understand that any problems or accidents that occur during the activity would have dire consequences for both our business and sharks and severely undermine our conservation efforts. We have put together the following guidelines to ensure we will do everything possible to dive safely with sharks, while educating our guests about the animals and treating them and their environment with the respect they deserve.
Despite its reputation, shark tourism is statistically very safe and accidents are extremely rare. That being said some species are large and potentially dangerous animals that do have the ability to cause harm to humans. If we are to interact with these sharks in the wild then every precaution must be taken to make sure the activity is done as safely as possible. Basic practices that every operator should adhere to in order to protect their customers include:
1. Limited number of clients per dive to ensure control over the group
2. Minimum level of dive experience
3. Professional experienced staff that will brief, guide and supervise guests at all times
4. Appropriate equipment for both staff and clients
5. Standardised procedures that always remain the same
6. Clear separation between sharks and tourists and strictly no touching of any kind
We believe that swimming with sharks comes with a responsibility to treat them and their environment with respect. In recent years it has become popular to stroke, hug and even ride sharks. In our opinion this behaviour is unnecessary, irresponsible and disrespectful. Simply observing sharks in their natural habitat is an amazing experience and is much safer for obvious reasons. Some of our guidelines regarding this matter will include:
1. Operators never handle or manipulate animals; touching by divers is strictly prohibited
2. Do not facilitate self promotional or sensationalistic material
3. Avoid sharks coming into contact with ropes, cages, boats or any other material used during the interaction
4. If attracting sharks with bait, make sure it is part of their natural diet and sourced locally and sustainably
5. Be committed to environmentally friendly sound practices. That means using local and recycled material, provide biodegradable packaging instead of disposable plastic products, among others
Many tourists are attracted to shark diving because they think it is a dangerous thing to do and, as a consequence, some companies promote the activity as an extreme sport.
Unfortunately these type of interactions misrepresent sharks and do not teach the participants anything valuable about them. We feel it is important to avoid this and offer not only a safe, but also educative experience.
There is so much important information to share with guests. Providing detailed briefings before the dive is a great way to explain facts about shark biology, ecology, and evolution. Some companies even run shark awareness courses in conjunction with diving activities for those interested in learning more about sharks.
In iconic destinations, such as the Galapagos, Maldives and Palau, abundant sharks populations still exist. It is common to see sharks going about their routine business while scuba diving and people travel from all over the world to witness it. Unfortunately not everywhere is like that. As numbers continue to decline it is becoming harder and harder to find sharks. In order to solve this problem tourism operators and researchers have been feeding sharks to attract them for over two decades. While providing an easy meal to a shark is undoubtably the best way to get close to it, there are concerns that lead many people to instantly denounce shark feeding as a bad thing to do. Below are three of the most common arguments against shark provisioning and the reasons why we disagree with them:
“It will increase shark attacks”
Many people assume that shark attacks will increase as sharks learn to associate humans with food but this theory is not backed up by statistics. While some individual sharks are known to stay longer in areas where feeding activities occur, there is no geographical correlation between shark feeding and shark strikes. Anyone who has participated in baited shark dives will tell you that sharks are intelligent animals that can easily identify the difference between people and food. To suggest they will start attacking humans because they have been fed in the past shows a lack of understanding of shark behaviour and is simply not true.
“It changes sharks behaviour”
Another common belief is that sharks that have been fed will become conditioned, causing long term problems for their health and change their behaviour. We agree that further studies are needed to fully understand the long term effects on sharks associated with feeding sites (and we intend to do this with our own project). However it has been scientifically proven that while feeding large predatory sharks can slightly disrupt their local movements,
it does not effect their migration patterns or stop them from performing their ecological role in the ocean.
“We should not mess with nature”
Lets be honest, in an ideal world nobody would be feeding sharks but then nobody would be killing them either. The vast majority of humanity lives on less than $10 a day and shark fishing represents a way for many people to survive and support their families. As conservationists, we cannot simply judge these people and expect them to just stop killing sharks because they are in danger. What we can do though is to offer them more sustainable alternatives. Shark tourism creates jobs and opportunities. When local communities realise they are better of protecting sharks than killing them, that should be considered real and effective conservation. Usually all of this is possible thanks to the baiting and feeding of sharks. Is it completely ethically correct to do so? Maybe not but it is certainly better than decimating shark populations for short term gain. Given the choice between protected shark populations that have been fed or no sharks at all, then it is clear which practice causes more damage to sharks.