If you’ve ever been on a shark dive where the sharks were lured in by some type of bait, then you know how exhilarating (and maybe a little scary!) it can feel to be up close and personal with these magnificent predators.
Should dive operators feed sharks?
As with many things, there are arguments on both sides of this question, so today we’re going to explore the issue.
Shark ecotourism is a booming business. More and more dive operators now offer opportunities to interact with sharks through baited dives.
Some experts say that shark feeds encourage unnatural shark behavior and alter underwater ecosystems, while others argue that shark feeding can be a great tool for education and conservation.
Those In Favor Say
Shark feeding can be an excellent conservation tool:
- Dive operators who run baited dives argue their purpose is no different from that of a zoo or aquarium. Both give people the opportunity to see animals they could never otherwise encounter, while educating them and inspiring them to become advocates for shark conservation.
In a Scuba.About.com post, marine biologist Dr. David Delaney says, “If conducted in a respectful manner, baited shark dives may actually benefit sharks as a species by increasing human interest in shark conservation, as well as facilitating and funding education, research, and conservation.”
Shark tourism encourages locals to preserve shark populations:
- When tourists fuel the local economy by booking shark dives, it provides an incentive for locals to not kill sharks. Engaging local communities is a critical step for preserving shark species.
Those Against Say
Feeding sharks provides entertainment, but it doesn’t promote education or conservation:
- George H. Burgess, biologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, argues in a post on ScubaDiving.com that many shark feeds are simply “shows” for tourists with little educational value or respect for the natural environment. In many cases, dive operators simply throw chum into the water to attract sharks so tourists can have a photo opportunity.
Shark feeding alters natural shark behaviors:
- Burgess points out that, in the past, it was quite rare for sharks and humans to interact together in the water. Human and shark interactions are increasing because of baited dives, and it may change the way sharks learn to interact with people and boats.
- One particularly controversial practice is hand feeding, which teaches sharks that humans are a source of food. Hand feeding sharks could become dangerous for recreational divers or fishermen as sharks become accustomed to approaching people.
Shark feeding has a long-term impact on underwater fauna and flora:
- Sharks are solitary animals and typically don’t live in close proximity to other sharks. However, shark feedings draw sharks together unnaturally, often mixing species as well. When sharks leave their former environments and congregate in locations where feeds are frequent, it can alter the natural fauna and ecosystem where the sharks formerly lived and hunted.
As Burgess says, “Attracting any animals — on land or sea — is an act that can deleteriously affect the environment and the attracted animals. That’s why feeding bears, baboons, raccoons, dolphins, alligators, sharks, and other terrestrial and aquatic animals is banned in many countries and states.”
Yes or No on Baited Shark Dives?
If you’re considering going on a baited shark dive, a few things that may help you decide are:
What type of feeding?
- Tossing chum in the water and sending divers in is not the best approach according to many experienced shark dive operators. Even a frozen chum ball can fall apart, making it more difficult to maintain distance between the food and divers.
- A better bet is a bucket or crate that is stationary and less likely to fall apart. This allows divers to keep some distance from the food.
- Some advocate for hand-feeding since the food is always under control of the feeder; however, for obvious reasons this presents a greater risk to the feeder.
Other things to consider are what type of shark since different species have different feeding habits, conditions, visibility, — and your skill and comfort level.
The most important thing to consider is the dive operator — do they advocate for shark conservation and have a solid safety record or are they merely in it for the money? Read reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor.com before you book.
Need some gear before your next dive trip? Check out our huge online inventory at ScubaToys.com!
How do you feel about baited shark dives? Let us know in the comments below!
Hand-feeding image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/
Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mlemos/
Should Divers Feed Sharks?
Baited shark dives are a booming business but there are arguments on both sides -- some say it promotes education and conservation while others argue it's merely entertainment and potentially bad for humans and sharks.