READ THIS DISCLAIMER:
Feeding sharks is an inherently dangerous activity which should not be
undertaken without sufficient professional training. Even after such
training it is possible to be seriously injured or die as a result of
shark feeding activities. The information contained within Elasmodiver is
not intended as a replacement for training by a qualified agency and is
presented merely as an introduction to the styles of shark feeds that take
place and the ethics and politics surrounding the sport.
Shark feeding techniques vary from
operation to operation. Often the style of the feed is dictated by the
species of sharks in attendance. Other factors include the experience
level of the feeder and whether it is an organized feed for the public or
an impromptu feed to obtain specific footage or information.
for Sharks instead of Shark Feeding
There is no doubt that feeding
sharks changes their behavior. Repeatedly feeding sharks can cause them to
become expectant of a handout whenever humans are around. This sometimes
leads to sharks harassing divers that have no food and no desire to
interact with them. Perhaps some sharks lose their ability to hunt
naturally but it is unlikely that such highly evolved predators would
become this conditioned unless they were fed consistently and in
sufficient quantities that they never needed to hunt on their own. Even
well fed sharks held in captivity occasionally go on hunting sprees,
picking off their smaller tank mates between feeds.
The fact remains that if we are
able to attract sharks without feeding them then the sharks are far less
likely to become conditioned. The best way to do this is to pour some kind
of chum into the water that will attract the sharks without actually
satisfying their appetites.
Chum (or burley) may consist of
all manner of food stuffs but generally the main ingredient is fish blood
and/or ground up fish scraps. It is slowly ladled (or allowed to drip) into
the water spreading the flavor of dying of dead fish far and wide. This
excites the sharks and causes them to follow the scent towards the boat
but once there they find no reward and after a few exploratory passes they
continue on their journey.
Another way to attract sharks
without filling their stomachs is to lower milk crates or other sturdy
containers into the water that are filled with fish parts. The bobbing
action of the boat tends to stir up the scraps allowing very small
quantities to escape downstream. One advantage of using this method is
that the sharks have a specific target on which to concentrate their
attention (compared to the chum slick created by the ladling method). This
means that photographers or divers can either avoid the crates and swim
outside the sharks field of interest or alternatively hold onto the ropes
suspending the crates (especially handy in a strong current) so that they
are well positioned to get the shot. Of course the closer they choose to
put themselves to the crates the more dangerous their predicament becomes.
This method of bringing sharks
towards the boat involves tossing out fish with a line tied through the
gills or eye sockets. This will result in attendant sharks chasing the
fish directly towards the boat until the fish is pulled out of the water
at the last minute. It may seem like a way of teasing the sharks but in
their natural environment they would also not always manage to strike the
prey that they go after.
Although wrangling limits the
amount of food that the sharks receive, they invariably manage to take the
bait sooner or later so this is definitely a form of shark feeding.
Photographers have two ways to
take advantage of shark wrangling. They can get quite interesting surface
shots from the deck of the boat or they can use a pole cam (a camera
suspended just below the water) to get very close feeding shots. The
benefit being that there is little danger for the photographer. A rather
more precarious way to utilize shark wrangling is to hang from the swim
step where the bait will pass by on its way out of the water. This is not
the smartest place to be considering how fast the shark is likely to
traveling in its pursuit of the bait.
Pioneered by Walkers Key in the
Bahamas, the chumsicle consists of a giant popsicle made of frozen fish
scraps. This is lowered into the water once the divers have settled onto
the seabed out of harms way. The sharks then attack the block of food as
they would a bait ball or large floating carcass. The action around the
chumsicle can be quite intense especially if many reef sharks are in
attendance. They will compete fiercely for the food and rip away chunks as
fast as possible before it is completely consumed by their fellow sharks.
Generally the divers are
completely ignored and once the sharks have devoured the food they
disperse or hang around on the periphery. Comically the divers often then
rush in to perform their own 'feeding frenzy' competing for sharks teeth
that usually get dislodged during the feed.
Although the chumsicle shark feed
can present a good spectacle for divers and photographers, visibility
often becomes poor once the frenzy heats up and lots of scraps are
floating around. Also snappers and other local fish that are used to the
feeds will congregate in such numbers that a clear shot of the sharks
often becomes impossible.
Feeding and Hand Feeding Sharks
There are endless ways to hand
feed sharks. Most feeders wear some form of chain mail to avoid bites.
This can range from simple gauntlets, to full sleeves, to complete chain
mail or even Kevlar suits. I have seen divers hand feeding sharks without
gloves and I have even been to official shark feeds where the gloveless
feeder is only expecting nurse sharks to show up but wearing some kind of
protection is generally accepted.
Some feeders prefer to attach the
fish scraps onto the end of a pole to add some distance between themselves
and the sharks. This is obviously a prudent thing to do but it means that
the shark has to chomp down on a steal rod to get the food. This isn't
ideal for the shark or for the photographer looking for a more natural
looking feeding shot. Experienced feeders will sometimes hold the bait
between their gloved fingers and lead the shark forward (right over the
photographers lens) letting go at the last minute and withdrawing their
arm from the photographers field of view. This can result in some
extremely dramatic images.
In organized hand feeding dives
the spectators are prepped beforehand on correct etiquette. Generally they
are asked to kneel in a line or large semi circle around the feeder. This
can result in some thrilling close passes as the sharks converge on the
Get a bunch of shark crazy
photographers aboard a boat, give them a bucket of fish, and wait to see
what happens. On some dive boats where experienced divers are looking for
close encounters there may be lots of different shark encounters going on
at once. Looking around on one recent dive in the Bahamas I could see two
photographers patiently waiting on the sand next to some fallen bait while
a third photographer was manically waving a fish around. Turning back to
the boat I spotted a diver literally sitting on a suspended bait crate and
to top it off their was a videographer hanging onto the swim step while a
topside diver pulled a roped fish over his head. Six or seven Lemon
Sharks were busy vacuuming up whatever was offered while a Tiger Shark
nervously skirted the edges of the party mostly out of sight. Nobody died.
In fact, looking at each diver individually no one was really even in that
much danger other than the 'human polecam' up on the swim step.
Fishing while Feeding Sharks.
Probably the most dangerous
addition to any feed is a spear gun. The struggling vibrations emanating
from dying or wounded fish on the end of a spear will cause any sharks
present to become a lot more agitated. And, agitated sharks are
unpredictable. Also, think about the impact that spearing fish has on the
environment. Commercial fishermen are going to kill fish regardless of
whether the leftovers will be used to supply a shark feed so whenever
possible try to use the bi products of normal fishing activities rather
than adding to the carnage.