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.
has always been a highly controversial subject. When livelihoods and lives
are at stake emotions tend to run
high. In one corner of the shark cage are the dive operators who rely
heavily on shark encounters to earn
their livings and
the thrill seekers clutching their cameras with adrenalin coursing through
In the other corner of the cage, clutching onto the bars and
hyperventilating are the concerned citizens, shark attack victims, spear
fishermen, politicians looking for publicity, and news hacks looking for a
headline. Its difficult
to say which corner of the cage is right but lets start
by examining what the pro and anti shark feeders believe...
The case for banning shark feeding:
The theory goes
that by feeding sharks in the presence of divers or snorkellers, over a
period of time the sharks begin to associate the presence of humans with
food; effectively a Pavlovian response in which the sound of splashing
humans or a boat arriving acts as a dinner bell to passing sharks and
sends them into feeding mode. Then, unable to find the fish scraps usually
on offer or perhaps confused by the low visibility where beachgoers
regularly splash around, the sharks home in on the bathers and attack.
We are not
allowed to feed bears, crocodiles, or lions because it encourages them to
seek out humans which can lead to similar problems so why should we allow
people to feed sharks?
Even if this
hypothesis is unfounded, 'better safe than sorry' right?
This is such a
clear and simple argument that it is very easy to buy into and difficult
The case for allowing shark feeding:
absolutely no proof that the small number of sharks participating in shark
feeds around the world are responsible for any of the attacks that have
been inflicted on bathers.
come from shark species that are not even in regular attendance at the
along Florida's busy beaches (a state in which shark feeding is now
banned) have photographed hundreds of sharks milling around in the
shallows among completely oblivious beachgoers. It would seem likely that
any of these sharks could attack given the right stimulus such as the
thrashing movements of a swimmer or the flash of a bare leg in murky
water. At some of the most notorious of Florida's beaches, fishing piers
are located next to prime bathing spots where recreational fishermen bait
the water constantly. This introduces blood and fish scraps into the mix
of splashing beachgoers, which in murky water creates a confusing signal
to passing sharks.
proponents also point out that during the majority of feeds, individual
sharks receive very little food. Therefore, they do not learn to rely on
humans for providing their meals.
It is also
practically unheard of for a spectator at a shark feed to get bitten.
Divers at these events are largely ignored by the sharks which
demonstrates that the sharks are able to differentiate between humans with
food and those without. This learned behavior may actually decrease the
chances of one of these sharks attacking an innocent bather.
through the clumsiness of the feeder or the shark, he or she may receive a
bite but even in this instance the offending shark is not trying to eat
the feeder but rather it is attempting to get at the fish.
The same is usually true when
spear fishermen are harassed by sharks. The added vibrations of a
struggling harpooned fish can make the sharks very aggressive.
A Great Hammerhead
chomps on the bait.
behavior of bears, lions, and crocodiles to sharks is misleading at best.
Large terrestrial carnivores share their environment with humans and
naturally include us in their diet. Most sharks eat fish and do not
consider mammals as food. If the debate were over the feeding of Saltwater
Crocodiles which are responsible for many deaths in Australia there would
be little ground on which to argue. Even approaching a Salty without food
is asking for trouble as humans are firmly on its menu but as any diver
will tell you; getting close to a reef shark in the wild is almost
impossible (unless you corner it which is reasonable provocation for it to
white sharks and a few other species do regularly eat mammals but in areas
where Great white sharks and humans meet (such as the beaches of
California) no operator would dream of trying to attract sharks (except
perhaps unscrupulous fishermen). In December 2003 an operator in False
Bay, South Africa was
recorded chumming white sharks close to a popular beach. His excuse was
that he was trying to draw the sharks away from the beach. His license
was immediately suspended and the practice stopped.
There is also
controversy over the environmental ethics of shark feeding. To suggest
that the primary goal of shark feed operators is to educate people and
protect sharks through heightened awareness is unrealistic. Of
course these feeds exist to line the pockets of dive companies but why
should this be considered a negative thing? Many shark feeders are
ex-fishermen who are progressive enough to understand that a live shark is
worth much more than a dead one. If they happen to set up an operation
where shark conservation and education are part of the program then that's
feeding of sharks change their behavior? Most definitely but not
drastically. Regularly fed sharks will appear on queue at the sound of the
approaching feeder, but after devouring a few scraps to the delight of the
spectators the sharks return to their normal activities of hunting and
making baby sharks. The only time when their guaranteed appearance becomes
a problem is when long-liners target the location of a feed. Then, the
entire local population can be wiped out in one foul swoop.
If you still
haven't picked a side of the shark cage consider this: The oceans have
been dangerously depleted. A recent IUCN survey confirmed that two out of
five ocean organisms are now considered threatened. If a byproduct of
shark feeding is a small level of protection for the remaining apex
predators then shark feed operators are one of the few groups standing in
the way of a complete ecosystem collapse. Its not compulsory to feed
sharks to protect them but who else will champion these animals?
Organizations like the Shark Trust are stretched too thinly already to
concentrate on individual reef shark populations on the other side of the
world and shark fishing bans are very hard to enforce. If shark feeders
are out there monitoring the sharks and lobbying for greater localized
protection (as they have in the Bahamas) then sharks have a better chance
of avoiding extinction which will significantly help the crumbling
ecosystem to maintain its fragile balance.
One more point: if shark feeding
is banned the images contained on websites like
Elasmodiver could not be captured and without pictures,
sharks become faceless monsters. Shark feeds are often the only way
photographers and film makers can capture images that the public use to
process their fears which helps them relegate
sharks to the rank of dangerous predators rather than creatures of
nightmare to be dispatched at the first opportunity.