A word about Sharks
So here we are again, discussing the age-old question, “…should we really be playing with the sharks…”?
Though debated for years and resolved in most of the environmentally enlightened world, this issue still makes an appearance occasionally.
I guess the answer to this question depends upon one’s perspective on nature and indeed on life itself. There are a few questions that a person can ask him/her self prior to engaging in such activities that may help them to make a good “informed” decision:
Q: Will I be learning anything beneficial and valid by feeding, swimming and touching (molesting) the sharks?
A: Most scientists who have investigated shark behavior and interactions would say NO. By feeding the sharks you are altering their natural behavior. Therefore, you are not really making valid observations of true “normal” behavioral patterns. Your mere presence among them is sufficient to alter their behavior.
Q: Is there any real benefit to participating in a “Shark Swim” or interaction program?
A: Touching sharks produce no beneficial results. However, by making contact with the animal you are risking agitating it into a not-so-friendly state of behavior and more importantly you are risking injuring the animal and compromising its immune defense systems.
Remember, unlike that cute fuzzy puppy in the pet shop, sharks are probably not particularly fond of petting. In fact, from what is known about a shark’s sensory systems it could be deduced that any contact with their skin is probably very irritating to them.
Q: Is it safe to participate in a “Shark Swim” or interaction program?
A: Well, “Safe” is a relative concept. All activities in life have certain hazards and risks associated with them. Any activity involving diving is inherently of a Higher Risk level. But through recognition of the hazards and risks associated with diving we are able to effectively manage these risks. Any time we add additional hazards to an already risky activity we are increasing the risk and therefore the safety of that particular activity must be carefully evaluated. Part of the evaluation of risk process is to weigh the risk of potentially negative outcome against the potential benefit. Hence the previous question comes in to play.
Q: Is it “Fun” to participate in a “Shark Swim” or interaction program?
A: The answer to this question depends upon one’s idea of fun. For many of us the “fun” factor is directly related to the “thrill” of engaging in a particular activity.
Knowing that there is no real benefit to the sharks, the environment or to scientific inquiry in general by conducting the above discussed activities, and knowing the potential risk both to the divers and the sharks, I guess I have to wonder who does this activity benefit? Perhaps the only parties that truly benefit are the “Adventure” dive operations who promote, organize and conduct these events. And, of course, the uninformed, ill-advised thrill seeker who is willing to shell out “big bucks” for the opportunity to go swimming with the sharks.
I don’t necessarily think that having fun and enjoying the thrill of diving is a bad thing. After all, many of us started diving because of the “thrill” we get from doing what we do. Admittedly, I get a rush every time I get into the water. It’s just something that I absolutely love to do. I just have to wonder if participating in a “Shark Swim” or interaction program is the right way to get a thrill.
As with all issues, this one has many different sides. I would encourage anyone who is considering participating in one of these events to really do their homework and really consider all sides of the issue rather than just blindly going ahead because it looked fun or because “my buddy did it, so I gotta do it”. Please consider also that there may be more at stake than just the possibility of being bitten.
Personally, I would not participate in this underwater activity. As I said previously, I do not see that there is a real “legitimate benefit”, either for the shark or for human knowledge. Although I don’t doubt that being in the water with a school of sharks is quite “thrilling”, it’s not something that I feel compelled to do. Besides, I’ve had more than my fair share of natural encounters with various species of shark, in the wild (not baited, chummed or fed) and I’m quite content with my experiences.
I guess what it comes down to is the same thing that I always try to instill in my students; It’s an attitude of humility and respect for the creatures they will be encountering and the environment in which they live. Always remember that we are really only just “visitors” in their world.
If you are really interested in learning more about this issue or sharks in general there are numerous sites on the web dealing with the subject. They are relatively easy to find and most of them are fairly current. The following links are just a few that I found on the web in the time span of about 30 seconds. Check em out…
Best wishes for Fun & SAFE Diving Adventures.
1. Swimming with Sharks Hardly Eco-Tourism -
2. Underwater Thrills: Swimming With Sharks, Thrill Seekers Sometimes Focusing Only on Adrenaline, Not Safety -
3. Shark Feeding Time Line, CDNN, -
4. Diving with elasmobranchs: a call for restraint, George H. Burgess, Florida Museum of Natural History, USA -
5. Shark Lab -
6. Coral Realm, Shark Information -
7. Avoiding Shark Attacks -
8. Making Heads or Tails of Shark Attacks, Surfer Magazine -