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July 2004 Vol. 19, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diverís Shark Tales from Around the Globe

we love sharks, they donít always love us

from the July, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Sharks have come a long way since Peter Benchley vilified the Great White in Jaws. In October, the animated Shark Tale will debut in theaters, with packaging deals involving Burger King, Coca-Cola, and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Produced by Dreamworks, this fishy full-length feature hopes to capitalize on the success of Nemo. But it is far more cartoonish, and far less realistic, than Nemo. See the trailer at www.sharktale.com.

Of course, it's nice to seek sharks get all the good publicity, since as divers we know they aren't much of a threat, but that's not to say we don't occasionally have problems.

As we reported in January, UNEXSO stopped offering regularly scheduled shark feeding dives around Grand Bahama Island after a Wall Street banker lost his leg in an attack while snorkeling near the shark feeding site. At the time, a UNEXSO spokesperson told Undercurrent that they had ceased regular shark dives due to lack of interest. Evidently interest has picked up, because UNEXSO resumed shark feed dives in June. Neal Watson's nearby Xanadu dive operation continues to sell wild shark feeding junkets to tourists.

Marine biologist Bill Alevizon told Undercurrent that "conducting and/or participating in such practices is in direct violation of the recently released Marine Wildlife Viewing Guidelines crafted by representatives from a broad coalition of groups including The National Park Service, NOAA, The International Ecotourism Society, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Dr. Livingston Marshall, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, was a member of the group."

Shark feeding has reportedly become a lucrative business for the U.S.-based resort operator Aqua-Trek in Fiji. According to the Fiji Times, guests pay $170 to feed the sharks. But in one location, Deuba, Aqua-Trek reportedly stopped the practice after a competitor recruited its staff. "Now we just take our guests over to watch the sharks but no longer feed them," said Aqua-Trek Fiji Diving Operations Manager Pedro Niuriu. Aqua-Trek still offers feeds at Beqa Lagoon, according to their website.

Chumming for Sharks

Undercurrent reader Gerry Lauro (Wyckoff, NJ) reported a grisly shark feeding incident last March in the Galapagos National Park. The dive operation Scuba Iguana took his group to a small island where sea lions were swimming. "As we arrived," says Lauro, "a tour boat was chumming for sharks to show the tourists. That this was going on in a national park is horrible, but our boat let several of our divers go snorkeling around the circling sharks. Within fifteen minutes, one diver was bitten in the midsection by a smaller shark (five feet or so). The diver sustained multiple cuts and lacerations but nothing fatal. The crew basically took no action toward helping him, other than driving to the nearest dock and getting him a cab and accompanying him to the hospital. How a dive boat allows guests in the water in a shark feeding situation mystifies me. Needless to say, I left the boat with the injured diver. They were ready to go for the second dive after this!"

In South Africa, worried surfers staged an April protest against the practice of chumming by shark tour operators following a great white shark attack that cost a 16-year-old surfer his right leg. Some say that the chumming has brought the Great White closer to shore, while others say the increased abundance is because they have been protected since 1991. In June, a shark attack victim's body was found on thehad evidently been poaching abalone (known locally as perlemoen) and quoted a companion, who said, "The shark pulled him under the water and then pushed him straight up again, as if he were standing up. His leg was off. Then he was swimming behind me, with blood all around him."

Aussie Attacks

A 10-foot-long shark mauled an Australian diver south of Perth in January. The 46-year-old had been diving for crayfish when the shark struck from below, biting his legs 11 times before his two companions could pull him into the dive boat and wrap his legs in towels to help stem the bleeding. The following month, another Australian swam 300 yards with a 2- foot wobbegong shark clamped to his leg before driving a mile to get the creature removed. Luke Tresoglavic, 22, was snorkeling off a beach 100 miles north of Sydney when the shark bit into his left leg and wouldn't let go, even after Tresoglavic "staggered onto the beach where two sunbathers tried to pry open the creature's mouth," according to the Chicago Sun Times. He got into his car and wedged the 2-foot shark against the gear lever as he drove with one hand to a surf club. Lifeguards there couldn't break the wobbegong's grip, so they plunged Tresoglavic's leg into a bucket of fresh water, drowning the shark. You can bet that shark grows at least a foot every time Tresoglavic retells the story.

Aussie spearfisherman Greg Pickering was bitten on the leg by a 5-foot bronze whaler after trying to help a friend. The pair was north of Perth when the shark appeared, and Pickering placed himself between his friend and the shark when it began attacking. "It kept crashing into him and coming at him with its mouth open," Pickering told Australia's Ten Network. "The shark just turned on me and charged at me, and it latched onto my leg, and it bit twice," he said. "I could see there was a big chunk of skin hanging off and the wetsuit was sort of holding it together." As for the shark, said Pickering, "We had no choice but to shoot it."

Protect Yourself

Australia's SeaChange Technology developed and markets Shark Shield, a device that generates electrical fields to deter sharks away from boats and divers. While the device is strapped to a tank, wetsuits embedded with the devices may be available within the coming two years. The devices will reportedly be used by U.S. and Australian military divers. More information at www.sharkshield.com.

While it is extremely rare for a diver to meet an aggressive shark and even more rare to be attacked, keep in mind your defense. Bob Hueter, the director for Mote's Center for Shark Research, says, "If attacked by a shark, the general rule is: Do whatever it takes to get away!" Some people have successfully chosen to be aggressive by yelling, blowing bubbles, or fending the shark off with their fists, cameras, or other objects. Other survivors have remained passive.

So, just when you're thinking it's unsafe to go back in the water, the Honolulu Advertiser recently published several tips that divers might keep in mind.

  • Dive with other people and don't move too far away from assistance.
  • Don't dive if you have open wounds or are bleeding. Sharks can detect blood in tiny concentrations.
  • Avoid murky waters, harbor entrances, and areas near stream mouths, especially after heavy rain.
  • Do not provoke or harass a shark, even a small one.
  • If fish or turtles start to behave erratically, leave the water.
  • Stay away from dead animals in the water.

And if you hear ominous twobeat music off in the distance, start saying your prayers.

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