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August 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Subscribers Speak up about Shark Feeding

the results? Seems to be split down the middle

from the August, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

John Bantin, who makes more dives in a year than many of us make in a lifetime, wrote a commentary in our July issue about shark baiting and feeding, and why if divers want to see sharks, then there's nothing wrong with either. We asked readers for their opinions, and whether they agree, or don't with Bantin.

Many readers who've seen shark feedings say they don't have problems with them. While all the negative talk in the past about feeding sharks made Rob Gadbois (Chicago, IL) hesitant to watch a shark feeding on a Great Barrier Reef trip aboard Mike Ball's Spoilsport last November, he wrote "I enjoyed the hell out of it, so maybe I have changed my mind a little. The event was thoroughly professional. We had to line up along a circular wall and remain in place during the feeding. The white-tip sharks started gathering around; they knew the routine. Our divemaster pulled a large metal barrel full of tuna parts down from the boat and swam with it toward us, with the sharks following him. The divemaster attached the barrel to a mooring, then he used a pole to flip open the latch, and the sharks went at it. The fish snacks didn't last long, and the white-tip sharks departed shortly after. Done in a controlled manner such as this without direct interaction between diver and shark, I couldn't see the harm in it. Sure, the sharks know the routine, but it happens infrequently and in only one place. I am not sure it significantly alters their general feeding behavior with that one small snack."

E. Webb Bassick (Bannockbuirn, IL) took his three young sons, to Stuart Cove's in the Bahamas, and he says he never felt at risk, "not even when a 600-pound female swam right between my wife and me. Stuart's people are professionals. And when it's all over, the sharks disperse, they don't hang around. I agree with John Bantin. When shark feeds are done in a responsible manner, like at Stuart Cove's, I don't believe there is anything wrong with it. In fact, our family would say that the feed was the highlight of our diving!

Michael Craghead (Sterling, VA) knows he won't see sharks on dive trips any other way without baiting involved. "I laugh whenever I talk to non-divers or new divers about sharks. They seem to think that as soon as you dip a toe in the water, the sharks will come. Nothing could be further from the truth. It usually takes effort to get sharks to come into view. But I also think there are many dive operators that will try to stay away from areas where sharks might be prominent, to avoid any liability if someone gets bitten. I'm a big boy. My liability agreement should cover that, and I'm willing to take the risk."

Those Against It

Ross Goldbaum (Hillsborough, NC) hasn't been on a shark-feeding dive, nor does he want to after his daughter told him about her baited shark dive near Durban, South Africa. "She enjoyed the first dive of the day, but on the second dive she was nervous, because the sharks seemed more energized, frenetic and erratic. " The fact that there are no studies proving that shark baiting doesn't teach sharks to associate divers with food really doesn't mean much. I would no more hang around a chumsicle that sharks are hitting than I would put out a side of bacon in grizzly bear country and wait around to get an upclose look. I suppose you can argue that baited shark dives offer another economic argument for shark preservation to counteract the profit incentive of finning them. But at the end of the day, the baited dives seem gimmicky to me."

Davis Scott (Cape Coral, FL) has been on shark-encounter dives, and says "it's no more natural than tossing a ham hock into a pit of hungry gators, or a garbage can into a group of bears. The shark or better yet, schools of sharks doing their own thing, to me that is the object of awe and beauty. Feeding sharks for money, in my opinion, is a sleazy way to get a photo or jack up a dozen paying neophyte divers, purely a lowbrow way to promote a commercial enterprise."

Rich Greenberg (Sarasota, FL), says it short and sweet: "Mother Nature knows what she is doing. Humans shouldn't intefere."

Tom Whitaker (Pacifica, CA) is also short, but not so sweet regarding Bantin writing about feeding sharks on his dives. "This guy is a dangerous idiot. I shudder at the thought of being on a liveaboard with this arrogant jerk."

A Better Way?

Harvey Cohen (Middlefield, NJ) wants to highlight the difference between baiting and hand-feeding. "Any personal interaction with sharks or other predators teaches the wrong thing to both the animals and the divers. I don't want predators to associate my hands with food. On the other hand, enhancing the economic value of live sharks is a powerful argument. The shark experiences run by AquaCat and Spirit of Freedom, where the divers are planted in a circle on the sea floor, while a chumsicle or chum can is suspended a good distance above, seem like a good model."

There are no long-term, scientific studies on this matter, but if we had those, the dive industry could come up with the right way to run these shark-human interactive trips that would be beneficial for both sharks and humans, says Henry Schwarzberg (Mobile, AL). "Because there are so many operators running bad shark-feeding operations, the safest course of action would be to fund scientific studies, and then license operators to conduct the feedings in accordance with standards set as a result of those studies. Then shark feeding could be banned for all except licensed operators who follow established protocols. If those standards could be established worldwide, all the better. And maybe these studies could convince people in Third World countries that sharks are worth more when valued for tourism that when they are finned cruelly and left to die."

- - Ben Davison

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