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February 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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New Zealand Just Banned Cage Diving with Sharks

from the February, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

There are mixed and often highly emotional opinions about cage diving with white sharks, which are offered bait to draw them in. Many believe, rightly or wrongly, that these operations cause shark attacks nearby. That was reason enough for a New Zealand court to outlaw cage diving as illegal last September. Bearing in mind the declining global shark population, should other countries follow suit?

Cage diving in New Zealand first started off Stewart Island nine years ago and was initially unregulated. By 2013, the country's Department of Conservation established a code of practice and created a permitting process one year later. However, mounting pressure came from other water users, such as abalone divers and charter boat skippers, who complained that cage diving has altered the sharks' behaviors, and they were now being targeted by sharks.

However, a study in the February 2018 issue of Marine Policy showed a positive shift in cage diving participants' understanding, attitudes, awareness and concern for sharks. Thus, the researchers concluded that the benefits of cage diving are a valuable and effective conservation tool, as long as it is managed carefully to ensure a sustainable and viable industry.

In South Africa, evidence collected by research scientists has shown that increased shark attacks are not correlated with the proximity to cage diving, nor with the higher number of water users, although such cage diving has developed in locations where sharks naturally congregate, such as California, Mexico and South Australia. That said, cross New Zealand off the list of shark cage dive sites, as that country has decided it's not worth the risk and has banned cage diving.

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