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May 1998 Vol. 13, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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About Those Shark Feeds

from the May, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

George Burgess, director of the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, believes that one of these days the sharks foraging in orchestrated shark feeds will forego the chum for the tourists.

“Sharks are well-designed predators,” he said. “We’re getting a bunch of sharks together and getting them excited by putting food in the water. Then we’re putting people next to them. They do occasionally grab a diver.” At least one tourist and several divemasters have been hurt by feeding sharks recently, and it’s only a matter of time before there is a serious injury.

“What you’re seeing is not sharks doing natural things. These are, in essence, circus animals,” Burgess said. “They’ve been fed and they expect to be fed. You’re getting in the ring with them.”

Dive operators are altering the ecology of their dive sites by training the sharks to respond to boat engines and to expect food. “It’s classic Pavlovian stuff,” he told Jim Loney of Reuters News Service. “You gun the engines and the sharks expect to be fed.”

Burgess said the inevitable accident provoked by the dive tours will be spectacular tabloid television fodder and will ruin the work of scientists who have fought to tame the public image of the shark as a man-eating predator since the movie “Jaws.”

“Almost certainly when it happens, it will be videotaped and that tape will appear on a tabloid TV show,” he said. “The shark will be blamed for the attack. The image of the shark will be refortified.”

Of course, these feeds are big business for dive operations, which means that operators who once took divers out to view nature as it is now prefer to manipulate the critters, including sharks, eels, rays, and reef fish, staging a show so that we can watch them feed.

Any true friend of the wild animals knows that once you feed the animals, you change them forever. Hikers have learned better than to feed the bears in Yellowstone, and it’s time we divers followed their example.

Of course, our professional shark feeders, especially those in the Bahamas, don’t give a hoot about ecological ethics. The orchestrated shark feedings will almost certainly continue, but sooner or later it will be payback time, not only on tabloid television but also in court, when the shark baiters are sued by the deceased’s family.

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