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July 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Putting a Camera on a Shark: Not a “Brilliant Idea”

from the July, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If you watched the Discovery Channel's Shark Week last summer, you may have seen the documentary Lair of the Megashark -- the title is self-explanatory. If you haven't, then groups fighting for a shark diving ban want to make sure you see photos and video snippets of the film crew battling it out with a great white shark. Their goal: showing that sharks can associate boats with food, and that humans can be stupid when it comes to baiting sharks.

Shooting near New Zealand's Stewart Island, Jeff Kurr and Andy Casagrande were in a dinghy attempting to put a camera on the dorsal fin of a 20-foot-long great white, but the massive animal nudged the boat and bit at the rope that tethered the dinghy to the main boat. They can be seen panicking as the great white uses its strong jaws and tail to shake the dinghy. It disappears for a bit, then Kurr and Casagrande are stunned a second time when it resurfaces close to the dinghy as it tries to get hold of the bait attached to the main rig.

One of the men can be heard warning that while sharks are not malicious, they do "kill things for a living." Another man can be heard saying, "I don't think this is such a brilliant f*****g idea, you know." When another shark is spotted breaching near the dinghy, the crew decides it is too unsafe to have a dinghy in the water with such large predators in the area. ( You can see photos and a brief video at ).

If you got as close to a shark as these guys did -- especially while trying to tie a camera onto its fin -- would you really be surprised if it tried to do a smack down on you? George H. Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida, isn't surprised. "This great white had seen this as a violation of its standards, so it did what any animal would do if it's cornered or unhappy. The great white is a charismatic animal but portrayed unfairly in the media. If you're a crew for a shark film, you're out to get the money shot, and this one got them more money than they were seeking."

Sport divers are a different story, though. Burgess says the number of diver-attacking sharks is minute; there were no incidents recorded last year. "Where we do see these incidents, it's totally relegated to either spearfishing (noises and speared fish are attractive to sharks) and attracting sharks via chumming or feeding. Those are the interactions between sharks and humans that turn out negative."

However, he just recorded 2015's first shark bite case: a blue shark in shallow waters of the Florida Keys bit a diver who was photographing it. The man admitted he got in the shark's face and repeatedly took photos before the shark was fed up. "That's when you're no longer in ecotourism mode, you're in provocateur mode," says Burgess. "These are stupid human tricks, and as a result, if you're going to engage in activities like spearfishing or baiting sharks with food, you must assume the risk and be willing to accept the consequences. The repercussions are all on you, not on the shark."

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