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March 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Outrage over Shark Dives in New Zealand and A Call for Cayman to Allow Shark Dives

from the March, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the Cayman Islands, the discussion about whether to allow shark diving there is warming up. Guy Harvey is one of the dive industry vets calling on the government to consider licensing dive operators to run shark interaction dives, saying it could be a boost to the island's economy, raise awareness of shark conservation and create a financial incentive to protect the species.

Steve Broadbelt, owner of Ocean Frontiers, used to run shark interaction dives before they were banned in 2002. He told the Cayman Compass there are legitimate concerns about sharks associating divers and boats with food, but there are well-established protocols in other areas to mitigate this risk. "Cayman is at a significant disadvantage by not permitting shark dives. We have always had a healthy population of sharks on the East End of Grand Cayman and in some other areas around the destination. We lose a lot of business to the Bahamas specifically due to the shark diving that is offered there . . . There are industry-wide standards and best practices on shark feeding that must be followed and have a proven safety track record."

Harvey thinks the climate may be changing. "Cayman is more tuned in to this issue than ever. People have a lot more concept of the value of a living shark."

The locals on Stewart Island, at the southern tip of New Zealand, have launched an attack on the Department of Conservation (DOC) for allowing caged shark diving in their waters. A petition with 768 signatures calling for an immediate ban was presented to Parliament on December 2. Stewart Island resident Ken McAnergney told TVNZ he's outraged that DOC is continuing to grant permits, given the change in great white sharks' behavior since the cage diving started, and they're now associating boats with an "easy, healthy, tasty meal," becoming so aggressive that people can "no longer safely enter the sea."

The DOC had shark cage diving expert Barry Bruce from Australia's Scientific and Industrial Research Organization review cage diving practices at Stewart Island, and he found no evidence that shark cage diving increased the risk to people in the water. Ken Hughey, DOC's chief science advisor, told TVNZ that while the dive operators use bait to attract the great whites, they are not allowed to feed them.

However, last summer, the DOC found one shark cage dive operator had breached its permit after sending 'secret shopper' observers on dive trips to see how they were run. Reports showed multiple breaches of permit conditions and the code of practice, including failure to stop a dive when a great white shark became agitated and allowing sharks to take throw baits.

On December 13, a group representing the commercial abalone fishing industry took the DOC to court over its licensing of shark cage diving, wanting the agency to revisit its decision for granting licenses to the shark cage operators who breached permit conditions and are now on their last warning.

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