Another point: the comments about feeding sharks a little bit on dives fail to take into account the countless tons of fish scraps dumped overboard by fishing boats. Why doesn't anyone ever mention that? - Ila
Because it's not a good comparison. The theoretical "sin" that we're debating is not in the feeding or baiting; it's in the conditioning or habituation of powerful, well-armed animals by having food and humans in the water at the same place and time. As other people have pointed out, it's like camping in grizzly bear territory with open food containers. Once they make that association (which you have made it so easy for them to make) they quickly learn the lesson and there is often no turning back.
If commercial fishermen were diving with sharks after tossing hundreds of pounds of fish guts and discarded bycatch into the water, they'd be bitten all the time. And this would either lead to the outlawing of the practice or fishermen would simply wise up and stop swimming amidst the bloody offal.
Sometimes some of you guys sound as though you think that sharks give a damn or appreciate that you're only diving with them to "respect them" or take pretty photos of them in action. THEY DON'T. You are not doing them any favors. (By this point we certainly have enough spectacular photos from Tiger Beach to feature in all the shark conservation publications and endeavors in the world, so let's ease up with the "we need to dive with them to convince people to save them" argument.) And the fact that you have to feed them to get them to show up or do photogenic things such as open their mouths at the surface so you can get that awesome over/under portrait is evidence that your respect for their natural behavior only goes so far and seems pretty vulnerable to the persuasive powers of artistic and financial incentives. If it seems like your dive is going to be shark-less, you are willing to alter their behavior. Is that respectful? Would it not be more respectful to simply dive with as little impact as possible (if at all) and let the sharks behave as naturally as possible? It's one of the most basic rules of stewardship: Don't feed the animals or do anything to change their behavior.
In addition, even if they are interested in the food, I have never seen sharks directly associate humans with food - if there's no food, or smell of food - they rarely stick around the diver (not like my golden retriever). - Loftus
"Associate humans with food" means that when an animal encounters its food items and humans at the same time and place, one of several lessons can be learned that causes the animal to thenceforth "think" of humans and food items as synonymous or contemporaneous. This can easily condition the animal to behave around humans in a way that they normally wouldn't (such as NOT disappearing when you're in the water and, instead, congregating around a boat), and can lead to "accidentally" biting the wrong part of that Human-Food association. If you have a golden retriever, I'm sure you spent time conditioning it to make all kinds of associations, such as "opening the cabinet" = "dinnertime" or "shitting on the rug" = "punishment time."
Look. At bare minimum, even if we accept the premise that sharks at Tiger Beach and similar spots are not conditioned to associate humans with food (either in the moment or longterm), the fact that some of those sharks are lunging at chum bags or baits means that it is more likely that they might "accidentally" bite something other than the target objects. Because if not for those potential prey items in the water, they wouldn't be BITING at anything, right?
Rob "shark expert" Stewart's comment on CNN, which Eric linked to in a separate thread, is a great example of this cognitive dissonance: "The shark that bit Markus Groh was biting at a box of fish very close to the diver, and when the sand was stirred up and the visibility decreased, the shark bit Markusâ€™ calf instead."
Okay, Rob. Here's a really simple question:
Would that bull shark have had its jaws open or been BITING if that box of fish hadn't been in the water? If not, can we please admit that the bait that was in the water probably had something to do with this tragedy
How do you explain all the people the world over swimming with sharks, handing them food, caressing them, or attracting them by other means, just to spend time in their presence, and not being bitten?-Ila
And the inability of many shark species to bite people.
And more luck.
And the natural disinterest on the part of sharks toward humans.
And the fact that most humans tend to not "caress" the most dangerous species, because we know the harmless ones from the potentially harmful ones.
I'm sure you know very well, Ila, that Polynesians have long had a deep respect for sharks, but despite their comfort around those animals they certainly knew that some of them were dangerous and to be avoided. In Tongan there is an old saying, "Lukia tenifa 'i hono tahi," which means "challenging the tiger shark in his sea." Notice that the shark in the proverb is not a zebra shark (takaneva) or a blacktip reef shark (kapakau hingano), but a big, dangerous shark that has, every once in a while, killed Polynesians over the course of more than a thousand years. Clearly there's a reason for that. The fact that Fijian children play with baby nurse sharks is not evidence that someone should grab a great white's dorsal fin or stick a camera near the mouth of a bull without thinking long and hard about it first.
BTW, there have been plenty of shark attacks in your neck of the woods, Ila, including at least one fatal attack in French Polynesia in the ISAF database
. And the ISAF barely scratches the surface of what's happened in the remote corners of the world.
Edited by danielandrewclem, 28 February 2008 - 09:18 PM.