As more and more images of people swimming with sharks appear on the web, many speculate that disaster is only a matter of time away. Along with this disaster is the potential crackdown of all shark diving operations in order to “protect us from ourselves.” But is that what should really happen?
Yes, the media would have a field day. The term “shark attack” still sells papers like nothing else, so if a diver should happen to be killed by the same animal he/she was an advocate for; I imagine the irony would leave the press drooling.
Actually this sort of disaster already occurred once in Bahamian waters when a bull shark bit a recreational shark diver who did not survive the incident. Perhaps there are other similar incidents that I’m unaware of, but I haven’t heard about them. It seems unlikely that the media wouldn’t have run such a story for a month straight so I feel fairly confident that no more incidences have occurred, but to be safe, let’s go ahead and tack on a couple more. Three bites, total, in decades of diving with sharks globally, an industry whose latest estimates claim to have brought in 3 million dollars worldwide.
By contrast let’s look at how many people die during recreational diving from equipment malfunction, drowning, jellyfish stings, etc. and we’ll see that these numbers dwarf the incidents in which something has gone awry while swimming with animals DESIGNED TO KILL. Think about that for a minute. The perfect predator, equipped in every way to dispatch from existence at a moment’s notice, yet we get away with swimming with them all the time. That’s not a credit to us, that’s a credit to the shark. It’s almost baffling how tolerant these animals are of our presence, which makes them that much more intriguing. We forgive each other all the time for mistakes, mistakes we make often, but when we intentionally and repeatedly go into the domain of an animal legendary for its killing ability we can’t find it in ourselves to forgive it for a handful of mistakes. How many people reading right now have ever tasted something you regretted? Heck, how many of you have even bitten another person in anger? Now imagine being hunted and condemned for such a mistake.
Anyway, my point is that I love sharks and I love being around them. I enjoy watching them and watching them watch me back. It is humbling and fascinating, and weird as it may be, being in the wild with these magnificent animals makes me happy. First dove with Caribbean reef sharks, then snorkeled in Shark Alley, followed by a season filming at the Farallon Islands where I would leave the cage from time to time, followed finally by hanging out of open faced cages in Guadalupe. I’ll go ahead and say that the Shark Alley move was pretty dumb and I probably wouldn’t do that again. However, I have every intention of swimming / diving with sharks as often as I can. Whether a cage dive operator is taking me to a remote location or whether I wander into the ocean solo from a beach, I welcome a shark encounter. The ecotourism operator isn’t responsible for my decision and the shark isn’t responsible either. I am responsible. I made the decision to take the risk. Contrary to how many people approach the planet, it is NOT OUR RIGHT to be wherever we want whenever we want without accepting the possibility of encountering another predator. Furthermore, if such an encounter occurs we should not retaliate by killing every animal of that species in the area. If we decide to swim, surf, kayak, or paddle-board in the ocean, we are essentially deciding that the experience of that recreation is worth the risk of being “investigated” by a larger predator than ourselves. And why is it so tragic anyway if one of us perishes? There are 7 some billion people left to fill the void, whereas 90% of all pelagic species of shark are now threatened or near threatened with extinction.
Until we fund a full time fleet of ships and planes patrolling areas known to be congregation sites of white sharks, I think ecotourism operators serve a very important role in providing a watchful eye against poachers. Also to the credit of ecotourism, I have yet to hear anyone, I mean ANYONE, who has seen a shark in the wild for the first time not be blown away with admiration while losing all previous misconceptions about the animal. That’s powerful!
Thanks for reading!
Videos related to this blog:
Swimming in Shark Alley, my first shark film ever, filmed in 2004 in South Africa. Swimming around on the surface with cape fur seals, even if I was somewhat close to the rocks, was simply stupid. I blame Lalo Saidy for taking me out there after an evening of drinking absinthe. Just kidding, Lalo.
Elasmo 3 (Free diving with whale sharks). When all 35 feet of these animals passed under me multiple times, I was very tempted to grab the dorsal fin and go for a ride, but out of respect I did not. I doubt the massive animal would have noticed me much, but rumor has it that our contact rubs off an important protective layer covering their skin.
Hammerhead Love. As soon as I sat at the bottom of this aquarium, a beautiful scalloped hammerhead became brave enough to come in and take a closer look at me…again, and again, and again.
The Farallon Islands (2006).
Petting a nurse shark. I swear this shark wanted some affection.
Debra Canabal of Epic Diving in the WSV hoodie. Get yours!
About the Author
Skyler Thomas is the primary blog contributor, cinematographer, and lead editor at White Shark Video.