Shark Cage Diving Industry: Pros & Cons
Posted on Monday, 15 May 2017
It seems with the advent of social media, more and more tourist videos of Great white sharks getting into shark cages and sharks thrashing around on baits injuring themselves as they knock against boats, are going viral with many viewers questioning the ethics of shark cage diving.
With Chris being involved in the Great white shark cage diving industry almost since its inception in 1993 and myself at Seal Island in False Bay since 2000 we have certainly been able to witness the progression of fledgling start-ups to a large scale commercial industry.
Thoughts of the “good old days” are ever present. The initial pros and cons are still in full force but a few more other factors are now being left to ponder.
The fact remains that a Great white shark is a very difficult animal to see up close and personal. Not only is their worldwide population estimated at about a mere 3500 individual animals but their wild ocean environment doesn’t make it easy to find them.
It’s certainly not like shore-based whale watching or hiring a car to drive around The Kruger National Park. You have to get on a boat and entrust an operator to be responsible with both yourself and the animals they are working with.
Operators have to actively attract the sharks and once the sharks are up at the boat they need to handle them on bait lines and around large shark cages with divers inside.
Unfortunately the South African authorities are not strong with the enforcement of permit regulations and this means each operator is completely self-responsible for the way in which they handle the animals with no consequences whatsoever should the sharks be poorly handled.
Some operators choose to use wood and fibreglass decoys for their longevity and movement in the water resulting in many sharks losing teeth when they grab hold of it. This is completely unnecessary when a soft decoy made from carpet can be used.
Some operators also choose to use very strong mono filament line or polypropylene to attach baits to bait lines so that a shark cannot easily take the bait off the line. This results in a thrashing match between shark and bait handler which most often ends in the bait handler keeping his/her bait but leaving behind a badly beat up shark. Again this can so easily be avoided when using natural fibre line that is easily broken off should a shark outsmart the bait handler. There’s no trashing and less chance of a shark injury.
Great white sharks are super-fast, extremely powerful and surprisingly agile. It’s not uncommon to lose baits to sharks no matter how hard the bait handler tries to keep it away and this is why it’s important that the bait comes off the line as easy as possible.
This doesn’t only happen in South Africa and in particular upsetting videos of sharks getting into cages have been surfacing from Guadalupe where operators actually tie baits to the cage. In all cases of all the videos I have seen it has been purely down to bait handler error.
The sharks follow the bait and if a shark handler were to pull a bait in the direction of the cage a shark will keep following it in. The shark does not have a reverse gear and the result is that even when the bait is pulled out of the water the shark keeps moving forwards into the cage. It cannot move backward and its only option is to literally thrash its way out.
The above examples clearly show a most definite downside to the shark cage diving industry where the animals we have been entrusted to working with are definitely getting the brunt of it.
Another area to me that is of great concern is of how commercial the industry is becoming. Trips can be as short as 1.5 hours long and tourists getting in a shark cage for the experience of a lifetime are at times being reduced to nothing more than a sausage machine.
The Great white shark is one of the most iconic animals on the planet. It is also at the very top of the food chain and one of earth’s greatest predators. Many operators sell the experience as an adrenalin thrill whereas in reality seeing a great white shark is perhaps one of the most amazing wildlife experiences one can ever have. The sharks deserve our respect and we as operators play a very important role as to how the animal is portrayed and in doing so creating new ambassadors for sharks each time we have the opportunity of showing someone a great white shark for the very first time.