One thing you can be sure about whenever you get around a group of ecologically minded SCUBA divers – a variety of opinions can and will be expressed.
One of the current things making the rounds has to do with the charged question of whether shark feeding to entice these apex predators for divers to view underwater should be allowed or discouraged.
The arguments, pro and con, tend to follow the following lines:
By providing food to attract the sharks for viewing by the paying public (of divers), it gives people an opportunity to see and appreciate the beauty and grace of these animals and to take away some of the fear fostered over the years by motion picture and television portrayals of sharks as mindless killing machines. It provides certain dive operators and their employees with an income that is pretty much guaranteed because the sharks will come for the food provided on a regular basis.
It's been argued that by providing the sharks with an easy source of food, they become habituated to that source – altering their behavior. There has also been some discussion that the sharks will eventually start expecting divers to provide them with food (and will become increasingly aggressive if it is not provided).
Florida shark scientist George Burgess said in 2014 "Feeding of sharks, like the feeding of bears, alligators, raccoons, baboons, dogs, cats, birds, groupers, deer, etc. has consequences. There’s a reason why resource managers discourage or legally ban such activity. Entrainment is a biological fact and anyone that believes otherwise has their head in the sand. That said, the consequences may or may not include reduced safety to humans – that depends on the animal involved and the activity patterns of the humans. I am less concerned about the shark-safety angle than the ecological/behavioral modification consequence since the latter are proven entities and the former still is an up in the air topic (and one that can be argued both ways, even if it does result in more attacks - e.g., are we owed the right to absolute safety when engaged in a wilderness experience vs. we should employ all means to minimize risk)."
The pro and con splits in the dive community seem to be along economic or ecological lines.
The pro contingent is backed by such professional organizations as the Dive Equipment Marketing Association (DEMA) with support from the various operators that benefit most from these type of dive experiences being marketed. They have a financial stake in the endeavor.
The con contingent primarily seems to be consisting of ecologically minded individuals, dive trainers and certain fish and wildlife commissions. Their idea is that sharks should be left alone to – well, continue to act as sharks unmolested.
A proposed new federal law – S.3099 SEC. 3. SHARK CONSERVATION ACT OF 2010 would ban shark feeding in Federal waters, which would kill the popular shark dives banned already in State waters:
‘‘SEC. 104. PROHIBITION ON SHARK FEEDING. 14 ‘‘(a) PROHIBITION.—Except as provided in section 15 317 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 16 Management Act (16 U.S.C. 1866), it is unlawful for any 17 person— 18 ‘‘(1) to engage in shark feeding; or 19 ‘‘(2) to operate a vessel for the purpose of car- 20 rying a passenger for hire to any site to engage in 21 shark feeding or to observe shark feeding."
The commercial dive operations and their allied interests oppose this, as you might expect. They are marshaling a considerable lobbying effort to try and kill this legislation.
For the most part, those who believe in S. 3099 do so because they state that by feeding the sharks, their behavior is changed because that feeding is interference in their normal behavior. They claim that the sharks eventually begin associating dive boats – and particularly divers themselves – with food, leading to potentially disastrous results. They point to the following incidents as examples of sharks losing their fear of humans/divers in the water:
Given all of these things stated by both sides on this issue, what can you do as an individual?
I would recommend that you mobilize and learn as much as you can, then contact your elected official for your area and voice your support for the legislation. While the dive operators might be able to make a case for keeping things as they currently are, does that mean we should? Is there any real reason for taking the risk of potentially altering the behavior of creatures that have been around for millions of years simply so that we can check off an experience on our bucket list?
We've gotten circuses to stop using elephants for entertainment. Sea World is finally retiring killer whales as entertainment in captivity.
While it's not settled science, isn't it time that we stopped potentially harming sharks in the ocean?
To support S.3099 SEC. 3. SHARK CONSERVATION ACT OF 2010, contact your legislator. If more information is needed, contact John Russell on LinkedIn.
This link should be forwarded to everyone who may have an interest.
John Lewis is a freelance writer and editor for hire. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org . He writes for the site Crowdfunding Hell.
Article written for an ecological diving group's attempt to influence legislation.