So far I have stayed away from baited shark dives. I just didn’t like the idea as I think it does change the behaviour of the sharks and I prefer to see wild animals in their natural environment. Why did I go to Bimini to see the great hammerheads you might wonder?
As it was very spontaneous I did not look into it before going. In retrospect I wonder how I could not have thought about this and from the pictures you see from those dives it is very obvious that the sharks must be attracted in some way. I do not regret going there though, it was a great experience. It was good to see how baited shark diving works and it confirmed my personal opinion that baited dives are not for me.
This article is just reflecting my own opinion about this topic. I am no shark expert. I love to watch sharks. That’s all. I did try to find some scientific articles about baited shark dives, however there is not much information about this topic and nothing I found relevant for the baited dives we did in the Bahamas.
The Pros of feeding sharks
Awareness and Shark Conservation
During my time in Bimini I learned that, thanks to the shark diving tourism, the fishing of sharks has been banned from Bahamian waters since 2011. In the Bahamas the shark diving tourism wouldn’t be anywhere near as big without the baited dives. So maybe the sharks would not be protected there without the baited shark dives. Not many countries ban shark fishing completely yet (laws protecting sharks). In most countries or areas sharks have been protected due to the fact that more money can be made in the dive tourism that with selling shark products.
Many places I have been diving with sharks are not for entry level scuba divers, as the sharks are to be found in strong currents. Therefore the baited shark dives in these easy sites like Bimini open the shark diving to a bigger audience. It is true, as well, that many people prefer to see the sharks very close up and guaranteed whereas in their natural environment they might not get close or they might not be seen at all. So the baited dives lead to more people doing shark diving which hopefully leads to more protection for sharks as well as more money for research.
The people diving with sharks will take loads of pictures. They will show those pictures to their friends and families back home, many of whom don’t dive themselves and will never have a chance to see a shark in the open sea. And the divers will tell everyone what wonderful creatures sharks are and far away from being man-eaters. Hopefully the divers will also tell their friends how important sharks are for the oceans. All this will lead to an increased awareness and more people interested in protecting these animals.
Baiting the sharks is definitely an important tool in research to attract them and to be able to tag them for example or take samples. I love to see that so much research is going on around sharks. In my opinion it is crucial to understand the sharks better in order to save them.
The Cons of feeding sharks
Sharks are no puppies
The one thing which I find most disturbing is to see that more and more people treat sharks as if they were puppies. They cuddle them, hug them, hold on to the fin to swim with them (ok, that would not work with a puppy!) and turn them upside down. All of which involves touching; I don’t think we should touch wildlife.
There is so much footage on YouTube to be found with people treating sharks like pets. A shark is not a puppy, it isn’t a man-eating monster either and I agree that this false picture many people have should change.
However I don’t think this is the right way to do so. Sharks are wild animals and should be treated and respected as such. Without baiting the sharks, if a person could get close enough to a shark to touch it, it would swim off in almost every case.
Changed behaviour / conditioning (Pavlov’s dog, the puppy again)
The sharks are conditioned with feeding. They start to associate dive boats and divers with food. I did not hear or read anything where this caused actual danger for divers or other people in the water who are not feeding the sharks. Many people are concerned that a sudden stop of baiting in an area would lead to aggressive behaviour of the sharks. I am not sure about that, sharks are intelligent and from what I’ve seen they do know which person does have the crate.
I was diving in Playa del Carmen with a dive shop that does not bait the sharks. Nevertheless the sharks came very close, circled the group a couple of times and then swam off. It seemed to me that they were checking if they could get something there and then just left after realising that there was no food. During most baited dives sharks are not offered full meals but just a little appetiser so the sharks still have to look for their food.
However, it does change their behaviour.
They are staying in the small area longer (as long as there is bait in the crate) and there is a higher concentration of sharks in one small area. Most sharks are solitary and would not stay close to each other. I do not know how this influences the sharks, their behaviour and if it is detrimental for them but I don’t think it is good.
Is it dangerous?
I don’t think so. In 25 years of baited dives at tiger beach with tiger sharks, which do have a bad reputation, only one incident with a shark has been reported. In my opinion this sounds very safe. It might be more dangerous than diving with sharks that are not baited as these would rarely attack a scuba diver (I am not talking about surfers, kayakers, snorkelers, just scuba divers).
Make sure to choose an experienced dive shop to book it through. They will have skilled guides who know how the sharks react and they will be able to tell you how to behave around the sharks. Please do not touch the sharks!
Why isn’t it for me?
I want to see animals in their natural habitat. I love when an animal interacts with me during a dive. It is very exciting if a wild animal, just out of curiosity, comes very close to have a look at you. I did not get this feeling while doing the baited dives. For me it felt more like visiting an aquarium (which I don’t like) and not very natural. In general I am not sure how this could affect the sharks, their health and their behaviour.
There is one situation where I would want to do baited dives again (except if I go to some place without knowing enough about it and they bait sharks, lol) if it is for research purposes. I would love to join a volunteering project for a couple of months.