Very kindly, Doc gave me the permission to quote a letter he wrote to a TV producer who wanted an expert opinion on the subject of diving with, and feeding, 'dangerous' sharks; specifically, how it does affect or else alter shark behavior, and also whether Dr. Gruber would consider cage-free shark diving a "hazardous" activity.
Hi ................. :
I am a proponent of shark diving. While it does affect a few sharks, when compared to the approximately 100 million killed annually for fin and flesh the minimal impact of this human activity pales in comparison.
I feel that shark dives produce several very beneficial outcomes for humans and sharks. First exposing divers to sharks, safely and professionally - and in a beautiful environment will inevitably turn fear into fascination. Quickly these people become ambassadors for shark conservation. Further it produces jobs and income for areas and folks that need the work - especially in an economy such as the Bahamian one. Tourism in the Bahamas is the country's life blood, and sharks are a draw!!
As for hazard - tens of thousands of divers worldwide have safely enjoyed professional shark encounters ever since they were established in the Bahamas nearly 40 years ago. It is true that some people have been injured and there was even one fatality, but compared to other water sports this is a pittance.
Nearly a decade ago the World Health Organization estimated that over 400,000 people drowned in year 2000 making this the second leading cause of unintentional death after highway accidents. So shark dives turn out to be a very SAFE form of water activity when conducted in a professional way.
Photograph: Matthew D. Potenski
What I have written is controversial. Animal lovers think that humans have no right to interfere with non-human creatures. This is their opinion, not mine. Biologists always say "don't feed the animals." But I have been feeding sharks at my field station for over 20 years www.miami.edu/sharklab, and have observed their behavior carefully (my degree is in marine animal behavior and sensory physiology). I know for a fact that our shark encounters do not greatly affect the Caribbean reef sharks we feed.
- They do not become habituated to humans such that they completely lose their natural fear.
- They do not begin to consider us as food.
- They are very focused on what we do and learn almost instantly what the feeding situation means.
- They do not depend on us for food but hunt normally and supplement this ordinary behavior with our feedings.
- New individuals join the colony all the time, learn what we do and do not pose a danger. These reef sharks leave the area during breeding season in August and go about their normal reproductive activities. They return about three months later.
My favorite dive site is Tiger Beach in the Bahamas, and I would be very pleased to take you there (on your nickel) to show you amazing sights that should make you a believer. We are planning a trip later in the month.
Photograph: Wolfgang Leander
Thank you very much, Doc - that's certainly good enough for me!! :-)
*) Doc's "magic wand" is a bi-metallic rod that stimulates the sharks' ampullary system so that they think the end of the pole is a living prey.