Shark feeding, like most issues, is not simply black and white. And, like most issues, we hear some extremes on both sides of the argument. Unfortunately, most of these opinions are not coming from experts in shark behavior. Even worse, sometimes the opinions are coming from shark experts whose expertise comes from bench work in labs. We tend to hear points that seem to make sense, that are easy to understand, but unfortunately are not based on real observation. It’s the difference between en vitro and en vivo. Just because something works in a lab, or in an experiment, doesn’t mean it will translate to real life applications. Here are a few examples worth breaking down:
Sharks feeding will associate humans and food
Makes sense, right? It’s even true, to some extent. Sharks are clearly able to be habituated to shark feeding dives and dive sites. They congregate with the sound of boat engines and know the action is about to start. They are clearly habituated and making an association between divers and a feeding opportunity. However, this statement only scratches the surface and really does not give sharks the credit they deserve. Anyone who has spent real time in the water with these animals knows that they are not moronic testosterone filled savages that start chomping at everything around them when they smell blood.
I’m not going to sit here and say they’re intelligent. Let’s face it, they’re fish! But they are as intelligent as they need to be. They need to eat, reproduce, and keep themselves safe. That’s all, that simple. They don’t attack and spend energy that is not necessary. They are not reckless and risk getting injured by a diver. Their amazing senses allow them to hone in on the bait, identify where and what the food is, and focus on that.
This is really the most widely spread pieces of shark misinformation. On the surface, it has some truth to it, but as with most things, there is nuance. The reality is, at least with the shark feeding dives that we do, that the opposite effect happens. These sharks learn to differentiate humans and food. They clearly know where the food is, who has the food, and when it has run out. And, the fact that divers have been returning to the same site for the past 2 decades and there’s an incredible safety records at the site speaks to this.
Sharks will become dependent on divers for food
That’s just ridiculous. It’s a shark! They eat any and every time there is food available to them. In addition, I couldn’t imagine any feeding operation that is able to provide enough food to the animals that can replace their natural hunger and predatory instincts. To use an analogy, we’re bringing down a bowl of 12 M&Ms and diving with 10 Tiger Sharks. Trust me, our dives are not sustaining any of these animals.
Sharks will become aggressive when the food runs out
Nope. You want to know what the sharks do when the food runs out? They swim around in the periphery and wait to see if more will be coming. If not, they leave the area entirely and resume their normal activity. If this were true, how would any divers make it out of the water at the end of a dive with all these aggressive sharks around?
Shark feeding will cause sharks to become aggressive to divers
Nope. You want to know what happens when we jump in without food? The sharks that I thought loved me, wanted to be next to me, wanted me to take their picture, actually don’t want anything to do with me. It’s quite heart-breaking actually. They ignore us. They don’t even come up to see if we have any food hiding in our pockets. Again, they have incredible senses and know that we are not sneaking any treats down there. They give us our space, cautiously watch what we’re doing, and wait patiently on standby until another opportunity arises.
We obviously can’t speak for all scenarios, all operators, and all methods. But our experience observing and understanding these animals, and what motivates them really blows apart may of these arguments. What has your experience been? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.