I'd been writing articles for press and media about sharks already for years, since the age of 11 or 12, and at 15 had been invited into the now sadly defunct European Shark Research Bureau as an honorary member (the only "civvy" member as well I believe), so figured I'd dust off the computer and start doing that again. I had written primarily about shark attacks, shark behaviour and the sharks of the Mediterranean previously so wanted to choose something different, chose shark feeding and the rest as they say, is history.
That article, which appeared in DIVER Magazine was ultimately the catalyst for me being where I am now, it led to my friendships with Mike Neumann and Patric Douglas, two of the most influential people in the Shark Diving world, it opened doors for me in regards to discussing the issue to a wider audience and led to me getting full access to the Shark Reef story. Had I not written that article, it's conceivable I could still be stuck in that office today...
These days, a million Facebook threads abut the subject later, I lean towards offering my input only in a professional capacity, I just get too frustrated with people, (I shouldn't but I do) so when I was contacted by SCUBA Diver Australasia Magazine to contribute to their piece about Shark Feeding (ironically the same title as my own article eight years ago) I was more than happy to do so given Alice Grainger's very open and pragmatic approach.
Having now read the full piece I am not disappointed! I was told very honestly that Alice would indeed wield the editorial axe over all the submitted comments to aide the construction of a cohesive piece (fair do's!) and I was pleasantly surprised to see most of what I had put forward actually made it in which was nice.
The article features input from various experts with actual in-water experience with sharks over many decades and even the comments which are less favourable towards feeding are measured and well thought out, in short, this is essential, required reading for anyone with an interest in the issue. Mike's input did suffer somewhat from the editorial axe so he was kind enough to post it in full here. Read it!
Thanks again to Alice for the kind words and the opportunity to contribute to an intelligent piece about a subject desperately lacking in cerebral discussion.
I found my full answer so here it is for you, unedited!
People have been feeding sharks since the dawn of civilisation, as soon as we stepped aboard boats and into the water, sharks have benefitted from our being there, it’s not this new thing people seem to think it is. This idea that politicians or just the everyday man on the street is going to want to protect something simply because it’s the right thing to do is not only naive, it is grossly misguided. People need incentives to commit to things long term and that incentive has to be financial for it to work properly.
Most of the best places in the world to see sharks are third world or developing nations, these nations are already being exploited by fishing fleets looking to empty their waters of fish before leaving them with nothing and heading on to the next location to destroy and for people with nothing, short term financial relief offered by destructive industries is going to be preferable to seeing your family starve. What shark dive operations in these areas can do is provide long term careers and financial stability to areas in desperate need, not just directly linked to the shark feed either but to all the other ancillary businesses which benefit from an influx of tourism capital.
People who say that these feeds condition sharks to view humans as food or as a source of food simply do not understand sharks, sharks are not mindless killers, to imply that seeing a diver behind a cage will condition that shark to equate a diver outside a cage, in a different location, as food is just complete nonsense, akin to claiming a dog can learn to drive a car because he sits in the back seat when you take him to the park. The people who continue to make these claims are implying, whether they realise it or not, that all cognitive development in sharks is in someway ultimately geared towards aggression towards people which is obviously untrue, but also reduces sharks to nothing more than the big dumb animals portrayed in the movies.
Not all feeds are safe, not all feeds are well intentioned and some are downright irresponsible, but we cannot condense an industry which on the whole does some incredible things for shark conservation, into one which is creating man-eating sharks prowling the coasts looking for people to eat because the facts don’t lie, shark feeds have not increased the number of shark attacks or the risk of shark attack, anywhere on the planet, the link just does not exist. Those with moral or ethical concerns about the practice need to consider what is better, shutting the feeds down and letting the fishermen in to wipe out the sharks, or choosing not to partake personally in these dives but appreciating the conservation benefit they can provide.
A protected site under the stewardship of local employees which serves as a site to take tourists out to see what magnificent animals sharks are is the best available scenario we have and shark eco-tourism, is possibly the last remaining realistic way we can halt and then hopefully reverse the alarming decline in global shark numbers.
Or even, how do you feel about the controversy surrounding baited dives?
It must also be said however, that if you start a shark feed 100 yards off shore from a popular beach, you will likely encounter problems, not because of the implausible notion that feeding sharks conditions them to humans as food (something which has been largely disproven) but because you will be aggregating sharks, at least periodically, in areas of high human recreational water use. More people, more sharks, more risk of a bite, it’s that simple.
If you are going to open a shark feeding site, you must use common sense, pick a site not used by recreational water users, protect the site so you don’t aggregate sharks for the fishermen and put in place protocols from which you never ever deviate. The basic logistics of a shark feed should be exactly the same every single day, the sharks need to learn what is expected of them and also, your clients must also be aware of what is expected of them, too many shark feeding sites these days are letting clients dictate what they want from a dive as opposed to the operator having full control over their input to the dive. If multiple operators use the same site and the same sharks, but their protocols are wildly different, that could confuse the sharks and could lead to issues later down the line and nobody wants that.