Monday, July 7, 2008

Conditioning to the baited environment

It's pretty dry reading-but as far as it's impact on an entire shark diving industry the following report is nothing short of "revelatory".

This is also a good case for the addition of shark research in tandem with commercial shark diving operations. This school of thought is being lead into the industry by a few forward thinking operations and is slowly making headway.

Moving away from treating sharks as little more than Biological ATM's and more as sustainable resources is both a lofty goal and the future of shark diving worldwide.

The fine folks over at Rodney Fox in Australia commissioned a multi year study to see if sharks habituated to chum. An ongoing debate that sometimes reaches a fevered pitch between the anti-shark diving community and commercial shark divers, here's a quick look:

Our Findings

Chumming cannot habituate or condition sharks in any way since sharks cannot feed on the chum, since it is finely minced and highly diluted. Thus, it does not constitute a reward of any kind.

However, baits can constitute a reward and, if sharks do succeed in consuming some bait, conditioning is theoretically possible under certain circumstances, but would require frequent visitations over a relatively long period of time, with sharks receiving substantial rewards in each of these visits in order for the conditioning response to be established. However, the data showed that sharks actually receive more negative reinforcement than positive reinforcement under baited conditions since the bait is pulled away from them much more often than not.

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