Sunday, December 14, 2008

Quo Vadis, Shark Diving?

The $200 million dollar international shark diving industry has one or two seasoned voices who frequently try and replace many of our industries conventional wisdom's with "plain sense".

One of these is Da Shark from BAD's Blog. A regular feature and well known to 10K of you who visit us here each month.

This week a video from the Bahamas has fired up a multi pronged conversation about the "Ethics of Shark Diving". A thread starter which may have been misnamed as the video brings up a host of issues not related to ethics. As always we tend to agree with Da Sharks take on this...with one caveat.

Operations like the one featured on this video have to start somewhere. They are usually inspired by others with images and video to "one up the old guard". Had this site in the Bahamas been locked down with a set of "unmoving protocols" from day one and not promoted as the "Tiger between the operators legs" site or the "Night time diving with Tigers site"-we might not be here discussing this today.

While I agree with 99% of Da Sharks thoughts on this, our industry must be ever vigilant for The Great Slide. In the ever increasing rush to offer closer encounters with macro shark species we are loosing the thin margin of error that is the difference between safe shark encounters dictated by the operation, and relying on a predator with a brain the size of a walnut to "make the call" during an encounter. We as an industry are often resetting the goal posts of encounter safety while the game is still in play.

I personally do not subscribe to the pervasive school thought that says "we have had 300+ safe encounters-so this is fine". It is never fine, not with macros. Ever. We learn from them each and every time we encounter them and we should never push for danger close encounters. That is the essence of The Great Slide, eventually we will get to the final point where the animals push back. It has happened, it will happen, and it continues to happen.

Exploring the "outer limits" of macro shark encounters on a commercial level is a fools bet.

It is unfortunate that we have lost the one voice that could have made a difference here. Credibility in this industry is everything and people do listen to those few voices who have the spotlight (we're not one of them) but those few voices need to maintain the veneer of safety.

You lose that in our industry and you lose your ability to guide a dive sites natural progression and others with your wisdom.

Is it not enough to "witness" these animals in all their grace and elegance? Do we need to touch them and ride them as well? Do photographers really need to shoot inside a Tigers mouth? Do we need to throw pokey-sticks at them? Where does it end, where do we call the game and set the safety goal posts?

2008 was a troubling year for the industry. It was also one of "awakening". Since we started this blog a year ago we have heard from many in the industry who have reached out to say "you know, I was just talking about that the other day".

We're in this together. We may not like the fact we're in it together, but I'll take the recognition that we are in it together as a good first start.

Patric Douglas CEO


DaShark said...

Patric, that’s a nice wrap-up, thank you.

Thing is, when it comes to that particular site, it is by no means too late.
Politics are obviously Politics but the fact is that so far, the safety record of Tiger Beach is 100% pristine.

I know that I’m probably delusional – but the Operators could easily take a step back and decide to implement stricter procedures. From what I understand, that is thankfully already happening in some quarters.
They could, and should also recognize the value of what they have there and lobby to have the site protected. That would most likely bring about some sort of enforceable “official” code of conduct and protocols - and in turn, put an end to the squabbling.

If everybody could agree to that, I have no doubt that Tiger Beach would remain as unequaled, hugely popular and as good a business as it is now - FOREVER.

Shark Diver said...

That's a fine thought. Wrangling the various use groups here will be like herding cats...on a Chinese firework night...with a bag of hammers tied to your head.

Oh, did I mention the cats were on fire?

Seriously though, it can be done.

It HAS to be done. The Bahamians are a You Tube video away from making that call for us unless we get our act together. That is a stone cold fact and the call they make will=site closure.

Starts with "one". We'll work with anyone, and I do mean anyone to get this site wrapped...with 3% off the top thrown into a research fund administered by Doc Grubers team.

Oliv' said...

Dear Patrick,

what do you think about swimming in open ocean with Mako and Blue sharks, as it is proposed in South Africa when the great white season's off ?
People that provide these trips are really professionnal ones (Apex Predators company) and I guess they know what they do.
Maybe one can say mako and blue sharks are not macros sharks...

Olivier form Energy Trip

Shark Diver said...

Hi Oliv,

If we were advising a new operation under those parameters you set forth we would suggest the following. All answers are based on a ten year site plan.

1. Discuss whose waters these are. Are these the operators home waters or is this being done in another countries waters. Big issue here-know where you are operating.

2. Caged diving vs non caged. We would suggest caged first for the following reasons. With caged diving you can get more divers with varying levels through your dive site safely.That translates into more dollars for the operation. Over the long run your divers skill level will drop. There's a finite pool of top shelf and seriously experienced open water shark divers out there, once you burn through those you need a program that can take anyone at anytime. Cages fit that bill. For a business this makes sense your safety parameters with a cage system is 98% or better.

3. If no cages set your safety protocols as conservatively as possible and NEVER deviate from them. The main issue with cageless dives we have seen worldwide is the resetting of safety protocols "on the fly". If you are doing open water Mako shark dives and have spun up a safety protocol DO NOT start offering cageless night diving with Makos six months later.

4. Always do everything you do with a mind towards the shark diving industry as a whole and to an "end game". Assume a shark attack on one of your divers and drill down the logical outcome from it. Is your operation defensible? Could your divers have been protected with simple chain mail arms and leggings? What will the world think of the sharks and your operation after the attack? What is gov response?

5. There is no such thing as "assumed risk" in commercial shark diving that is a myth put forth by those who have experienced operator error. You are not protected by "assumed risk", it is not a shield or cover for your operation. Ever. In fact the more years you have safe open water or cageless encounters the more your operation is "assumed by your divers" to be safe.

6.Embrace and guide other operations who come to your dive site. It is a natural fact of shark diving, if you have success at a site others will come. We have seen how "snubbing the new guy" works or how the virtual arms race that is "outdoing the other guy" works as well. It is counter productive to the entire industry. I know this is "heretical thinking" but our industry track record on this sucks the way we have been doing it, let's try something new.


The world media is anti-shark diving, it is biased, and it is a monster. The 24 hour news cycle needs stories for the machine, should you as an operator provide a shark attack story your would will be rocked. As a last thought consider spinning your entire operation around shark research and produce data and results.Quickly.

The media will find is difficult to fault both a shark research team and a commercial shark diving operation. At least it provides a thin veneer of legitimacy for what you do.Remember in the mind of the media we are all yahoo's out for a cheap thrill.

Some thoughts.

DaShark said...


I'm impressed - that's as good as it gets & would have deserved an own post.