Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hawaii - Tours Pose Little Risk

Three cheers for reporter Christie Wilson with Honolulu Advertiser who, bucking recent media trends in Hawaii, has introduced a story about what is not happening with commercial shark diving operations in Hawaii.

As we have been covering, politicians and anti-shark diving groups reacting to a tragically poor operator roll out in Hawaii Kai have called for a complete ban on all operators in the region.

To close existing commercial shark diving loopholes, this growing anti-shark diving group is demanding legislators to:

"(1) prohibit use of public facilities such as parks, piers, ramps, and harbors by shark tour operations;
(2) prohibit advertising of commercial shark tours in any print and electronic media; and, (3) prohibit commercial use of shark cages or other devices designed to place humans in close proximity to sharks or within shark habitats."

Citing a recent research study today regional commercial shark diving operators came back (finially) with the one thing they had at their disposal - research data:

"When it comes to offshore caged shark diving tours, there is no evidence of any risk to nearshore recreational users," said marine scientist Carl Meyer. "People need to understand there are already sharks in these initial shark-feeding areas and if these shark tours were a real problem, we would have seen it manifested by now by an increase in attacks.

"The study reports other factors that make the tours a minimal public safety risk include the fact shark-diving tours mimic the activities of crab-fishing vessels operating in the same area for more than 40 years, and that inshore recreational stimuli, such as a surfer paddling on a surfboard, "are substantially different from the conditioning stimuli associated with tour operations ... and, hence, unlikely to stimulate a conditioned feeding response."

Editors Note: THIS is one reason why operators work in tandem with shark researchers. To exclude shark research within operations is to blind yourself to important data about the animals you make a living with.

Additionally, ongoing data sets provide impartial answers to questions and accusations leveled by the anti-shark diving lobby at our industry members. These accusations are typically taken from a well worn "play book" of "raw meat hysteria".

The operators in Hawaii have a long way to go - but today, they just began the road back to credibility in the public eye. Kudos to all involved in both this study, and to reporter Christie Wilson.

Update: Reporter Leila Fujimori from Hawaii's Star Bulletin also ran with this story this morning. Kudos.

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