Thursday, September 17, 2009

Aquarium Shark Diving - A Growing Trend

The world of commercial shark diving is growing. Countries, tourism boards, and dive operators from Fiji to the Maldives are realizing safe and sustainable shark tourism works.

None more so than commercial aquariums worldwide who are offering caged and non caged shark encounters at one of the fastest growth rates in the entire industry.

Case in point the Dubai Aquarium built as an interactive site, offers non caged dive experiences with sharks.

Where the global trend towards safe and sustainable shark encounters in all forms is growing, Hawaii is still debating banning all shark tours in Oahu, using similar language to a recent ban in Maui that failed to provide exemptions for aquarium based shark tours there:

The Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Where else do you have the largest collection of Sand Tiger Sharks in the world swimming right next to you while Giant Groupers edge closer and thousands of smaller fish species swim along? After having been an onlooker of the aquatic animals in the aquarium, you now have hundreds of mall visitors who gaze into the tank at you. And the comments from visitors have been varied: “I was surprised at how peaceful it is on the dive,” said one shark diver.

Another added: “You see it on television; sharks circling overhead, but you never appreciate just how spine-tingling that is until they are circling over YOUR head! What an adrenalin rush!”

Mr Arif Amiri, Chief Executive Officer, Emaar Retail, said: “The Shark Dive is one of the several close encounters of our animals that visitors can experience at Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo. Their response to the experience of diving in the aquarium and spending time with the diverse aquatic animals has been overwhelming.

Maui Bans Shark Tourism - Maui Ocean Center in Crosshairs?

Here is the wording of a recent ban on shark tours Maui City Council members and a virulent anti-shark diving lobby have been congratulating the passage of this week.

Unfortunately it seems NO ONE in Maui stopped and asked the pertinent question "are there currently any shark tours in Maui?".

The law as it was written does not provide a loophole for land based shark tours - a growing marketplace for shark tourism worldwide.

The answer of course is yes, Maui does have shark tours, and this week the venerable Maui Ocean Center found themselves in the cross hairs of a new law that makes their business illegal as of this week.

Land based or aquarium based shark tours account for $40-50 million dollars in annual global revenues for the shark tourism industry. Maui City Council members have effectively shut this kind of tourism and subsequent aquarium development out of Maui with the passage of this draconian bill.

The term "ocean waters" is this bills failure. The Maui Ocean Center pumps "ocean waters" into its aquarium. It could be argued that the bill fails to specifically address land based shark tour operations with a targeted proviso.

A cautionary tale for City Council members in Oahu who may or may not understand the many ways tourists seek shark encounters, and the many ways shark tourism providers enable safe, sustainable shark adventures:

Maui Anti-Shark Tour Law

SECTION 1. Findings and purpose. The council finds that the oceans are used by city residents and visitors for numerous aquatic activities, including fishing, boating, swimming, surfing, canoe paddling, and snorkeling. The council further finds that sharks have great cultural, historical, and spiritual significance for many Native Hawaiians. The council believes that shark tours, the practice of charging residents and visitors to venture into ocean waters to view sharks attracted by fish feeding, raises public safety concerns for ocean users, is disrespectful of Hawaiian culture, alters the natural behavior and distribution of sharks, and may be disruptive of ocean ecology and the natural environment. The purpose of this ordinance is to ban shark tour operations.

Shark Tour Operations


"Fish feeding" means to introduce or attempt to introduce into the ocean water any food or other substance for consumption by fish.

"Shark tour operations" means the maintenance of an office, the collection of a fee or other financial consideration, the distribution, marketing, or advertising of tickets for sale, or the conduct of any other business activity conducted by a person for the purpose of enabling customers to venture into ocean waters to view sharks attracted by fish feeding; provided that this term does not include educational or cultural expeditions or endeavors for which a fee is not required.


It is unlawful for any person to engage in shark tour operations.