Sunday, January 11, 2015

Do Shark Diving Operators need to be regulated?

The following (in italics) is a blog by "DaShark"
It's a great read and addresses the issues facing the shark diving industry brilliantly. DaShark is of course the very guy who was instrumental in establishing the Shark Reef National Park in Fiji! So he knows a thing or two about operating a shark dive. Check out his operation  "The best shark dive in the world!"
Thorny thorny!

If you're a Shark diving operator, you need to read this!

And I cite.

5. Conclusions 
In recent years there has been increasing global interest in shark-encounter tourism and the potential economic incentive and awareness raising benefits this industry may bring to shark conservation.  However, recent research has indicated negative behavioural impacts arising from shark diving or snorkelling and inadequacies in management have been highlighted. 
In this global study of shark tourism practices we found that in the majority of cases surveyed, shark operators apply codes of conduct (either mandatory or voluntary) to ensure the safety of both people and sharks even when no formal national guidelines exist.  However, the practices and approaches taken varied widely, and we believe there is a good case for greater regulation to raise standards and minimise any adverse effects on both sharks and people. Such an approach would involve greater scrutiny of the industry and formalisation of legally enforced national guidelines. 
Links are frequently made between shark baiting/provisioning and attacks, and while these remain speculative, a precautionary approach is warranted that would be best delivered through regulation.  Without this, shark tourism has the potential to cause accidents which could decrease the growing popularity of sharks and thereby have negative knock on effects for their conservation, particularly when culls follow attacks such as those recently witnessed in Western Australia. 
While our questionnaire indicates that the majority of shark encounters and shark tourism currently pose very little risk to people, more field research is required on shark behavioural responses to tourism practices to help assess best practices for sharks, people and environment. Shark diving management therefore needs to be dynamic and must evolve with continuing developments in the industry and understanding of shark behaviour.

First things first.

When it comes to collecting the evidence and painting a picture of global Shark diving tourism, this paper is really quite good. Also, I really don't want to further elaborate on what I've already said about those problematic non-provisioned encounters with Elasmobranchs, be it Whale Sharks, Mantas and the like, i.e. that if the industry is not able to self regulate, then the regulator has to step in - see e.g. here.

And what about those provisioned dives?

I've blogged ad nauseam about what the evidence teaches us about their effect on the animals, the public and the environment, e.g. here. Yes there are of course people that postulate otherwise - but at this stage in the debate, it is for them to stop speculating but instead, to finally come up with evidence to the contrary. And no, invoking the precautionary principle in view of those totally unsubstantiated allegations aint good enough anymore, either!

And if they cannot come up with the evidence, they finally need to shut the fuck up - especially the researchers!

Yes Shark feeding is dangerous - dooh.
Yes often the Sharks get excited - dooh.

And yes there are dodgy Shark diving operators, and those unsupervised multi-user sites like TB are a cause for concern. And we also all know that there have been quite a number of Shark bites - very few on the clients but plenty on the feeders, the latter ranging from harmless because there was protective gear to serious when there was none.

But here comes the big BUT!

In tens, if not hundreds of thousands of baited Shark dives, there has been a grand total of ONE documented fatality - and I betcha that if one were to make the comparison to "normal" diving, you would likely find more fatalities per hours spent in the water than during baited Shark dives!

The reason?

Believe it or not - but none of us has a death wish, and we also want to bring back our clients unharmed!
We know that what we do is dangerous, and we are the first ones striving to minimize and manage the risks we admittedly create! This is why the overwhelming majority, if not all of Shark feeding operators have devised voluntary codes of conduct - and those protocols obviously work!

Does anybody really believe that some government bureaucrats could come up with, implement and then supervise better protocols - but more importantly, is there really a need for them? There are already more than sufficient laws on the books to deal with criminal negligence vis-à-vis the customers, and accidents to the staff are covered by occupational health-and-safety regulations - so instead of wasting additional government resources on what is essentially a non-issue, why don't we rely on the authorities to simply apply the Law. An  guess what - provided that the incidents are serious, they incidentally do it already!

And the suggestions by the authors?

... legally binding national guidelines for shark tourism which all shark operators need to be made aware of.  Education could include mandatory classes for shark operators about species which are likely within their area, the threats facing them, current management practices, potential human impacts from tourism activities and best practice for mitigating them. Attendance at such sessions could be a formalised requirement of any permitting scheme and could be funded through charges to operators. Based on our findings and review of literature, we propose that national regulations or codes of conduct for shark-related tourism should include limits on: group sizes, time spent in the water with sharks and provisioning (both in terms of quantity and quality of food items). There needs to be compulsory education about such regulations and legal consequence should they not be followed.

Seriously - what a load of crap!

Surely, this stupidity has not been coordinated with the concerned operators - or has it?

None of the accidents I know of (and I know of many!) had anything to do with group size, time spent in the water and amount of food, let alone with not knowing the animals! Once again, it really appears that some researchers are bloviating about our industry without the slightest clue about sustainable Shark provisioning let alone tourism - and it is really starting to piss me off!

Guys, we appreciate the interest.

But for fuck's sake, as a minimum, you need to talk to us before accusing us of not knowing what we do! In fact, the contrary is true - most of anything that is known about Shark behavior and sustainable tourism practices has been garnered on dives that have been established by our industry, and smart researchers have long learned to talk to us and to listen to what we got to say!

Anyway, it matters not.

Governments got no time for these minutiae - that is, unless there are real issues where self regulation has obviously failed. Then they should, and will regulate - and when they do, I'm equally confident that they will seek the dialogue with us, the pros!

And in the meantime, we will continue to do what is right.

We will continue to provide extremely safe, enjoyable encounters that harm nobody - not the public, not the Sharks and not the environment. And we will of course evolve and progress, like we always have, and like we are presently doing by having voluntarily established GSD and quite possibly, by collaborating with respectful people and organizations in formulating a global code of conduct like briefly mentioned here!

That's how you do it - by dialogue, not by proclamations ex cathedra!

To be continued no doubt!

Thank you DaShark! Excellent insight!

Martin Graf
CEO Shark Diver

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at