Are sharks not too dangerous to work with ?
Like most things in life, it takes knowledge, skill, experience, practice and in this case respect, to be able to work with sharks safely. One could say it is very dangerous to drive (or to pilot a plane), and if you have never done it before it is – but if you learn and spend hundreds of hours doing so, then it become easy, and safe. In a way, sharks are very similar to the small birds in your garden. If you start putting food for them often on the same spot outside, they will learn it and visit on a regular basis. It doesn’t mean that they will start attack you (or anyone else) for food, or that you will suddenly be able to touch them. They will stay afraid of you (just like sharks will) and only come close when you are far ! Only with time and specific techniques can we get a bit closer to them and get that great photo, take some DNA sample, or attach a tag to sharks to learn more about their lives ! Even when taking tourists underwater with the sharks and without cages, sharks dives have been rated safer than a normal reef dive. Have a look online at photos and videos of divers and sharks together and see for yourself.
Is this operation not going to have a negative effect on the sharks or the ecosystem, by modifying the Natural way of things ?
The Natural way of things is already modified – way too much – in a bad way. What we are trying to achieve is to put it back how it should be ! But this question is one of the most important. We do not want to have any negative effect on any ecosystem or species: this is before anything else a CONSERVATION Project, here to empower Life, not to spoil it ! This is one of the reasons why things have to be done the right way. We have to respect specific kind and quantity of food, way to feed, timing, techniques, ecosystem monitoring and many other things that we do daily. In the end, we know how to make it good for the sharks and for the ecosystem (fish, coral, etc…). There also are additional benefit (indirect) for the sharks and ecosystems to this projects: the science projects help us understand those better and help policy makers to take appropriate decisions, the education side of the project allows to spread the information, stimulate conservation and raise awareness, and the alternative way to use the Ocean not to destroy it, but to have a symbiotic relationship with it as human, leads the way to a better future.
But, will the sharks not stop hunting the way they normally do, or start staying on the same spot instead of exploring the Ocean like they are supposed to ?
No ! Many scientific studies have (and some still are) exploring this question. When well done, there is no impact of shark provisioning on the ecology of sharks – or only positive ones. Sharks will continue to hunt, explore, migrate, and do their job just like always – the only difference if they can pop by to see us sometimes – just like when you discover a new restaurant you really like and start going there occasionally – it would barely change anything to your life routine. More information on this here : Additional Resources
What would happen if people come to swim, snorkel or dive near your operation ?
Nothing ! While we need the legal framework to ensure the site area is managed and local access is restricted, sea-users even as near as 1 or 2 km away may never see any sharks or be in any more danger. As explained in other articles, the sharks we work with are trained to be safe, and only come to our site for a short period of time before disappearing back into deeper waters.
What are the positive effects of such an operation on the Ecosystem ?
We have observed: More fish, more biodiversity (new species of fish coming at the site), more individual of each species (the increase of fish biomass is not just a few species but all of them, including herbivores), increased sighting or rare species, increased coral recruitment, increased coral recruit survival, all of those leading to a much richer reef, leading to an area that eventually start overflowing life to neighboring areas and slowly bringing back pristine-like biodiversity and biomass level.
Are the sharks not going to associate people/scuba-divers with food and therefore become more dangerous when they go to other places ?
On the opposite ! When the operation is well designed, sharks only associate a site and a time to an opportunity of easy food. When they are here, they learn scuba-divers and people are not food: they gain experience at being better at recognizing people as not being an food option, and therefore become a lot less likely to make the mistake of bitting someone in their lifetime. Shark that we work with become extremely safe and learn to ignore people since they can clearly identify them as something they already know, and is not a prey.
Is there a risk to attract sharks that shouldn’t be in this area, for example coming from nearby islands and countries ?
Sharks do have a good sense of smell, but not THAT good ! The operation would attract sharks that are already in the nearby area, maybe a few km around down the current. Shark who come all the way to us might learn it’s good for them, and decide to visit us sometimes. Over time, as more sharks “discover” the site, we have better chances to see more sharks during the operation. It’s just like adding a new good restaurant in a small town : locals, already living around, will visit often, but people living hours away would only visit if they pass by on a way to some bigger goals. This has been clearly shown by scientist, but also with the experience of data collection from the oldest shark dives.
I have seen some shark dive operator promoting chumming instead of feeding. What do you think ?
It may feel natural to think that when you chum, you only attract the sharks without feeding them and therefore you are having less of an impact on their “natural life”. However, chumming can lead to bad health in sharks because they spend their time and energy for no return on investment. Feeding is actually a much better practice for the sharks – it is a good practice when done right – but chumming without feeding can lead to problems. It also means that when the shark ate what they need, they can leave and go on to rest or other activities (or choose to stick around if they want) – instead of being “kept here” wasting their time expecting food, just to make a few tourists happy a little longer.