Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interactive


This is a difficult post for me to write, really!
Please believe me if I tell you that is in no way meant to be a personal attack.

Guys, I love you to death and have generally nothing but Admiration, Respect and Gratitude for what you're doing for the Cause.
Your Magazine is iconic. Your posts and initiatives are often the very best that Shark Conservation has to offer in terms of vision, outreach and efficiency.

I'm also certainly well aware of your profound love and fascination of Sharks. I realize that you mean no harm and just want to have some good old-fashioned fun with the animals you love. You may even think that you're dispelling the myth of the killer beast and in some regard, you indeed are. Iconic images like this one are certainly a wonderful vehicle for spreading the Message.

Alas, this has gone public.
There is a trip report and the following has been posted on YouTube.



I've said it before, big predatory Sharks are never, ever pets, ever!
You can also rest assured that they do not appreciate being manhandled, whatever the intention. That's mammalian stuff, good for stoking your own Ego but bearing no relation whatsoever to what they are. All you can possibly achieve is to trigger some unforeseen reaction, very possibly aggressive. What I see are fluttering nictating membranes and increased swimming speed, hardly an indication for a relaxed ambiance. What I unfortunately do not see is a controlled situation.

In the softest possible way: please, these are Apex Predators and need to be treated with Respect! Being who you are, you must lead by example!

Really, what's the upside?
If God forbid, anything happened, it would send Shark Conservation right back to the Stone Age, especially if something did happen to people as prominent as you! Remember Ritter and his stupid antics? Remember the reaction?
Don't you see how those guys out there would be positively gloating?

Is that really what you want?

7 comments:

Wolf Leander said...

Hi, I am Wolfgang Leander, the guy on the "iconic image".

You are absolutely right with what you say, though I don't fully agree with everything you stated.

While I am not an "enemy" of Erich Ritter, the way I interact with large tiger sharks is TOTALLY different from, and MUCH safer than, what Erich did.

Erich did something I would NEVER do as he could NOT control the situation he deliberately got into (wading in "bull shark infested" water.

I, on the other hand, have been diving and interacting with sharks for many, many years, and believe to have acquired a level of knowledge and experience that enables me to handle sharks in a very safe way.

But you are right in that regular divers with less or no experience in understanding the the corporal language of sharks, should not engage in even slightly touching, or petting sharks.

In the future, I will strongly discourage fellow divers to try to follow my example, and I myself will restrain from interacting in a way that could be interpreted by others as if I were to prove that tiger sharks are as harmless as dolphins!

Thank you for your comment; I have received it well.

Best wishes.

Wolfgang

bdbenj said...

Hi, I was on this trip at Tiger Beach and the vid is mine.

I disagree with your opinion. During five days at tiger beach I never feel in danger at anytime, the tiger sharks were cautious and shy. It's time to forgot Jaws! Sharks are not human killing machine!

For the vid you probably know that sharks are attracted by the vibs of the camera. They come and bump to see what is it. I was amazed how gentle the tiger shark is when he bump the camera. During this trip I never see a "nervous tiger shark" and no frenzy at anytime. You have to know that I never touch a tiger shark on this trip: It's a film!

I've done Fiji shark dive last year and I can say I feel less comfortable than in Tiger Beach. Tiger Beach is 6 meters deep, you can forgot all diving problems (deco, breathing...). How could you say that fiji shark dive is safer? Sharks (including big bull sharks)are as close than in tiger beach.

Finally I think that we would better use our energy to protect the sharks that to critisize each other!

Best whishes
Bdbenj

Sorry for the english (I'm a frenchman)

Wolf Leander said...

Hi, it's me again, Wolfgang.

Although I have never dived with you (as a freediver I could not enjoy "your" sharks at the depth where you take your dive tourists), I have to say that watching videos of you guys feeding the big tiger mama, large bull sharks, and nervous reef sharks, I'd concur 100% with what Benjamin said.

The tigers of Tiger Beach and Aliwal Shoal, the other fantastic tiger shark diving spot, are much more cautious than the sharks you hand-feed.

I see you guys with shark billies fending off sharks that get a bit too close to you (the feeders) which is a "tool" I don´t carry with me.

I used to have those sticks for "protection" until I realized that using my hands is way more effective and sensible to keep an inquisitive shark at bay.

Thus, if a tiger (or lemon or black tip) comes too close, I push him / her away very gently with my hands, not with a rigid stick.

We all have to respect sharks, no matter how comfortable we feel in their presence. The more we know about them, the more we should admire them - which is what you and I do.

Nobody on our trip (the one where the pics were made and Benjamin shot the vid) harrassed the sharks - not once.

As you know (or should know) tiger sharks ALWAYS activate their nictitaing membranes when they get close to ANY object, including food and cameras.

So, to say that a nictitating tiger shark is an indication of a state of nervousness is COMPLETELY misleading.

The difference between the shark dives you offer and the ones one can have at Tiger Beach and Aliwal Shoal is that your tours are strictly guided without allowing the divers any interaction while you hand-feed the sharks whereas there is no hand-feeding either in the Bahamas nor in South Africa.

I don't want to qualify the merits or potential drawbacks of hand-feeding - but I can guarantee you that I COULD make a strong case against hand-feeding large sharks in the presence of divers with little or no shark diving experience.

What it really boils down to is to make shark diving as safe as possible while at the same time allowing divers to marvel at, even cautiously interact with, them.

Would you guys agree with that?

Best wishes.

Wolfgang

DaShark said...

Thank you Wolf and Benjamin!

I appreciate very much that this has not led to undue aggro - thanks for that.

Wolf, you got it perfectly right.
Alas for you and fortunately for the Sharks, you're now in the public domain and that requires a different degree of awareness. I know u know what I mean, I'm right there myself and sometimes bemoan it in private.

As to what we do in Fiji.
If you've clicked on the link I posted, you know what has led us to adopt the procedures we follow.

Probably the principal difference between Fiji and the Bahamas is that we don't allow any direct interaction between the Sharks and the clients, and that we try to choreograph the whole event in order to minimize "surprises".

Yes, there are obviously risks (here's another "take": http://fijisharkdiving.blogspot.com/2008/08/same-old-allegations.html) but we try to limit them to our side of the equation.
So far so good and knock on wood!

It's all about long-term sustainability and the difference between private diving and commercial diving. I'm sure you've seen Patric's take on it and I fully concur with what he says.

But it will always remain a judgment call. I'm sure that Ritter exerted his own (poor) judgment, you have yours and I have mine. Others may well judge us to be utter lunatics.

As to the nictating membranes, maybe our Sharks, being conditioned, are different. The "old-timers" hardly ever deploy them and we've learned to be more vigilant when they do.

OK nuff said.
Back to fighting the bad guys.

DaShark said...

PS...

Benjamin, having been intrigued by your comparison between Fiji and Tiger Beach, I've gone digging and discovered your Fiji video.

Not that it matters much in the general context of this thread - but you did not dive with us.

From what I can gather, our procedures are different and as a Tourist, you would not have been able to capture the images you did.
There's obviously a downside to that, but it's the way we have chosen to run things.

Best Regards
Mike

bdbenj said...

Hi,
Thank you for your posts.
I did not dive in Fiji with your compagny and I can say I regret it. If I've luck to go again in Fiji I sure choose to dive with you!
You have to know that I respect and admire your work. Your vids are much more impressive than mine and some interactions with hungry tigers are amazing (frightening?). I think that most people can't do the difference between sharks interaction done by professionnal or amateur on internet vids! "Normal people" thinks that we're all crazy and that sharks are killers.
Be sure that we all do our best for our safety and speaking for myself: seeing the beauty of sharks is my goal, I don't need to touch them.

Benjamin

DaShark said...

Merci Benjamin!

J'ai bien vu ou t'as plonge' et chuis sur qu'on a plein d'amis en commun!

I just read http://bigpicture.typepad.com/writing/2007/03/dave_barrys_25_.html.

With that in mind, let me say that there's a very fine line between "Shark diving" and "mental illness", too! (:

Seriously, we're all on the same side and it is nice to see that we can agree to disagree and still be pals!

Great stuff, thanks!