To Touch or not to Touch?
Wolfgang has just posted his personal take on that.
We've never met but I do like and respect the man.
He's obviously intelligent and very experienced and his love for Sharks knows no boundaries. I'm sure that he would never, ever do anything that would put Sharks in harm's way or somehow tarnish their reputation.
"From the Heart", I fully agree with every word he says - the more as every single one of our feeders will always feel compelled to give a little affectionate pat to any Shark coming in for a snack. This may look stupid in view of the fact that Sharks are not likely to take it the way it was meant - but as Wolf correctly remarks, it does clearly habituate them to our presence. In fact, most of our old-timers hardly ever deploy their nictitating membranes and when they do, we've learned to be especially cautious.
Check out the pic and you'll notice that Olga is obviously equally relaxed.
And yet, upon coming across some images of a dive trip to Tiger Beach, I felt compelled to raise my voice in alarm. What ensued was an interesting conversation thread and I'm particularly happy that we all managed to remain mutually respectful and polite, a rare feat in the ever passionate and opinionated world of Shark aficionados.
That conversation has apparently continued "behind the scenes", as witnessed by Wolf's desire to set the record straight. It certainly has continued at this end, both in terms of e-mails we have received but also, in terms of internal discussions about our own procedures.
Personally, it's a case of Zwei Herzen, ach, schlagen in meiner Brust.
You may have gathered that we at BAD Love Sharks, with a Passion! We name them, we research them, we protect them, we keep track of their individual lives and are overjoyed when our old friends turn up after their yearly walkabout, like right now - and yes, we also pet them!
You may have also noticed that although we interact with the biggest, and most dangerous coastal species, we don't define and market ourselves in spectacular adjectives like "ultimate" (as in "terminal"? Yes, I'm being facetious), "extreme" and the like. Our aim is not to sell some death-defying "adventure", but to showcase our Sharks to our Clients and to have them come away with a new, personal appreciation for their beauty, grace and mellow disposition - whilst contributing to their protection in the process.
From that point of view alone, we're as "Shark-hugging" as one can possibly get!
And yet, we couldn't be more controlled and have more stringent and inflexible procedures!
I've blogged extensively about it before and won't bore you with more of the same. Essentially, it's about commercial versus private Shark diving. Commercial Shark diving means stacking the cards in one's favor and never forgetting the awesome power of the animals we're dealing with. It also has to do with our responsibility towards our Clients and the fact that they, and not the Sharks, can be highly unpredictable!
In that regard, I'm grateful that Wolf has generously posted a caveat not to try and emulate what he does. Thank you!
Is what he does "disrespectful"?
That's really a difficult one.
We've been accused of "demeaning" our Sharks by conditioning them to participate in what some rightfully call a "Circus act". Our standard answer is to point to our Conservation efforts and also, to the fact that the alternative is not a "happy life" but to end up as Shark fin soup. We also feel that we need to do so for safety reasons, as the such conditioned animals are certainly easier to handle.
But I realize that what we do will always remain controversial.
Same-same for Wolf's effusions.
There is really no need for them - but knowing who he is and having read his post, he means only the best and causes no harm whatsoever, certainly not to the animals.
There are scores of Fish- and Shark-touchers, foremost Valerie who'll pet anything from Nudis, Morays and Dugongs all the way to Great Whites! People like them are instrumental in changing perceptions and are to be commended for doing so.
In brief, Wolf, go for it! As I said before, I sometimes bemoan the fact that having crossed the fence, I won't be able to join you!
Would I however strongly object if boatloads of divers started doing the same? Most certainly, experience or no experience!
In the end, the Ocean is no Zoo and direct interactions like petting and feeding are generally to be discouraged as they impact on the animals, most likely in a negative way. Moreover, when it comes to predatory Sharks, one must never forget that they are potentially lethal and that every direct interaction carries the risk of accidents - certainly bad for the person involved but devastating for the image of Sharks and our efforts to get them protected.
OK, enough of this.
Back to Shark Protection - judging from the projects I know about, 2009 is going to be an awesome year!