Thursday, May 22, 2014

Shark Feeding - attack the Unknown!

And attack she did, and know she did little!
And I cite.
Evidence indicates sharks have the capacity to become conditioned. 
As a result, shark ecotourism has the potential to create an association of humans with food, ending in increased attacks.
Have you seen this crap?
Sarah the student from Wellington has perused a random selection of irrelevant papers (and none of those that are relevant, see the links below!) - and now she thinks she knows something about something and has posted her opines on the university weblog site.

So there, for the umpteenth bloody time.
  • There's no geographical correlation between Shark feeding and Shark strikes.
    Re-read this. In brief and with maybe the exception of SA, the vast majority of Shark strikes occurs in locations where there are no Shark feeding operations (like specifically Western Australia!)  - which is even more surprising if one considers that most of those dives have been established in locations that are known for their healthy Shark populations!
    And even if there were some correlation, it certainly does not equate causation!

  • Shark feeding appears unproblematic at the ecosystem level
    All present research into those baited Shark dives appears to concur that those dives have little to no effect at large spatial and temporal scales. It appears pretty clear that far from becoming dependent on the handouts, those provisioned Sharks continue to fulfill their ecological roles and also continue to follow their normal life cycles as in e.g. mating, pupping and migrating.
But of course there are some big caveats.
  • There are certainly effects at small spatial and temporal scales.
    Shark feeding often aggregates the animals, and this can have local consequences. As an example, take the increased aggression of those Lemons in Moorea; or the observed competitive exclusion (and here!) of other Sharks in Fiji and possibly SA and TB; or those postulated local behavioral changes and marginally increased residency in Southern Australia.
  • Conditioning via positive reinforcement does likely happen.
    E.g., Sharks are certainly smart and it is absolutely plausible to assume that provisioned Sharks may have learned to associate the boat noise with a subsequent feeding opportunity, a fact that is being exploited by several operators - and if the food is being presented at the surface like in the case of GWS cage diving, it as equally plausible to assume that they could be popping up next to other boats in the area!
    But "turning up" does not equate "attacking"!
  • Location matters.
    Many Shark dives have been being established where there are already Sharks, meaning that objectively speaking, the risk profile is unlikely to change - but perceptions matter and like in the case of population centers like, say, Cape Town or Playa, the diving activity and associated increased publicity of Sharks can lead to conflicts with the other local ocean users. Consequently, as a rule, the feeding locations need to be as remote as possible and should definitely not be established e.g. right in the middle of population centers or right in front of popular beaches etc.
  • Feeding protocols.
    Like I often state, it is often not about the what but about the how.
    Shark provisioning creates its own risks, and those risks need to be managed - meaning that all protocols should be chosen in function of minimizing the impact on both the animals and the habitat, and on maximizing the safety for the participants but also the public. E.g., everybody will hopefully agree that creating humongous chum trails or dumping indiscriminate amounts of bait to create feeding frenzies is probably a bad idea. Or as another example, we here go to great lengths to condition the Bulls never to come to the surface, lest we get accused of endangering other aquatic recreationists.
    In brief, we need to be in a position to demonstrate that we are always striving to conduct our dives in the most responsible way possible - but provided that (!) we we act responsibly, yours truly and every single Shark diving operator I've ever talked to have made the observation that the Sharks become positively tame, meaning that the risk of a bite is lower not higher!
And then, there's this.
These stupid allegations are likely to hound us til the end of time - but it's disheartening to see them parroted by a young academic that is obviously a Shark-lover!

To be continued no doubt!


The Saffron Pimpernel said...

Its interesting for this naive girl to use Adventure Bay Charters in South Australia as a source. They are the only "berley free" operation BECAUSE they could not obtain a permit from the government. Their shark viewing success record is a fraction of the Calypso Star and Andrew Fox operations because... sharks are attracted to fish products, not ecobabble and bad music. thank you, science police, for setting the record straight.

Shark Diver said...

These guys (or ladies) don't let a good fact get in the way of their rhetoric.

OfficetoOcean said...

There can't be too many bother topics around where the untruths, myths and downright lies seem to get wider coverage than the solid facts in mainstream media. Religion and politics maybe but it amazes me how things which have been largely disproven are still presented as solid factual anecdotes. I saw one the other week claiming the cage diving at the Neptune Islands could possibly be linked to the increase in attacks in WA! Absolutely ludicrous :D

DaShark said...


I've seen several of those allegations, plus some more linking Reunion to South Africa (...) - and her formulation that Shark ecotourism may not be a direct cause of this culling event comes dangerously close to those statements.

OfficetoOcean said...

As a subject it's cropping up again quite a lot at the moment, same old nonsense, same old people. I was asked to contribute to a big piece on Scuba Diver magazine last month so hopefully that helps address the less spoken side of the argument.

Still, this argument that feeding causes a greater risk of attack persists despite the evidence actually pointing to the opposite, it's the very modern obsession with presenting an opinion or a reflection if ones moral code, as a fact, neglecting to back it up with anything.

The problem with the piece you linked is it looks and reads as credible to the uninitiated but as you say it's z case of someone reading some stuff on the internet and thinking they know something about something which they really don't. That doesn't paint the author as anything unusual in the 21st century however.

DaShark said...

Indeed - alas!

Did you mean Scuba Diver Australasia?
If so, you may find yerself in simply appalling company!

OfficetoOcean said...

I thinking it is yes... Now that sounds ominous! The lady who contacted me (who was very nice) said they had
used that huge blog I wrote last year as a framework got the piece or at least my involvement, I don't know who the other contributors are though so should be interesting when it comes out. Hopefully the detail on my answers survives the word count limit

DaShark said...

Alice - correct?

Now THAT is ominous!

OfficetoOcean said...

Yep :)

Just read your email. Looks like this could be a great piece after all ;)