It’s certainly a question which divides the diving and scientific community, as well as conservationists, surfers and even beach goers. Baiting, as the name implies, is simply when you attract an animal (in this case sharks) using a food source. Sharks, as I’m sure you can imagine, respond particularly well to this kind of treatment! They are also one of the most highly sought after attractions for divers, providing an incredible adrenaline rush, as they truly are one of natures most beautiful and exciting predators. The combination of these factors has lead to baiting becoming extremely widespread, practised by dive shops at the four corners of the oceans.
There are many different methods of baiting for sharks, a few of which I have been involved with professionally. They range from simply throwing whole fish into the water (often sardines which are oily and really stink when left in the sun), to creating a scent trail of watery blood and particles which draws the sharks in from afar. Whether or not the shark in question is actually allowed to consume the food, is down to both the technique of the baiter and whether or not the animal requires additional encouragement to stick around. Cage diving with Great Whites usually involves taunting the sharks with partial tuna carcasses tied to a rope, a technique which I personally find too invasive and unnatural. I decided not to participate in this whilst in South Africa.
So is this bad for the sharks? Bad for swimmers and surfers? Just another case of humans manipulating nature for their own pleasure? Many an underwater photographer has pondered the ethics of luring sharks with a tasty morsel, in order to take that million dollar photo, myself being one of them. (No million dollar photo yet I’m afraid in case you were wondering!)
I’ve seen sharks swimming along a reef, as they should do, but as soon as divers enter the vicinity their behaviour changes instantly. They encircle the group, venturing far closer than usual and their intentions are obvious: where is my food? There is no aggression at all, purely expectation, having learned to associate these bubble making creatures with a source of free food. So do we change their behaviour? Yes. To what extent and how does that affects their biology, feeding patterns, migrations and reproduction, is not a question I or anyone else can answer I’m afraid.
Sharks face many threats such as overfishing, pollution and habitat loss, with many species verging on the brink of extinction. In my opinion if baited dives can be carried out in a responsible and educational manner, allowing the average person to witness the beauty of these important creatures and put aside their fears, then this practice is the lesser of two evils.
People who do not love something will never be inclined to save it. People need to love sharks, because they really need to be saved.
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