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Julie Andersen, founder of Shark Angels, returns to Cocos Island nearly 10 years after visiting the first time, on a mission to protect the oceans with Mission Blue and Fusion Networks... She tells us what she saw. Bottom line: Cocos Island and so many places like it need our help...
Written By: Julie Andersen
Nearly a decade ago, I journeyed to Cocos Island, Costa Rica to experience first-hand the incredible schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks it is famous for. As a shark lover and passionate scuba diver, I couldn’t imagine a more amazing place. What I experienced instead was the impact of illegal shark fishing – from dwindling numbers of animals in a protected reserve – to the blatant fishing that occurred at night around the island, the under-resourced park rangers unable to stop the ruthless onslaught. Dozens of fishing lights at night blinking on the horizon and huge bags full of seized long lines filling warehouses in the ranger station haunted my memories.
Written by Dan Abbott, Media & Conservation Coordinator, White Shark Africa, whitesharkafrica.com
In Australia, Mexico and South Africa, great white shark cage diving is an ever growing industry. Whether for an adrenaline rush, an interest in sharks, or just something to do for a day while traveling, thousands of tourists jump into cages to experience the great white.
What does this do for the white shark?
There are many controversial issues around white shark cage diving, and the effects it may be having on the animal. The biggest issue however must be around the protection of the sharks.
Worldwide sharks are being killed at an unsustainable rate, it is estimated a staggering 100 million sharks die at the hands of humans. 70 million of those are thought to be as a result of shark finning, as the shark fin soup industry in china grows, it puts more and more pressure on fishermen to kill more and more sharks. As the fin is all that is needed, the rest of the shark is thrown back into the ocean, often still alive.
Sport fishing, beach nets and by catch are also wiping out shark numbers across the world, 90% of shark species are believed to be endangered.
So what can cage diving actually do about this?
To the majority of the world, the shark is a feared predator. Making support for the shark a challenging issue. Where white shark cage diving can help change this, is through the education that should be being provided on the boat during the experience. As the clients see the sharks for themselves, a pre conceived opinion of a mindless killer, can change to that of respect and admiration for an apex predator.
If no education or research is being done by white shark cage operators, then it is simply a business, contributing nothing to the protection and conservation to these animals, merely providing tourists with their great underwater photos of a huge shark.
The role of the bait handler
￼The bait handlers job is to entice the sharks as close to the cage as possible, avoiding contact between the shark and the cage or boat. A good bait handler is able to keep the bait (usually a tuna head) just in front of the shark, and just out of reach should the shark lunge towards it. Where this can get difficult is in low visibility.
If the shark decides to breach on the bait, the handler may not see it until it hits the surface. Throwing the bait out a safe distance from the cage minimizes the risk of the shark hitting or landing on the cage. Of course in this instance, the clients in the cage will see nothing of the shark underwater. On occasion, the bait finds itself close to the cage, whether the handler losses concentration or the tuna head is brought to the boat by a swell, and this is where the shark is at risk. Should the shark breach, it is in danger of launching itself into the cage. Also if the predator is moving quicker than the handler anticipates, grabs the bait, and starts to thrash with the bait in its mouth, it is in danger of damaging its jaw, snout and eyes. An injury to any of these can prove fatal to a great white shark. Every shark behaves in a different way, much like people, each has their own personality, making it even harder to predict the movements of a shark around the boat. The bait handlers most geared towards conservation will put shark safety above clients getting their close up.
Conversing with Clients
With anything between 5-30 clients on a cage diving shark trip, there is a fantastic opportunity here for crew and biologists to be in conversation with clients about the animals they are seeing and the behaviour they are witnessing. Further information about the area they are in is also important for understanding white shark behaviour.
Having crew members that are passionate and open to taking with clients, can have a huge positive impact on the education of the sharks. This can be difficult, as most boats go out every day, and crews can become tired of the repetitive task, just like in any other job. But the importance of motivated crew in this industry is vital to the experience and education of the client.
There are cage diving operators that run volunteer and internship programs, in order to have passionate people on the boat each day.
At the start of every tour, there is a safety briefing from a member of the crew, or in a video presentation. This outlines what the client can expect from the day, and in particular, how to make sure the day is safe for everyone on board.
In the case of bad weather conditions, trips are usually cancelled. Should a trip go ahead in poor conditions, the experience in the shark cage can be very unpleasant. If an operator goes out in poor conditions, it shows more of a focus on business, than shark conservation.
As part of the safety briefing, clients are warned not to touch the sharks. This may seem like an obvious warning, but there have been many cases of divers wanting to get even closer, pushing their arms (and cameras) through the cage, and being injured either by the jaws or a sharks tough skin. To avoid this most cages are built with an inner rail, for divers to hold on to and push themselves under water as sharks pass by. Those that try and touch sharks are usually removed from the cage.
In order to save the white shark from extinction, clients who step onto a shark cage diving boat, have to be able to have been given the chance to see how these animals behave in the wild, not a mindless killing machine, but an apex predator that demands respect. This mind set spreading throughout the world will be what helps to save our sharks.
Join our shark research and conservation eco-program!
White Shark Africa is a white shark cage diving operator based in Mossel Bay, South Africa. Every month we run an eco-program for anyone interested in marine conservation.
The month includes:
To apply for this program, please email our program manager:
We realize that there is a lot of controversy over tagging sharks, you might be for or against using tags to capture data on sharks. So we thought we would enlighten everyone about the different types of tags and what they are used for. This article was written by Rachel Jacobson who is currently studying marine biology and sharks at Stony Brook University.
The journey to making Massachusetts shark fin free began in 2012 when two Shark Angels, Alayne Chappell and Carol “Sammy” Samarov, came together to build Fin Free Massachusetts. From there, they formed a broad coalition of ocean and animal advocacy groups, including The Humane Society, MSPCA-Angell, New England Aquarium, Shark Angels, Oceana, Women Working for Oceans, and several invaluable others. Together, with legislative sponsor, Senator Jason Lewis, they filed a bill to ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins in the summer of 2013.
Hi, My name is Alexi and I am 13 years old, in 7th grade, at Myrtle Grove Middle School in Wilmington, NC. I recently finished a school project called the problem/solution project … I was to research a problem in the world that could be anything from the environment, to cancer, to child abuse, etc. It had to be a problem that we were passionate about. I decided to do my project on the Misconceptions of Sharks and Shark Finning. Living on the coast of North Carolina, my whole family surfs...a lot! We have seen many sharks out here and every time I saw one it had always scared the heck out of me! I wanted to learn more about sharks so that way I wouldn't be scared of them when I went in the water. In the beginning I was planning on doing the project with four of my other friends, but they decided they weren't that interested anymore. I was torn because I wanted to do the project with them but I also had this gut feeling about doing my project on sharks. In the end I chose to stick with my idea and do it myself!
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