Shark wildlife tourism* is a growing marine industry with big implications for shark conservation. While there are many competing definitions, generally shark wildlife tourism refers to SCUBA dive operators who offer trips that guarantee that you’ll see sharks, often through the use of bait or chum to attract sharks to the divers. This has become a contentious issue in marine science and conservation circles. That’s why last week’s news that WWF, Project AWARE, and the Manta Trust released the first-ever guide to responsible shark and ray tourism best practices is so welcome. This thorough and well-researched guide guide is designed for dive operators who want to minimize their potential harm to sharks and rays while maximizing the potential conservation benefits of shark wildlife tourism.
Some SCUBA diving operators use bait or chum to attract sharks so that their customers can get an up close and personal encounter. A new bill that would make this practice illegal in all U.S. waters has just been introduced into Congress. Section 3 of S. 3099, the “Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016,” contains the following provision:
Last month, I wrote an article for Scientific American that I shouldn’t have had to write. In it, I argued that riding, poking, prodding or otherwise harassing a free-swimming large predatory animal for fun is a bad idea. I do mean “argued;” believe it or not, there are people who strongly disagree with me. In my article, I was very general and diplomatic, and I took pains to avoid naming names.
However, my article was at least partially inspired by the disrespectful, potentially dangerous, and very public behavior of one person: the editor of Shark Diver magazine, Eli Martinez. Eli recently wrote an article for Medium, in which he stated that: “Look, I have no problem with touching sharks and I do not have any problem with other people touching sharks.” He also notes that ” I just think riding sharks is disrespectful to the animals .” He has also shared the following photos (and many, many more like them) on his Facebook page, photos showing behavior he does not seem to consider disrespectful.