Sharks and divers have shared the water since the inception of the sport.
And to increase the diving adventure, hand feeding sharks have become a part of eco-tourism around the world.
Some of the feeding is done through chumming and baiting on the surface while the divers wait in a cage.
Others bring the divers to a designated spot in a circle at the bottom and bait the sharks to the center so each diver has a chance to see sharks around them.
Eventually sharks begin to assimilate feeding to humans.
Here's another article on Shark Feeding: Good or Bad?
It begs the question, are we increasing the likelihood of attacks by associating human with food?
Behavioral Changes and Human Safety
In South Africa, where great white shark populations has continued to gain media attention for dynamic breaching and attack tactics, shark cage diving with white sharks is also popular.
These notable interactions have drawn concern from scientists and conservation advocates about how feeding and baiting sharks can adversely affect their behavior and their purpose in the ecosystem.
In the article, South Africa’s White Shark cage-diving industry - is their cause for concern? delves into the concerns about conditioning sharks to identify human activity with food sources.
Changing the animals behavior can have a significant impact if that change in behavior comes into direct conflict with the safety of people at the shore.
We aren’t just changing the way the sharks behave but we are also setting them up to seek out people in unsolicited encounters.
Case in point, Florida.
Desperately Seeking Humans
In 2002, the state of Florida banned shark feeding dive charters because these feedings were changing the behaviors of the sharks instinctual patterns.
In 2014, when sharks in the Palm Beach area were acting in “unusually aggressive manner, as if they were expecting to be fed,” the Florida Fish and Game Division went undercover on dive boats and found an operation feeding sharks. This led to a series of arrests.
For better or worse, sharks in the area had changed their behavior and began connecting humans as a food source. Typically, these feeding are based on hand feeding or bucket baiting which introduces a bucket of bait that is opened and left for the sharks to feed upon.
Eco-tourism has made compelling arguments on this issue explaining that divers were more active in understanding and conserving sharks and habitat if they see them in the water, under controlled feeding condition.
Is there a Bright Side?
Dr. David Delany, a marine ecologist and conservation biologist explains, in an interview, that shark feeding can be productive and observational, just as an aquarium feeding might help people understand the species a bit more.
Taking it a step further, Dr. Delany feels that shark feeding can take on a scientific purpose as well. “As an example of a shark dive serving multiple purposes, I participated in a baited shark dive in Umkomaas, South Africa and saw dozens of black tip sharks.
Many had hooks in their mouths, gills, and sides. The amount of tackle gear caused us to realize that the effect fisherman have on coastal shark species was greater than we previously thought, and caused us to focus efforts on minimizing the effect fishermen have on coastal shark species.”
The connection between diving and the desire to see apex predators in their natural environment will always have two sides.
Can we observe the environment without changing it? And if we do create a change in environment or behavior, how much of that are we willing to own?