Recently we shared a photo on Instagram about cage diving with sharks. It was brought to our attention that the cage diving experience isn't always safe for sharks and can have negative repercussions in the long run. So we wanted to investigate and research the topic to educate ourselves and share that information with you.
What is Shark Cage Diving?
Cage diving is the practice of diving or snorkelling to observe sharks from the safety of a metal cage. These cages are designed to protect the diver from unwanted contact with the sharks they are watching. Many tour companies use a method known as 'chumming' to attract sharks, they will use some form of bait to encourage sharks closer to the cages.
| Shared from Wikimedia Commons - https://www.flickr.com/photos/22373329@N03/13474695083
Is Shark Cage Diving Safe?
Tourism companies and shark tour groups assure their customers and tourists that these cage diving experiences are completely safe. The emphasis is usually placed on the safety of the divers and there often isn't all that much information on how safe it is for the sharks that they are meeting. One site we found does go into some detail, looking at a shark diving cage accident from 2016 they suggest that if companies correctly follow the regulations and correct procedures to using bait with cage diving:
"There is nothing wrong with using hang-baits. Responsible use of hang-baits actually enhances safety, as it allows us to direct the shark."
We also read a full account from one tourist who decided to go cage diving with sharks in South Africa. He detailed his whole experience and concluded that he felt 100% safe the entire time he was in the water with the sharks. Read his blog piece here if you are interested in hearing his full story.
However, scientists and researchers have argued that using bait in the water to attract sharks can actually have an impact on the sharks behaviour. As they are approaching the cage looking for food they act on instinct and hunt for the food that they can smell.
In autumn of 2018 courts in New Zealand ruled that cage diving was illegal and is an offence under the Wildlife Act. Residents believed that the practice was making the sharks bolder and more likely to go after people with food. Though no incidences had been reported, they thought it was only a matter of time. Since this ruling one of the shark cage diving operators has won the right to return back to the water and the law has once again been updated. Read more here.
The South African shark tourism industry has grown over the years to one of the biggest in the world, equating to $30 million a year! However, as the business has grown locals, fishermen and surfers have all raised their concerns about the use of bait. They insist that this method is encouraging sharks to approach humans in hopes of food and has been linked to an increase in local attacks.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of stories across many news outlets about cases where the sharks have attacked the cages, resulting in the injury or death of the shark. The most recent story we can across is from early October 2019. It was reported that a group of 4 cage divers off the coast of Baja California in Mexico were charged by a great white shark. The 17 foot great white flew at the cage and this resulted in it getting stuck between the bars of the cage. The shark tried to free its self and swim back away from the cage but only ended up injuring its self on the cage. Tragically, the shark spent 25 minutes struggling to free itself from the bars but ultimately died.
Sadly this is not a one off incident when it comes to cage diving with sharks. If you look back over the years there have been a number of similar stories, where a shark has attacked the cage, resulting in injury to the shark or even death. Though it is worth noting that in most of these cases there has been no harm to human life.
Is cage diving worth it?
Many people do see cage diving as an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with sharks without feeling at risk. An opportunity to learn more about these amazing creatures and see them in their natural environment.
We found a really interesting article written for National Geographic by traveler Andrew Evans on the reasons why he will never go cage diving. If you are interested you can read the full article here. His 4 reasons are as follows:
It Is Not Good Conservation
We cannot recommend this article enough, if you are interested in the debate on shark cage diving or if you are considering going cage diving with sharks. It really does give you a lot to think about.
One point he touches on in the article is that he loves being in the water with sharks when they are in their natural habitat, acting and behaving naturally. By nature sharks are curious and timid creatures, it is only when you introduce the aspect of blood into the mix that you will see their hunting, almost aggressive state. Check out the amazing video below of the fantastic marine biologist Ocean Ramsey swimming with the largest great white shark recorded.
Is it possible to go Shark Cage Diving Safely?
At the end of the day, there are regulations in place when it comes to cage diving with sharks that are designed to protect all parties involved. From the research we have done, we would not endorse going shark cage diving, however this is completely your decision and if you do decide to go cage diving then here is some advice we have found for you:
"As a general rule, avoid operators who dive close to other human-use areas like popular beaches, bait directly on the cage, and those who allow participants to exit the cage, or touch and hand-feed passing sharks. Cages that use round, tubular bars rather than traditional square-edged bars are less likely to cause injury to sharks that pass too close."
| From Earth Touch News Network - Let's Get The Facts Straight About Those Two Shark Cage Accidents - October 17th 2016
Do you want to do more to protect sharks?
Shark species around the world are in decline, largely due to the horrific shark finning trade. If you haven't heard of shark finning and want to learn more, then you should check out our blog from World Wildlife Conservation Day all about Shark Finning.
We want to END the shark finning trade that kills millions of sharks every year. So if you have a moment please consider signing this petition from Susan Bloom.