The awesomeness of travelling, of always pushing yourself a little out of your familiar place and of meeting new people is that you can learn so many things without even noticing it. Life in Sint Maarten has taught me already quite a lot. For example, I learned a great deal about sharks.
Sharks are part of the natural Caribbean landscape. Lemon sharks, Nurse sharks, Caribbean Reef Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks are the most common species. None of these sharks are dangerous per se for humans and it is not at all uncommon to spot some of them while diving. For many divers this is at least half of what makes diving so exciting: the possibility of observing these sublime animals in the flesh swimming elegantly and effortlessly in the water.
Yet, no dive guarantees such a great encounter. Each dive is different and you never know what you might have the luck to see. This is the other half of the excitement: to experience the unexpected chances of the wild life.
Then there are those, divers or not, who prefer looking at sharks in an aquariums or by diving with bait.
The first are those who sugar coat the wrongful life in captivity by stating that it is for an educational purpose. I invite all of you to watch the documentary Blackfish telling the story of Tilikum, an orca in the theme park SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. I’ve watched it a few years ago and I still feel angry and sad when I think about it.
The second completely ignore that diving with sharks and bait – especially if these animals are fed daily – is bad for both people and sharks. After all, how can I blame them if a video about diving with sharks and daily bait is considered the latest incarnation of coolness? Today, for example, I laid my eyes upon a video about a dive with sharks and baits in Florida (again Florida!). A certain Bartolomeo Bove posted it on YouTube and it apparently became a hit that reached the attention of a major Italian online newspaper (Repubblica.it). In the video you see a close up of a shark eating bait. Mostly tuna left overs. The caption completing the video ends with these words: ‘an unforgettable dive although a safe one’.
Since not even an important newspaper cares to apply critical thinking on what is being published, I though I might use my modest blog to make clear for those who read it why diving with sharks and bait should not be encouraged:
- Sharks don’t usually come so close to people. That means that what you see is everything but a natural wild behaviour;
- Sharks that get used to be fed on a daily basis might change their hunting habit and by consequences the surrounding ecosystem;
- Sharks that get used to be around people and bait might associate you with the latter;
- Sharks that are allowed to come so close to people have obviously more chances to ‘taste’ you by mistake. It is a very rare mistake, but it is a possible one. Now, whether this is certainly bad for the person who is ‘tasted’, it is also bad for the image of sharks that continue to be killed around the world also in name of this sad and very undeserved stigma of being ‘the bad guys’.
Do you love sharks so much and you would like to see them up close? Well, here my last piece of advise: get a diving license, harm yourself of some patience and buy a ticket to Sint Maarten! Not necessarily in this order. Please also avoid watching movies about sharks beforehand. They really do not justice to the life of these animals that is much more interesting than just a few and very rare episodes of attacks on people.
I would like to thank Mel, a friend and devoted employer of the Nature Foundation that every day takes great care of Sint Maarten Marine Park. She thought me some of what I wrote in this post without even realising it.
Please note that the featured photo has been taken by Ocean Explorers, Sint Maarten.