In recent years, debate on the subject of baiting the water to attract sharks has been on the rise. Many people feel that this practice may be harmful for both humans and sharks while others insist that it is necessary to help preserve the shark population.
A study published in July 2013 in Marine Policy reported that approximately 100 million sharks are killed by humans each year. This number is unsustainable and the consequences of the prolonging of this practice could be substantial to our marine ecosystems. It is reasonable to assume that most of us should have a vested interest in the preservation of the ocean’s top predator, as our own ecosystems are intertwined with the health of the ocean. But how we go about bringing awareness about the need to preserve shark populations remains a matter of controversy.
Arguments against baiting the water for sharks include the belief that sharks may become accustomed to associating humans with food. This could harm innocent swimmers or divers because more sharks may be in the area where food is frequently dispensed. In fact, this belief does have some truth in it. Ralph Collier, who heads the “Global Shark Attack File”, reported that in the short term, there may be some correlation between shark feeding and shark bites. Indeed, some areas such as Hawaii, Florida, and the Cayman Islands outlaw shark feeding.
Some argue that baiting undermines shark conservation efforts because sharks that become habituated to receiving food from humans are instead caught by fishermen taking advantage of easy prey. Others claim that operations that use bait to attract sharks for their customers are exploiting the shark population for the monetary value in tourism.
Tourism, however, may just be the thing the shark population needs. Some areas that were once fishing grounds are now protected from fishing, and the local population who once sold their catches now make their living as dive operators. It is estimated that a shark’s value when sold for food is about USD150–200. That same shark has a value of nearly USD2 million over its lifetime as a tourist attraction. Considering the number of people who now have an interest in sharks because of programmes such as Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, shark tourism has become a definite benefit for sharks.
Without images of sharks in their natural environment, conservation efforts would not be as effective. Advocates argue that photographers who take compelling images of sharks to inspire change can’t get close enough to their subjects without feeding them. In addition, allowing divers to participate in baited dives helps dispel the myths that movies have perpetuated. In truth, sharks are intelligent, graceful and beautifully powerful animals.