Bull shark in the Bahamas with Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch
It seems that many modern-day divers have very mixed feelings about methods to get close-up and personal with sharks. They want to say they have dived with sharks but many don’t want them close enough to see properly or for them to feel it’s they that have been seen by the sharks. Dive guides in the Red Sea will protest that they get plenty of close-up interaction with sharks without baiting but these are Oceanic White-tip sharks that are ocean wanderers and opportunistic feeders. They will make a close pass of anything including a diver to check out if it’s a potential meal. Interactions are exciting but brief in the extreme.
Oceanic White-tip Shark in the Red Sea
These sharks are regularly fed because they follow the busy shipping movements on the Red Sea, a main route between Asia and Europe. All the trash is thrown overboard from these vessels. They’ve been doing this for more than 100 years. The bigger diving liveaboards that are now in evidence make the same noises and ring the dinner bell for these animals. On the other hand, the big populations of grey reef sharks and other reef species have, in the main, long since gone from Egyptian waters. Most sharks are cautious. That’s how they get to grow old in a shark-eat-shark world, and size matters. Divers are usually bigger in comparison to most sharks and sharks usually prefer to stay away from them rather than risk injury from what might be another large predator.
At a Caribbean reef shark feed in the Bahamas
Of course, there are many different ways to attract sharks and I’ve witnessed shark-feeding techniques in many parts of the world. Bearing in mind that sharks tend to be big animals with mouths full of sharp teeth, my opinion of the different methods I have seen is quite variable from the orderly method using one piece of bait at a time at the end of a short spear as developed by Stuart Cove, the famous shark-wrangler to the movie industry, to the rather risky methods I witnessed in French Polynesia. There, the dive guide carried a severed mahi-mahi head under his BC and would cut bits of with a knife, offering it in his bare hand to passing hungry sharks. I questioned if this was not just a bit too risky? I think he finally agreed after he had his hand sewn back together later. We hear all sorts of arguments along the lines of how sharks lose their ability to hunt naturally if they are fed. I would suggest that the amount of food offered at a typical shark-feed is tiny in proportion to the number of sharks present so it represents nothing more than a free snack. Sharks have a hierarchy and defer to larger sharks. None want to get injured by another shark so that when dead bait is offered there is little sense of competition among the animals. Sharks are not the undiscerning predators depicted by the media. Stuart Cove will tell you that he uses different types of bait for attracting different species of shark. For instance Caribbean reef sharks love grouper heads whereas Great Hammerheads look for stingrays in the sand. In the absence of any stingray cleanings being available, he’ll use barracuda parts. For an expedition to photograph oceanic white-tips, I saw him buy 500lb of bonito, and so on. We also hear opinions that shark-feeding encourages sharks to associate humans with food and yet there are no facts to back this up. There are far more shark attacks off the coast of Florida where shark-feeding has been banned for years than almost anywhere else in the world.
If you want dramatic close-ups, like this Great Hammerhead shark, you've got to get close!
At the same time Mike Neuman, owner of Beqa Adventure Divers in Fiji says he is against the ‘shark huggers’, that’s to say, those people who say that sharks are harmless and need our affection. I think we can all agree with him in that requiem sharks generally have a mouth full of sharp teeth and if you want to get close to them you should be aware of that but if you want good pictures of sharks, you've got to get close – very close!