The popular Shark Week on the Discovery Channel keeps growing in popularity. This past weekend, social networking sites and blogs were abuzz about the shark filled week ahead. Last year shark week had more than 29 million viewers, which is a 7% rise since 2007. The popularity of Shark Week is just one example of our fascination with these large predators.
With the fascination also comes curiosity, which may account for the popularity of shark tourism in recent years. Although many may consider jumping in shark infested waters downright crazy, others are willing to pay lots of money to come up close and personal with the top of the food chain.
The tourism industry makes a lot of money from these tours and is unlikely to want to give them up anytime soon. Cage diving with great whites can cost up to $2,000 per person. In some places shark tourism can bring in millions of dollars per year in revenue. There are various types of shark tourism. The most daring of which is cage diving with great white sharks, predators with extreme strength that could tear open the very cage meant to keep tourists safe. Others choose to swim freely with sharks, some daring enough to swim with tiger sharks and bull sharks, other species known for attacks on humans. In Mexico it has become quite popular to swim with whale sharks, the world’s largest shark, although it hardly poses a threat to humans since it mostly feeds on tiny plankton.
Sharks would much rather feed on tuna or fur seals rather than a surfer. The view that sharks are ruthless killers is fiction, exaggerated by the entertainment industry and fear; however there are risks you take when swimming in the vast ocean. Nature is not predictable and tourists need to be educated on the subject before they decide to participate in any activity that may put them in contact with a shark.
Shark tourism and diving continues to be a controversial topic. Critics fear that shark diving will have an adverse effect on marine population. Since sharks are on the top of the food chain, they are very important to the ecosystem. Shark populations are likely to increase where more food is available, hence changing the natural cycle of predator and prey.
Then of course there is a more disturbing prospect. Since most tour operators use chum and other techniques to attract sharks to their boats, there is a possibility that with the ever increasing shark tourism industry, sharks may start to link humans with food, a scary thought for surfers, swimmers, and divers alike.
It is hard to regulate shark tourism throughout the world, especially since every country has its own rules and regulations. The spike in shark interest will only complicate this problem further. It is important that tourists realize the possible threats to the surrounding environments that they explore and that they do their research before selecting a tour company.