Cage diving have seen a boom in recent decades and are now one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry.
The chance to go diving and safely see some of the world’s most spectacular and bloodthirsty predators up close in their own environment is regarded as the opportunity of a lifetime for many tourists.
Great white sharks are altering their behavior, diverting them from hunting, and making them needlessly waste energy – all because of the interaction with tourists
Australia, South Africa, the US, Mexico and New Zealand are all offering cage diving.
A study published in the journal Conservation Physiology reveals that great white shark (also known as white sharks) activity increases dramatically during cage diving sessions, compared to when tour operators are absent, raising questions about the behavioral changes this form of tourism may be causing in some species.
The researchers tracked ten white sharks at South Australia’s Neptune Islands with devices for nine days. They found the increased movement when sharks are interacting with cage divers results in overall dynamic body acceleration 61% higher than at times when sharks are present in the area but cage divers are not.
The sharks’ interactions with the cage divers are likely to cost them a lot more energy than standard white shark behaviors.
The mere presence of the cage diving operators in the general vicinity of the sharks was not sufficient to elicit such behavioral changes. These only occurred when white sharks were close to the cage diving vessels.
The research notes that licensed commercial white shark cage diving operators use approved and regulated attractants to entice sharks within close proximity of the cages and provide good viewing opportunities for divers.
However, operators are not allowed to feed white sharks. The interaction with cage diving tourists is, therefore, not rewarded by more food.
Great white sharks are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as a vulnerable species. They are protected by governments in the US, New Zealand and Australia.