ZuBlu co-founder Adam Broadbent talked to World Nomads about his views on diving with sharks. Read the full interview below.
Q. Are there any specific accreditations divers should check for when choosing a responsible operator, other than a PADI certification?
A. Whilst a PADI certification (or any other dive certification agency) ensures that you will be guided and led by an accredited dive operator, it is no guarantee that an operator will enforce responsible diving practices. Ultimately, ethical interactions are driven and led by conscious and passionate operators, so as a diver or snorkeler, the best advice is to ask questions and research diligently.
Using travel platforms such as ZuBlu, that focus solely on sustainable marine experiences, will ensure that you select a resort or operator that employs best practices. ZuBlu also works closely with Green Fins, an initiative by The Reef-World Foundation, that provides operators with the world’s only internationally recognised standards for responsible scuba diving and snorkelling.
The WWF, in conjunction with Project Aware and the Manta Trust, offer a comprehensive guide to best practice responsible shark and ray tourism. Although not an accreditation, divers can ask operators whether they are aware of this guide and abide by its recommendations.
Q. What should divers do to ensure an operator is ethical? What are red flags they aren't?
A. Your voice as a diver is more powerful than you realise. At ZuBlu, we are witnessing a wave of positive change as more and more operators are improving their practices, not only because they choose to, but because guests are demanding it.
With shark-related diving specifically in mind, questions to ask dive operators include:
- Do you feed or bait the sharks?
- Do you provide detailed briefings?
- Do you enforce a no-accessory policy? (e.g. shark deterrent devices)
- Do you have a code of conduct you follow, such as the WWF guide? (more information in link above)
- Do you limit the number of guests per diving experience?
Q. What are your thoughts on cage diving? Does it impact a shark's natural behavior?
A. Any interaction with sharks, be it in a cage, diving, or snorkelling, will impact on a shark’s natural behaviour. We are entering their habitat and should be respectful of that at all times. Even if sharks are not being fed, which is one of the most common reasons behind behavioural changes, our presence alone can impact their ‘normal’ routine.
However, shark cage diving is particularly controversial. Many of these experiences are encouraged by shark feeding, which lures the animals closer to the cage with the aim of ‘improving’ the guest experience. This not only creates a food source reliance, but, when conducted particularly irresponsibly, has resulted in some shocking situations. Referencing a specific incident in Guadalupe, a shark ended up inside a cage due to errors by the lure handler. Thankfully, no humans were injured, but the video footage of this incident shows the panic of the shark and the clear injuries sustained by the animal as it thrashes around. This is just one of multiple incidents that could have been completely avoided, had the operator been more responsible.
Some cage diving interactions are however, more ethical. In Hawaii for example, sharks learned to follow crabbing and fishing boats in search of a free meal from the discards thrown overboard. Now, sharks will approach most boats out of curiosity, allowing tourists to have a more ethical and natural interaction. However even in this more ethical case, humans have still impacted the sharks’ natural behaviour.
It is important to note that the majority of shark experiences aren’t actually done in cages. Sharks are regularly seen in their natural habitats by divers and snorkelers. These encounters when conducted correctly, are perfectly safe and provide a much more enjoyable, natural experience.
Q. Please weigh in on the validity of the argument that shark dives are important to conservation/education efforts.
A. This is a challenging argument. Do we need to keep pandas in zoos to save the species? Do whale and dolphin shows help education? There are some of the more extreme cases of us, as humans, validating our behaviour.
The vast majority of shark dives are driven purely by experience. Every positive encounter with a shark helps to diminish humanity’s warped perception of sharks being ‘dangerous’.
However, as divers, we must be diligent and aware of operators that green-wash experiences in the name of science and education. The goal is to encourage all shark experiences to be conducted in an ethical way and with minimal impact. Doing something unethical in the name of science, is no longer an excuse in today’s world - we are better than that.
Shark diving is however, very important in terms of the economic value of its tourism. Shark tourism now acts as a key economic alternative to communities that traditionally fished for sharks to sell their meat and fins. A shark is worth more alive, than it is dead.
A study in 2013, estimated shark-watching tourism globally generated USD 314million per year, and projected an increase to USD 780million in the following 20 years. A 2017 study showed that, in Australia alone, the total annual direct expenditure by divers on shark encounters was estimated conservatively at USD 25.5million.
Q. Would you say it's fair to say that "most sharks are safe" or do you think that statement is misleading?
A. It is beyond fair to say that most sharks are safe. There are over 400 shark species in our oceans; only a few are associated with double-digit deaths. The old adage “They are more scared of you, than you are of them,” holds true for the majority of, if not all, sharks.
From media outlets to famous movie titles, sharks are very often portrayed in a negative light. But it is no surprise that they get so much attention and silver screen time. Sharks are incredible predators that have evolved over 400 million years - the very pinnacle of evolution.
The majority of shark incidents are actually sharks ‘test biting’ out of curiosity. Is that surfboard, a seal? Nope. Similar to a cheetah relying on its legs to hunt and therefore being careful of injuring itself, the same applies to a shark and its teeth. They are naturally cautious. More people survive a shark incident than not, for this exact reason.
According to research by Florida Museum, the odds of getting attacked and killed by a shark are 1 in 4,332,817. In a lifetime, you are more likely to die from fireworks (1 in 340,733), lightning (1 in 79,746), drowning (1 in 1,134), or a car accident (1 in 84).
On average, there are only four fatalities attributable to unprovoked shark attacks worldwide each year. By contrast, fisheries remove about 100 million sharks and rays annually from our oceans. Sharks play a vital role in the ecosystem, and we are disrupting that balance by killing millions each year for meat and fins.
Q. Great white sharks are considered very dangerous. Are there other shark species that you consider to be dangerous?
A. There are only a handful of species that are crudely labelled as man-killers. These do include great white sharks, tiger sharks, and bull sharks. There have been incidents associated with some other species, mainly the pelagics (ocean wanderers), who may opportunistically explore whether something is food or not.
However, it is perfectly possible to have safe experiences with these apex predators. Remain diligent, use responsible travel platforms, and select operators that are deeply aware of shark behaviour and how to correctly manage encounters. These actions are paramount to ensuring the future safety of both humans and sharks.