Shark attacks? No.
Due to their triangular shaped teeth, Bull Sharks, together with Tiger Sharks and Great Whites, are unfortunately associated by some media by the expression,“shark attack”.The dominant perception of “attack” as intentional bites that end with fatal outcomes, is nowadays a generic and highly misleading term.
As there are not many Shark Diver trained people, the lack of knowledge about how to behave when faced with a shark underwater, if a young Bull Shark happens to interact by accident with any beachgoer, sad things may happen. The persistent use of the expression “shark attack”, mostly by some media and government representatives when describing any type of human-shark interaction, have also led to the criminalisation of all types of shark bites. This is so significant, that a few years ago two scientists, Christopher Neff from Australia and Robert Hueter from the USA, published a study regarding a reclassification of human- shark interactions.
Shark sightings in Sydney Harbour, Australia, registered by New South Wales Fisheries staff, revealed that Bull Sharks regularly swim close to hundreds of swimmers and ignore them all. In accordance with this, there have been so many observations of sharks in proximity to swimmers in the ocean without the animals showing any interest in people, that it has been considered convenient to reclassify all contacts between sharks and humans, as many forms of “shark attack” misrepresent the facts and misinforms the general public. These have been the reasons why Neff and Heuter had proposed a new system of four categories to be used in the classification of human-shark interactions.
At Sharks Edcuational Institute we believe that if we removed the term “attack”, it would be possible to provide a model reporting the interactions that decriminalise sharks in the mind of the public that simultaneously create a more objective understanding of the relationship between humans and sharks in shared ocean spaces.
These four category levels are:
1. Shark Sightings: Sightings of sharks in the water in proximity to people with no physical human-shark contact taking place.
2. Shark Encounters: Human-shark interactions in which physical contact occurs between a shark and a person, or an inanimate object holding that person, and when no injury takes place. For example, shark bites on surfboards, kayaks, and boats would be classified under this label. A shark physically “bumping” a swimmer without biting might be included in this category.
3. Shark Bites: Incidents where sharks bite people resulting in minor to moderate injuries. Small or large sharks might be involved, but only a single nonfatal bite occurs.
4. Fatal Shark Bites: Human-shark conflicts in which serious injuries take place as a result of one or more bites on a person, causing a significant loss of blood and/or body tissue and a fatal outcome.
As it is known in the United States, Florida is often labelled as the “Shark Attack Capital of the World”. But, if we analyse the registered data of incidents with sharks that occurred off Florida beaches over a spam of 129 years, only less than 2% (11 cases in total) resulted in fatalities, and only 2 cases could be associated with Bull Sharks C. leucas. (Neff and Hueter, 2013).
So it is time now to stop using the expression “Shark Attack”. The worst stigma about sharks still based in the ignorance and in all the lack of awareness about shark behaviour in general, and about Bull Sharks in particular. Remember that the things the public know in general, come from Hollywood movies that today still translate to the “Jaws effect”. We should definitely star t to acknowledge the public value of a better marine conservation education, and of a more balanced outcome based approach.
If you aim to one day dive with sharks, there are several sites around the world that can offer you the amazing experience. There, you will find for sure experienced sustainable dive operators that care not only about shark conservation, but also about shark population recuperation, and basing their work on the role sharks play on marine balance and for the entire reef biodiversity recovery. As you may know, the cascade effects of shark overfishing are tremendous over reef trophic chains.
Another very important aspect to be learned when you dive with sharks is observing their pectoral fin position. Knowing what the pectoral fin positions mean will help you to know when a shark will turn, and in which direction. Comprehending this behaviour will help you to feel more comfortable when diving with sharks, as it can help understand a situation, or it can be a great tool for shark underwater photographers to take the photo they want.
When a shark wants to turn to its right, it simply pushes down its right pectoral fin, and if it wants to turn left, it pushes the left fin down. The lowering of a pectoral fin increases the lateral surface and generates a burst of speed.When we see a shark lowering one of its pectoral fins, we know in which direction it will veer. Sometimes we may also watch a situation in which a shark forms a hunched back, an appearance that results from lowering both pectoral fins at the same time. What does this mean? The reason is simple, the shark is preparing to be able to turn in every direction, probably because it may feel some threat around it, and it doesn’t know exactly which direction is going to be its safest option. That is definitely an animal that prepares to flee because it feels threatened. Remember, any behaviour is caused by a need. (Gospodinov, 2018).
Yes. It is possible to scuba dive in safety with sharks. If you like to swim in the open sea, you have most probably already swam with sharks, you just didn’t notice. If you find yourself in the water with a shark, remember to look the shark in the eyes, breathe slowly, stay calm, and face the shark at all times. It will know you have an eye on it.
Shark Divers should know exactly how to react in case of the second, third or fourth ‘Neff and Hueter’ level categories, but there’s one thing you can start doing from now on: never dive or swim alone, and if you suspect you are in shark waters, always survey your buddy’s back and vice-versa. Then, relax and enjoy any possible encounters. The truth is that they are more afraid of us, then we are of them.
For more information about shark behaviours and other sustainable shark diving activities, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org