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Mar 20, 2012

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Abert Kok

This is a comment from a senior diver from Holland who has joined several shark trips in this area. Looking at the video of the tiger shark snapping at the divers leg, I felt that this guy was both lucky and careless. Letting a tiger shark swim between your legs doesnt not seem a safe practice to me. Even a 'lazy bite' can be pretty nasty. You can see the the same shark somewhat later, still behaving intrudingly. The involved diver did not seem to be impressed at all,but happily kept on clicking his camera button. This did not look like a nice organised dive to me. But I may be mistaken, because nothing serious really happened and images can be misleading.
Cheers
Al

Safari Consultant

Great video! It require lots of guts to do that.

Tim of the Deep

Piss poor briefing. Always keep your camera firmly between you and a tiger shark. The idiot opened his legs!!

J. F. Sabl

Even with far smaller and less potentially-lethal sharks, I've don't think I've seen a bunch of divers at a shark dive handle their weight and buoyancy in a way that leaves them bobbing up and down, doing the flappy-fin knee shuffle, drifting about, swimming with their arms, finning up the sand.

If they divers had been hunkered down, there would not be legs to swim between, flappy fins to mouth, sand in the water. Heck, the amount of motion made ME want to reach out and grab the divers, just to settle them down. One of the biggest correlates for tiger and bull shark bites is muddy or cloudy water. We presume that one of the reasons for the (relative) safety of Tiger reef is the clarity of the water. Churning around down there? I'll go out on a limb and toss around words like "careless" and "stupid" and "dangerous for all, not just the guys who can't figure out the difference between their inflator valve and their purge."

Account Deleted

That's a thrilling video i must say.I love under water driving but at same time i am scared too and the post you share is really adventurous.
http://www.journeytothejungle.com/

Grant Johnson

Drudown,
That’s a lot to respond to, but again, without trying to sound like a know-it-all or get too deeply entrenched in an anonymous online debate, there are a few things that are off base in your statements.

First, I’ve heard multiple versions of what happened regarding the incident with Erich Ritter, and don’t really have any desire to debate that, as I’m pretty sure it’s been discussed enough over the last few years. I agree that it’s a similar situation, but without knowing all the details I wouldn’t agree that it is the same situation.

And I’m not totally sure I’m following you with some of your statements, but your first paragraph (if I’m reading it right?) suggests that “shark attacks” on humans are different than when sharks hunt their normal prey? If that is what you are saying, then I agree with you, for the most part. Most “shark attacks” on people are not full-on predation events, they are, as you stated, “cautious approaches” which usually consist of a single bite. To be clear, these single-bites normally do not remove all of the flesh encompassed within the bite-radius, rather the shark bites down, and (for whatever reason, that is probably for another debate) lets go. Most “shark attack” victims are left with puncture wounds, not bite-sized chunks of their flesh being removed. Of course sometimes people are badly bitten, but again, that is far from the majority of these events.

Biting or mouthing things is one way that sharks get information about what’s what. But not every bite is the same, far from it. There are considerable differences in what could be qualified as investigative, competitive, defensive, and predatory bites. This has been documented.

That tiger shark made two very lazy movements towards the two divers that were closest to the crate containing the bait. It is just as likely, if not much more, that the shark was making “investigative” bites. Of course that is still a bad thing for the divers, and the reputation of sharks, but again, my initial point in all of this is that the tiger shark in the video was not “on predation”.

As far as ecotourism aspect of these dives, if they are conducted correctly they are extremely safe. I think most responsible tour operators would agree that letting the divers get within a few feet of the bait is a pretty dumb idea, as was seen in this video. Also, your idea that if the shark is still hungry afterwards that it’s going to go eat/bite nearby divers/surfers is total conjecture. As you stated, most of these ecotourism events are the result of conditioning a group of sharks over time to respond to an (hopefully) organized situation. Saying that “maybe” if you don’t feed them enough, then “probably” they “might” do this or that is just a baseless statement.

Lastly, saying that “all sharks do” is bite to feed themselves is just total nonsense. I don’t know why you think having “no mammalian traits” is important, but it’s also not true. Saying they are “not territorial” is also off base. Some species of shark are, and some are at certain stages of their life. By total coincidence, my Macbook dictionary uses this example for the zoological definition of “territorial” : 'these sharks are aggressively territorial'. And your statements on shark curiosity vs lion/bear curiosity are just made up as well. Try to put a group of tourists within a few feet of feeding-lions or feeding-bears, and see how “curious” they are.

"Just because a famous saying exists, doesn't mean that it's true" - me...

drudown

To be fair, it seems shortsighted to assert that sharks need to demonstrate a high degree of energy expenditure towards pursuing a human in order to accurate assess the predatory motive when, (1) most shark attacks are cautious approaches (unlike violent ambushes on agile and elusive prey) and (2) Ritter's attack was the result of basically the exact same approach as the Tiger seen here?

That is why these "free handout" encounters are so misleading in terms of being "evidence" of how sharks behave- it is a conditioned response and, while sharks that are drawn to these "free handouts" are typically not in "predation mode", it certainly is a risk that a very hungry shark so attracted could find that the meager rations provided are insufficient and, as the case with Ritter, one becomes the meal. Whether the shark takes one bite or eats a single limb- I fail to see what relevance that has in terms of predatory motive. Unlike White sharks attacking penguins or otters, Tiger sharks swallow and digest human prey.

I take exception to the common argument that "if a shark really wanted to eat prey on a person, it would have [eaten the whole body] or ________ ." Here, the argument seems inapt insofar that if the guy doesn't move his leg, chances are the Tiger shark bites off a large bite of edible flesh from a known prey species. Even if the Tiger were to then swim off, it hardly follows that such a "hit and run" behavior tends to prove "we are not prey" or "it was mistaken identity."

If anything, our ungainly movements underwater give humans an unmistakable "electro-magnetic" signature identity and, most importantly, with the possible exception of Orca- we are the only naturally occurring species whose activities (e.g., spearfishing, whaling, "free handout" shark dives) predictably create feeding opportunities...and yet, we predictably kill sharks- hence the natural instinct most large pelagic sharks have to avoid humans without some direct, metabolic incentive.

Obviously Tiger and White sharks will frequently take a single bite of other prey species- such as decapitating pinnipeds- leaving the rest for no apparent reason. Yet nobody makes the same inferences.
So why should any ecotourist operator that feeds sharks purport to have any semblance of "control" over what happens when a hungry, recently migrating Tiger or White shark shows up?


Anyway, these "shark feeding" tours are amazing experiences and, to be sure, NOT providing a substantial food reward for the sharks probably creates a much greater risk to the divers (and surfers in the surrounding vicinity, for that matter). But the risk abides.

And one need not indulge a JAWS-induced hysteria to dispassionately understand that the basis of the "risk" is becoming a meal- that is all sharks do. They bite to feed themselves. They render no maternal care and are not territorial- so there really is no other "risk" than that based on human predation. They aren't "curious" like lions or bears and have no mammalian traits. They are "curious" when they bump humans, i.e., "curious" to see if you can defend yourself.

"Opportunity makes a thief." - Francis Bacon

Grant Johnson

Hey Benjamin,
It sounds a little like you're responding to several things that I didn't actually write.

Of course tiger sharks are predators, totally capable of consuming animals as big, or bigger, than humans. I would never suggest otherwise.

I'm just saying that they are not "on predation" their entire life, and the the video did not show a shark that was trying to prey on that diver. As I said before, and maybe it's just a matter of semantics in some people's minds, but anyone who has seen a shark truly preying on something would be able to distinguish the behaviors, and I don't think it's accurate to state that anytime a shark opens it's mouth around people that it is trying to eat them, even in the case of many "shark attacks" (which are usually single, non-fatal bites).

I'm pretty hesitant to get into too big of a debate in the "Comments" section of someone's blog, but to me (a field biologist for the last 11 years), "predation" implies some kind of hunting/chasing/killing. That tiger shark was not hunting that diver.

I totally agree that sharks should not be made out to be harmless puppies of the ocean, but it's just as inaccurate to suggest that they're some kind of mindless eating-machines. Most of what the average person knows about sharks is based off of things that are statistically very uncommon.

And I have no desire to debate Erich Ritter's antics, you can talk about that with him. That being said, I could send you the link to hundreds, or thousands, of videos that show people safely interacting with sharks. The "shark attack" videos are the rare exception, not the rule.


Benjamin

Grant perhaps you can watch this video and explain to all of us how this shark was not 'on predation' either?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSx1NEV4ug

Benjamin

Just saying your post sounds like every other agenda based "shark apologist" out there. That shark just wanted a hug, he was kissing the diver, no predation here, Tigers are sweet. I think it is o.k to want to protect sharks noble even, but trying to greenwash a predator? Every time I read garbage like that I suspect we are doing a grave disservice to sharks and to the people who want to dive with them. 25 years of Shark Week later and everyone has an opinion about sharks except the most rational ones, even when the video is right in front of your nose. How about we start by recognizing these are powerful oppertinistic predators instead of trying to rebrand them o.k?

drudown

Human beings are unequivocally a known, tertiary prey item of Tiger sharks. Just ask the Haitian immigrants that were gobbled up by them on My 4, 2007 when their overcrowded sailboat sank in the FL straits. Given their highly migratory nature, the Tiger shark in this video could have been at that maritime disaster.

Wait. I'm sorry.

Tiger sharks are "curious" (like children!) and "misunderstood" (thanks a lot, JAWS!)- I mean, what motivation could the human beings with a financial bias in these ecotourist endeavors have to condition the public to the contrary?

"A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep." - Saul Bellow

Mike

I'm no expert, but it might not have even been trying to bite...the scuba diver's leg looks like it rubbed against the ampulla of lorenzi on the snout of the shark, which could induce the tonic state where the jaw drops open (see any video of a great white having their nose rubbed). When this happens the jaw will drop open and move, but it isn't a bite. Hard to tell in this video, but it could have been that...we'll never know, and glad the diver was safe.

Also am curious what dive operator this was...maybe the new Stuart's Cove Tiger shark dive? Doesn't look like Jim Abernathy's operation or the Dolphin Dream.

Grant Johnson

Benjamin, what don't you understand about what I said?

Perhaps I didn't make my point as plainly as I could have, but after reading my comment again it seems relatively clear.

I've lived in the Bahamas and worked with sharks for the past 11 years, I feel pretty confident that I'm qualified to suggest a criticism on this type of story/event. And please, save the insults.

Leane

The reason people dive with sharks is the same reason that people go on safari in Kenya. To watch the natural behaviour of a wild animal in its own habitat. It's a thrill and an honour, and largely a safe practice. It seems to me from this video that the shark was not particularly agitated, and the divers' cameras seem to indicate they were experienced divers. However, no one seemed to have a handle on where the reef sharks were (circling everyone) because everyone was focused on the tiger. These are ambush predators and the divers seemed very blase about their presence. Additionally, the second diver took off into the water column and was also very close to the bait crate. Divers should be instructed on shark behaviour and how to behave if one comes close. Keep away from the food and, most importantly, don't be blase about these wild animals. Keep your eye on them at all times.

Benjamin

"Yes, that shark was likely going to bite that diver, and yes that dive seemed very disorganized, but it's unfair and inaccurate to claim that the tiger shark was "on predation".

Probably why the Shark Diver Blog stopped allowing comments like yours in the first place.

Do you try and not make any sense or does that just come naturally to you?

Nicole

I do not understand the "draw" of diving with sharks? Unless you are a marine biologist or a conservationist doing a study, then what the heck are you doing out there in the first place? If you are down there just thrill-seeking and you "accidentally" get bit or "puposefully" get attacked, not only does that make the shark look like the villian but it makes you a complete idiot!!! The ocean is the sharks "turf" and when you intrude in it, looking for a thrill, just be prepared you may really get one!!!

Grant Johnson

To be clear, that tiger shark was NOT trying to prey on that diver, as was suggested in the posting on the SharkDiver blog.

There is often (but not always) a big difference between sharks biting something, and sharks preying on something.

Anyone who has seen a shark in actual "predator mode" would easily distinguish the behaviors. Yes, that shark was likely going to bite that diver, and yes that dive seemed very disorganized, but it's unfair and inaccurate to claim that the tiger shark was "on predation".

Biting things is one way that sharks figure out what's what. That tiger shark was calm, slow and lazy. If it was an actual predation event, that diver would not stand a chance. These sharks aren't robotic predators, and there is a myriad of reasons that could be behind thats shark's lazy bite attempt (curiosity, competition, etc..).

The SharkDiver blog won't let anyone post comments anymore on this, but it's worth noting the distinction in behavior.

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