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Cage Diving is one of the most exciting ways of observing large sharks at close quarters. There is nothing quite as humbling as an encounter with an animal that is five times the size of you and while South Africa is regarded as the cage diving capital of the world, cage diving operations are also present elsewhere – including the UK.
Cage diving is perhaps the most contentious form of shark ecotourism with numerous stories of unscrupulous charter boats toying with sharks, encouraging mouth gaping, publicising the ‘sharks as man-eaters’ and catching other shark species to use as chum. However, with just the briefest of internet research and a glance at an operator’s literature this is easily avoided. There are many places online where operators are reviewed, and generally operators who promote conservation, science and education are more likely to offer respectful encounters than the alpha male, adrenaline junkie operators.
Another way of enjoying close encounters with sharks is through shark feeding dives. Usually undertaken with smaller sharks, divers rest on the sea floor while sharks are fed in the centre. There are also locations where stingrays come to the water’s edge to be hand fed by people standing on the beach.
Whether it is correct to feed animals, and this applies to the entire animal world, is cause for debate. Although it is generally believed that feeding sharks will cause them to lose their natural caution and eventually come to associate humans, or the sound of a boat engine, with feeding.
Cage diving and shark feed dives also raise the perennial question as to whether feeding and baiting sharks close to the shore leads to an increase in shark attacks. It is argued that not only does shark feeding alter the natural behaviour of wild animals, affecting the prey capture and consumption of animals, but potentially also creates the dangerous association that humans equate to getting fed. As a result shark feeding has been banned in some locations, such as Florida.
Sharks are opportunistic and learn quickly, but there is little documented evidence that feeding sharks causes them to depend on hand-outs from humans, or increases their aggressiveness or likelihood of attacking people.
Because of this uncertainty it is difficult for the Shark Trust to have an all-encompassing position on these practices. Both cage diving and shark feed dives have issues surrounding them and individual companies operate along a spectrum of protocols which change regularly.
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