Since more and more people have begun scuba diving and spending time underwater, the very fate of sharks has been changed. Here I examine some of the ways scuba diving has changed the lives of sharks.
Since scuba has become popular, sharks’ image has begun shifting from super villain to closer to what they actually are. It is very difficult to see things as they are, and not as we expect them to be. We project our expectations all over everything, and as a result, we can’t see the thing itself. Sharks were the stuff of legends and scary stories, sailors talked of them, and then Jaws was written and made into a film, and the majority of people’s image of them was crazed-man eater.
The more people that get into the water with sharks, the more people see them as they really are: fish. Fish that live in the ocean, and eat, and are eaten, and swim, and sleep, and reproduce and die. Sharks’ main purpose in life is not to be your stuff of nightmares, it’s to pass on their genetic material, to eat enough calories, and to survive.
However, we have begun to exploit sharks in a new way. The thrill of diving with them is immeasurable. Some dive operators and less than savory individuals are banking on the fact that people will pay mucho dinero for a shark encounter. How is this a con? On many shark encounters, sharks are fed in the same place every day, and fisherman learn to take advantage of the knowledge of where some endangered species spend their time. Also, sharks begin to associate people with food, which is not a great way of conditioning wild animals. And thirdly, in some instances, excessive boat traffic and people flailing around and doing environmental damage in places where sharks naturally congregate can cause disruption in the natural lives of the animals (for more information on this, read my past post: afuera and the whale sharks)
On the plus side, divers underwater see the damage and decline of the underwater world and are becoming invested in saving it. The fact that sharks don’t show up on dives very often means their numbers are declining, and that the damage done is having negative repercussions.
But we do run the risk of anthropomorphizing sharks and going too far in the opposite direction: they are not vengeful man eaters, but nor are they pets that show up to amuse us or let us pet them/feed them by hand. They are wild animals that have the same right to life that we do. Scuba divers should offer their protection and their assistance because we are placed in a position to do so: we have the insight into their world. To know something is to love it, and once the ocean casts it spell on you, there is no going back. Sharks, coral, fish, reef, sea otters, whatever it is that you love, is interconnected with the rest of the world.
Overwhelmingly, the existence of sharks has probably been improved by the increase of scuba divers. But let’s continue to make that statement true.
Happy Shark Week merfolks! Don’t believe all the sensationalism-sharks are simply that, sharks! Don’t project your bullshit onto them.