Sharks play an essential rol in the health of our oceans

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Shark diving… has changed!

A different approach to shark diving  - a selfie with a nurse shark / Picture: Peter Verhoog


By Peter Verhoog, Dutch Shark Society’s staff photographer.

I can admit it… I love shark diving. Observing these great creatures is a delight. And I have met many, many sharks. We have dived with small sharks, like catsharks and shysharks, and tiger and great white sharks. Yes, without a cage. The great white is a careful predator, even shy when confronted with scuba bubbles. So I had the privilege to dive with them on snorkel. Many would say I am mad, but for me, it was the experience of a lifetime.

I speak about my experiences often for interested audiences, like dive clubs and schools. And showing pictures and video is a great way to inform people about the true character of sharks.

Diving is a way to meet sharks, but diving has also changed the perception of sharks. I still remember Cousteau’s words: ‘Now our aquanauts are meeting dainzjeroos shawks’… And then he would show grey reefs sharks in a carefull staged feeding frenzy… Hans Hass, another diving pioneer, always went spearfishing, even for sharks.

Hans Hass holding a speared nurse shark after a dive in Bonaire.

So did Ron and Valerie Taylor, who became true shark advocats later in life. When I started diving, I was taught all sharks are dangerous, and taking a knife or stick when diving would be a great idea (also to get the corals many divers took – something that is unbelievable now…).

I was therefore pleased to read, a paper by Sally Whatmough, Ingrid Van Putten and Andrew Chin, titled “From hunters to nature observers: a record of 53 years of diver attitudes towards sharks and rays and marine protected areas“.

It was based on content analysis of a 53-year long collection of the popular dive magazine, SportDiving, to identify recreational divers’ experiences with regard to sharks and rays, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and marine protected areas (MPAs). This analysis suggests there has been a diversification of diver activities with the emergence of passive-observational activities such as SCUBA diving. Attitudes towards sharks and rays have changed significantly, with recreational divers changing from a group that could be described as adventure-seeking hunters to a group that can be described as nature-appreciating observers, suggesting an increase in conservation awareness. The study indicates that divers reported positive effects of Marine Park Areas, but also noticed a decline in the abundance of large fish and sharks and rays. Collectively, these types of data provide information that supplements scientific monitoring data, valuable where scientific data is scarce, historical records difficult to obtain, and where attitudinal change can significantly affect future resource use.

Also read our page about citizen science: how can you contribute to science:
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