A schoolteacher’s photo of an up close shark has sparked debate about whether it is ethical to bait sharks, which alters their natural system, so that tourists can see them up close.
via National Geographic:
A more important question, says Skomal, is whether the use of diving cages could injure sharks in the long term, by teaching them to associate human beings with food.
Most sharks find people alien to their environment and tend to avoid them, the scientist says. But if sharks begin to associate people with the scent or presence of bait, aka food, they could become more aggressive or start to approach fishers, looking for a meal. (See “Scientists Track a Great White Across the Atlantic for the First Time.”)
Trouble is, there is very little data to support that hypothesis, so Skomal says that has left the scientific and conservation communities to speculate and debate.
“It’s a little like the debate over zoos,” he says, “with some people saying they don’t think caging animals is good for them and others saying there is a benefit to education.”
Dolphins sometimes get into trouble by becoming too friendly with people, says Greg Stone, a marine biologist and executive vice president of Conservation International who has studied dolphin behavior around humans. He has not studied the same process in sharks but says that it’s logical to think it could happen. (Stone has received two grants from National Geographic over the years, the most recent in 2000.)
As for whether baited sharks start to associate humans with a meal, Brewer told reporters that White Shark Africa takes care to ensure sharks don’t actually get to eat the bait. “You don’t feed the sharks; that’s not what we want to do,” she said.
But, Stone says, “whether they get the bait or not, if you are providing them with scent or bait you are altering their natural system.” He notes that he has been on dives in which people baited sharks “and they got aggressive.”
“So I’m not a big proponent of baiting sharks,” he says.