We’ve recently returned from an incredible trip diving the waters of Truk Lagoon. Undoubtedly a wreck heaven, where unexpectedly we also got the chance to take part in a baited shark dive on the outer reef of the lagoon. Black tips and grey reef sharks by the dozen turned up for the feeding frenzy, with a special appearance from a rather large silver tip who (literally) stole the show at the end. This was our first ever baited dive with sharks and got me thinking about shark dives in general and the practice of baiting.
There’s no doubt about it – a live shark is a billion times better than a dead shark. Without them, the marine ecosystem would collapse and coral reefs would slowly die off which would be an absolute travesty for the human race. While coral reefs only cover 0.0025 percent of the ocean floor, they generate half of Earth’s oxygen and absorb nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide generated from burning fossil fuels.
A report by the United Nation’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) shows that coral reefs are responsible for producing 17% of all globally consumed protein, with that ratio being 70% or greater in island and coastal countries like those of Micronesia. By May 2017, Earth had lost nearly half of its coral, and oceanic warming only continues to accelerate (Maybe this is grounds for a future article – let’s get back to the sharks…)
Any shark lover out there will be able to tell you the well-known stats that over 100 million sharks are killed each year (an incredible 11,500 per hour!), mainly for their fins or through by-catch. We also know that approx 10 people are killed each year by sharks worldwide – to put this into context, around 2,900 people are killed each year by the glorious Hippopotamus. There is far more exposure to the plight of sharks these days than ever before, and in recent years the battle against shark finning for the shark-fin soup trade has received a much higher profile. Has the tide turned? Will we see a decrease in the murder of these mighty pelagic creatures? Who knows, but anything to reduce the slaughter is a good thing.
For me, the drive to educate fishermen to realise that a shark fin from a dead shark is a one time payout, while live sharks can make repeat paydays through tourism and scuba diving must become more prevalent – but how do you ensure the paying punters lined up with their camera get the shot they dream of? Easy – you chum the water, and bait the sharks of course!
Now, this I’m sure is seen as a very contentious issue with camps on either side when it comes to the morals of this practice. I will do my best to see this from both sides. Of the approx. 10 deaths from shark attacks each year, I’m not aware of any of these deaths taking place through the practice of baiting sharks. Maybe because the processes in place are super stringent, but I don’t have any figures to hand to say either way.
What are the Cons? Why shouldn’t we bait sharks?
Some could argue that a healthy reef provides enough food for the entire ecosystem in place. Don’t mess with Mother Nature by encouraging sharks to behave in a way that is unnatural, as distracting sharks from their natural food source and behaviours has an adverse effect on fish numbers.
Another way to think it is that we are essentially training sharks to respond to food – human interaction then becomes associated with free food. We saw this with our very own eyes when the sharks responded to the noise of the boat engines while we got into position – they were already heading towards the back of the boat before any chum had even appeared, just like the way you train a dog to respond to a ‘clicker’. This is shown in the above video at around 25 seconds into the film.
The baited dive itself was set close to the main reef where a pulley system was set up, dragging down a large frozen block of frozen fish remains as a large lift bag was inflated. Interestingly the sharks were seemingly waiting at the exact location the bait would land all jostling for the best location. Clearly it’s not just man’s best friend that can learn new tricks!
Sharks are apex predators and don’t typically share territory – being at the top of the food chain results in lower numbers than other animals in the ecosystem, so competition isn’t always welcome.
There is also the controversial practice of cage diving, predominantly with Great Whites – controversy hitting an all-time high in the waters of Guadalupe in October 2016 when a baited dive caused a charging Great White Shark to become trapped in the cage that the diver was in. The ensuing video footage of the incident saw the shark thrash around in a desperate attempt to free itself, in the end successful but certainly raised a few eyebrows! While chumming and baiting for sharks is legal, there are restrictions in place to promote protecting the safety of the sharks and divers sharing the water. It is assumed that the restricted practice of ‘shark wrangling’ was used in this event – the process of throwing in a severed Tuna head tied to a rope, and dragging it towards the cage as the shark approaches – as clearly shown in this image that was produced by the BIOSPHERE RESERVE OF GUADALUPE ISLAND, MEXICO – this practice is a no no.
What are the Pros? Why should we bait for sharks?
As a self-obsessed shark fanatic, I want to see them in their natural habit as often as possible, and as such I’ve been really lucky over the past few years to dive up close with a varied list including Bull, Thresher, Whale, Hammerhead, Silky, Oceanic White Tip, and a whole host of different coloured tip and reef sharks.
Some of the locations are famous for sightings, but even though you expect to see the sharks, there is no guarantee they will hang around for long and that at times can be the anxiety when spending large sums on an overseas trip.
I honestly hadn’t expected to see sharks in Truk – yes I know that Micronesia has a huge shark population, but I think I was so focused on what rust I would find that I discounted the trip of any significant marine life. I was totally fascinated by the whole set up. The professionalism of the briefing, the positioning of us, the divers, and the guides/crew in the water was perfect – even the equipment in place to bring the bait down into location so quickly. As a diver taking part on my first baited shark dive I was over the moon with what we saw – to see an apex predator tear apart a lump of meat a few metres in front of me was just fascinating, and at no time did I feel unsafe or at risk.
I’m going to raise my earlier point on the ongoing revenue a live shark can produce. You could argue that thousands of divers descending onto shark hot-spots has a real detrimental effect on the ocean/reef/sharks, however, I believe that tourism is key for so many developing countries and having the draw for scuba divers to visit faraway lands brings more to their economy than just the boat operators. The finning of sharks can’t continue the way it is, so I’m all for seeing baited shark dives taking precedent over these actions – far more people would benefit from this for sure.
Baiting for sharks also allows divers to actually see the sharks, and on many occasions allows studies to take place in a safe environment – I mean, the chances of diving with a Great White without a cage and non baited are fairly slim. Yeah, you could get lucky, but is it going to hang around – probably not, and that is why you bait the water and sit in a cage.
Undoubtedly, awareness and conservation efforts have increased over the past 20 odd years, and it has to be said that baited and cage dives with sharks around the world have done some good. There are now shark ambassadors around the world that are doing great things in educating people without out of date and misleading views that sharks are dangerous.
Having now taken part in our first baited dive with sharks, we would absolutely do it again – we were with a professional set up, where briefings were clear and safety paramount. Just do your homework before you set off.
Any opportunity that gives those with a love and passion for these great creatures the chance to see them up close, and in a safe environment, gets a massive tick from me!!
Richard and his partner Hayley run Black Manta Photography.
Top 12 Dive Destinations in Oceania – Part 2
Oceania has a fascinating mixture of well-known romantic destinations and wild, remote dive spots that few people ever get to visit. It is a region of contrasts with enough dive destinations and cultural highlights to satisfy even the most adventurous divers. In part II of 12 great places to go diving in Oceania, we take a deep dive into some of this region’s most famous and little-known islands. Get inspired for your next dive trip to Oceania here.
French Polynesia’s Society Islands have a stellar list of dive destinations, including Tahiti and Moorea. Between them, they offer easy coral reef diving and calm, turquoise lagoons with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks. You can also swim with humpback whales, tiger sharks, lemon and nurse sharks there.
This beautiful nation’s best-known dive spots, Fakarava and Rangiroa atolls, are just a short flight away from the Society Islands. Both of these huge atolls offer exciting pass dives with hundreds of grey reef sharks and resident dolphins.
For a completely different dive experience, visit the Marquesas Islands. This island group is the farthest from any landfall on Earth and has a unique underwater world that hosts unusually large mantas and melon-headed whales.
And if that all sounds like too much effort, go Bora Bora scuba diving instead. This ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ has fantastic diving, and you can spend your downtime relaxing with champagne lunches on deserted islands.
The Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands are a haven for more than 1000 reef fish species and numerous prized critters, plus dolphins, sharks, rays and six species of sea turtle. Hosting hundreds of wrecks and remote hard coral reefs, there is something for every diver there.
The Russell Islands host some of the best-known dive sites in all of the Solomon Islands. There, you can glide between the walls of a crevasse that cuts through an island, immerse yourself in wreck diving at White Sand Beach, swim through a halocline at Custom Caves, or go in search of pygmy seahorses.
For the best wreck diving, make sure you visit Iron Bottom Sound. This stretch of water hosts around 200 ships and more than 600 aircraft wrecks from World War II. It is a wreck diving mecca that offers excellent tech-wreck dives.
The Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands is a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls that few people know about. As the fifth least visited country in the world, these islands offer remote diving among exciting deep wrecks and vibrant coral reefs.
Bikini Atoll is the main dive destination in the Marshall Islands. Made famous by US atomic bomb tests in the 1940s, this atoll hosts numerous deep wrecks that offer incredible tech diving.
As well as some of the best tech-wreck dives imaginable, the Marshall Islands also have thriving hard coral reefs without any dive crowds. There are pinnacles, drop-offs, channels and shallow coral gardens to explore, busy with colorful reef life.
The Cook Islands
When it comes to warm welcomes, it’s hard to beat the Cook Islands. From the moment you arrive, you will be drawn into one of the friendliest nations in the world and won’t want to leave.
This wonderful country is a perfect place to get your Open Water Diver certification or take your family diving. Rarotonga is the main destination for tourism and is a charming island with fresh markets, cafes, restaurants, and resorts tucked away among the palms. There are around 25 dive sites just offshore and gorgeous beaches for laid-back surface intervals.
Nearby Aitutaki has fewer visitors, yet it hosts around 22 dive sites, with many still being discovered. It is a great place to dive among remote coral-covered landscapes and forget the rest of the world exists. Whichever island you choose, the waters are warm and full of colorful reef life.
New Caledonia is one of those wish-list destinations known for its spectacular diving, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Unlike some remote destinations in Oceania, New Caledonia has modern infrastructure that makes it easy to explore at your pace – by car or island hopping with regular domestic flights.
There are over 100 dive sites scatted around New Caledonia, offering a tempting mix of deep drop-offs, thrilling drift dives, wrecks, and easy reef diving. Most diving is conducted at the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, a vast 1500 km-long reef that encloses a UNESCO World Heritage lagoon. Within the lagoon, you can explore coral-encrusted walls, channels, and easy dive sites in shallow waters.
New Caledonia’s extensive marine reserves ensure these dive sites are teeming with life. For the best chance to see mantas and sharks, visit from April until September.
Vanuatu is the perfect place to reconnect with nature, offering untouched rainforests, natural swimming holes and excellent scuba diving.
Pristine reefs abound in Vanuatu, with many dive sites accessible simply by walking off the beach. Million Dollar Point is one of the most unique dive spots and hosts an array of machinery and equipment dumped by the US after World War II. The SS President Coolidge, a former World War II troop carrier, and the 1874 three-masted Star of Russia are excellent wrecks to dive.
The amount of marine life at Vanuatu’s dive sites is staggering. As well as rainbow-hued corals and countless reef fish, there are sea turtles, sharks, rays, and numerous pelagic fish. You can also go swimming with dugongs there.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, home to more than 850 known languages and hundreds of different tribes. It is unlike anywhere else in Oceania.
Along with the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, including at Kimbe Bay. This special bay was once ranked as the most beautiful reef by National Geographic.
The nearby Witu Islands are a great place to go critter hunting and drift dive among schools of tuna and barracuda. Milne Bay is the home of muck diving and offers excellent shallow muck and reef diving with numerous critters.
There are seamounts busy with reef sharks and exciting walls at Fathers Reefs, and you can dive in the shadow of jungle-covered fjords at Tufi.
Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.
Top 12 Dive Destinations in Oceania – Part I
Encompassing over 8 million square kilometers of clear blue waters, Oceania hosts some of the world’s most sought-after dive destinations. There are remote, untouched reefs and wreck diving meccas, countless forest-draped islands, and volcanic landscapes with rich black sands full of critters. With abundant marine megafauna as well, including mantas, whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and tens of thousands of sea turtles, Oceania is a paradise for every diver. Read on for part I of our round-up of 12 great places to go diving in Oceania.
Drop a pin on a map of Australia’s vast coastline and you will likely land close to some epic scuba diving. There are dozens of places to experience the best of Australia’s rich and varied dive scene.
In the remote northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, you can dive Raine Island, a famous coral cay and sea turtle nesting area that hosts more than 60,000 green turtles each nesting season.
A little further south at Cairns, there is classic Great barrier Reef scuba diving, including shark diving, snorkeling with dwarf minke whales, and numerous offshore reefs. It is also one of the best places to get your diving license.
The southern Great Barrier Reef hosts Australia’s best-known manta ray hotspots, Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island. As well hosting over 100 mantas, the southern Great Barrier Reef also hosts one of the world’s best-preserved wrecks, the SS Yongala.
There is also excellent diving close to many of Australia’s coastal towns and cities. You can go diving with beautiful weedy sea dragons near Melbourne, go cage diving with great white sharks off Port Lincoln, or hang out with enormous stingrays in Port Philip Bay.
With Ningaloo Reef’s many whale sharks, remote coral atoll diving at Rowley Shoals, and diving with nurse sharks at Fish Rock Cave as well, you’ll be spoiled for choice wherever you go.
New Zealand may be a lot smaller than Australia, but it packs a punch when it comes to scuba diving. With over 600 islands, 44 marine reserves, and the 9th longest coastline in the world, diving in New Zealand is diverse and fascinating.
Sun-soaked Northland is the best place to start your diving trip and features the colorful Rainbow Warrior and HMNZS Canterbury wrecks and the Poor Knights Islands. These unique islands were rated as one of the world’s top ten dives by Jacques Cousteau and offer sub-tropical diving with both temperate species and tropical visitors.
Further south, the Mercury and Aldermen Islands are dotted with white sand beaches and have fantastic warm-water diving. There are enough submerged caves, pinnacles and drop-offs to keep any diver busy. Seasonal visitors include whales, bronze whaler sharks, makos and marlin.
If you love wreck diving, make sure you dive the Mikhael Lermontov in the Marlborough Sounds. This 155-meter-long cruise ship is one of the largest modern diving wrecks and has many of its original furnishings.
Make sure you drive south to Kaikoura if you love whales and sea birds. Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world with a resident population of sperm whales, plus visiting orcas, humpback whales and numerous albatrosses. You can also swim with seals and dolphins there.
Last but by no means least, visit Fiordland – a jaw-dropping 2.6 million hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site. This vast wilderness area hosts spectacular multi-day hikes and has excellent cold-water diving and rare black corals in Milford Sound.
Fiji is a classic dive destination in Oceania, offering a wealth of palm-fringed islands and dive highlights worthy of any bucket list. If you’re looking for a destination that has something for every dive experience level, and plenty for non-divers too, Fiji could be for you.
Viti Levu, the main tourism hub, is famous for its shark dives with bull, tiger and reef sharks. There are also beautiful coral reefs just offshore. Go island hopping from Viti Levu and you’ll be immersed in a world of vibrant soft coral landscapes, with manta ray cleaning stations, thrilling drift dives and fast-paced pelagic action.
If you like laid-back diving, you could easily while away your days drifting over Fiji’s many shallow coral gardens. That said, it pays to go deep and experience Fiji’s famously colorful Great White Wall and Purple Wall dive sites.
On your non-diving days, be sure to explore topside. The friendly Fijian welcome, excellent jungle hikes, lush rainforests and waterfalls are not to be missed.
The Federated States of Micronesia
Micronesia is high on the wish list for many divers and is a tropical paradise destination with over 600 islands. It is best-known as a wreck diving mecca, with dozens of World War II wrecks.
The wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon are renowned among divers as some of the best in the world. This calm, warm lagoon was the site of a fierce battle in World War II that resulted in hundreds of ships, planes and submarines sinking. Today, around 50 of the wrecks can be dived and they are covered in rainbow-hued corals. Diving among the tanks, trucks and airplanes of the lagoon brings history to life in the most vivid way.
Micronesia’s rich waters also host countless shallow reefs, famous manta ray diving at Yap, exciting walls, caverns and drop-offs. If you’re prepared to go off the beaten path, Kosrae has some of the most pristine diving in the world.
Palau is ideal for divers who like to experience a range of dive styles in one trip and encounter marine life large and small.
This picture-perfect destination has diverse underwater highlights, including diving at a natural corner in the ocean, plunging walls, World War II wrecks, and famous manta ray dives. There is also excellent cave diving, and you can swim with millions of harmless jellyfish.
Wherever you dive, you can tick off some of Palau’s 1300 fish species and 700 coral species. Dugongs, Napoleon wrasse and giant clams are some of the more unusual big marine species to find and you can spot rare mandarinfish at Chandelier Caves. Being the world’s first shark sanctuary, Palau’s waters are also busy with sharks.
Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.