Scuba instructors, no matter where they might dive, usually hear a certain question just before entering the water. The funny thing is, the same question can mean two different things, depending on how it’s asked—here are both versions:
“Are we going to see sharks on this dive?” (Excited, maybe wants to get a good picture…)
“Are we going to see SHARKS on this dive?!” (Terrified, and just sat through “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel.)
As you might guess, the first quote is from an experienced diver, the second from one who’s never been in the water before. And let’s face it: if the only experience with sharks you have is the movie JAWS and footage of “feeding frenzies”… well, you might be a little nervous seeing one swim by. But in reality, sharks pose very little danger to SCUBA divers, provided a diver uses the same caution one would use with any wild animal, and takes no action to instigate defensive behavior. Most sharks we see are just passing by, or else (as in the case of our white tip reef shark population) resting or sleeping on the bottom. Far from being something to worry about, as divers gain more experience with them, shark encounters can become the highlight of a dive.This is not to say we as divers should not exercise caution, and we should always be alert for aggressive or disturbed behavior from any wild animal, sharks included. But sharks are NOT the “constant danger” they’re sometimes made out to be. In fact—now it seems the sharks are the ones in danger. Due to practices like long lining and shark fining, worldwide shark populations are in a steep decline. Coinciding with this decline is the recent discovery that what are now called apex predators (like sharks) are absolutely necessary for a healthy ecosystem. We need our big predators, and they’re disappearing. Sharks grow slowly and reproduce slowly, and so it’s very difficult for a diminished population to recover. As divers, we’re uniquely placed to observe and share the importance of all the life in the ocean as never before, and fortunately that’s beginning to have an effect. The Bahamas, Palau, and many other areas have now banned shark fishing all together. The Maldives and Costa Rica have established protected zones for sharks. But there’s a lot more work to be done. We want people to be asking us “Are we going to see sharks on this dive?” for a long time yet, and we want to be able to say “Yes”.