Living in the modern world means news sources filled with viral video after viral video. These videos can be anything from hilarious to exhilarating to utter stupidity. The latest ocean specific viral video is what I would describe as a combination of the latter two above.
A shark-diving excursion off the coast of Mexico’s Guadalupe Island, quite the hot spot for great white sharks, went from your typical cage diving adventure to disaster when a 13 foot female great white shark ended up in the cage with a group of divers. Sounds terrifying right? If you haven’t watched the video yet, check it out here:
Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) here is another video in a similar location of another great white shark in a similar situation.
Now that you have watched the video(s) you probably can agree with me that it is both incredibly exhilarating while being as equally stupid. That is because none of this would have happened if the boat’s crew was doing something illegal. Thankfully, the entire dive team and shark were eventually freed and safe but this most likely could have been avoided all together.
What did I just see?
In this video A LOT happens all at once. Like I mentioned briefly before, a 13 foot female great white shark, nicknamed “Big Momma” by locals, was frenzied into a state where she stuck herself inside the top of an open dive cage, with divers inside. As she struggled to free herself from the cage balcony she seemed to wedge herself deeper in the cage towards the divers below her.
Once stuck in the dive cage, her thrashing and drive to escape severed the divers’ air supply line. Luckily one of the staff divers thought quickly on their feet, and the individual was able to return some air pressure to the group by using a “hookah-style” system. For those of you who are curious how this might work, the while the hose was severed by the shark, the diver was able to open the safety valve at the base of the cage to supply limited air.
Bluewater Dive Travel operations director, Katie Yonker, reflects back on the incident as she was one of the divers involved in the near tragic event, “It’s hard to put into words the thoughts and feelings that went through my head. The first minute or so felt like a horrific earthquake underwater, and I kept thinking, ‘we just need to wait this out.’ But in the back of my head I feared the cage would break apart and this would be the end for me. I was calm, but felt very, very sad.”
As you can see in video, while Big Momma does eventually free herself, she does appear to suffer some trauma to her right side near her gills. Great white sharks are tough animals and shark skin is very thick. The team did not report Big Momma’s trauma as a serious injury and does not believe the incident to cause long term damage to her. To read the official statement of the incident from Sol Mar V, see below:
What did the dive crew do illegally?
Cage diving is a very common bucket list agenda and completely legal if proper rules are followed. These rules are not only outlined for the safety of divers (duh) but also, as we see from this incident, the safety of a threatened species like the great white shark.
The majority of laws about cage diving with sharks revolve around chumming the water where you plan to dive. It is fairly common knowledge that chumming, throwing meat and blood into the water, is used to attract sharks. It is a common practice of shark researchers to tourist dive operations alike and can be done safely.
Chumming or baiting the water around the dive site to draw sharks near is legal (with regulations) but baiting directly over or on a shark dive cage is illegal in Guadalupe (where this video was taken).
These regulations were ignored in this video, as you can pretty clearly see a bait bag on the dive cage. This bag is the reason the shark became frenzied and lunged into the open cage balcony and not only nearly lost its life but also put the lives of four divers at risk as well.
Wildlife crime is still a crime
I feel as though many of my articles have had this theme but it is no less true. Wildlife crime is still a crime and I am tired of it being pushed to the side to deal with later. This company has been caught doing this three times (including this video(s)). Yet, they continue to be in business when they are breaking the local law and harming threatened wildlife not to mention human life.
Shark biologist Dr. Christopher Lowe has spoken out about the incident, as it has gone viral, saying, “Like in many places, people don’t follow the rules- which aren’t even necessarily for their own protection, but for the animals.” It is a common misconception, that in order to see a shark up close and personal you have to bait on the cage. However, as Dr. Lowe alludes, while sharks are at the top of the food chain they are vulnerable to man-made contraptions like dive cages. Chumming that directly to the cage, could cause severe injury to the shark as they can become frenzied in chum filled waters and bump or crash into the cage.
Interestingly enough the company’s own website expresses their support of following this simple rule: “We don’t use chum at depth; the sharks are already there. We have seen up to six great whites at once circling the cages. Without chum these great whites are more relaxed, exhibit MUCH more curiosity, and come in MUCH closer to the cages. Best of all, our cages are double-deckers, which means you can venture onto the upper deck and outside the bars** to truly go face-to-face with great white sharks out in the open.” **this is also illegal.
While this is a nice sentiment, it does not change the fact that you can clearly see bait bags in both the above videos for different occasions. While bait bags hold food, there is no evidence of feeding great whites in the cages which creates loophole in the regulations and thus makes them difficult to enforce. However, the Guadalupe shark-diving code of conduct is pretty clear if you want to read it here. Basically, it says that bait lines of any sort must not touch or pass over the top of the diving cage. Once a shark is seen approaching, the operators are supposed to remove the line from the water.
Know the facts about great white conservation
The great white shark population in the waters of Mexico is listed as threatened. This is better than many other shark populations but it still leaves them vulnerable to endangerment. It is known that most of the population off the coast of Guadalupe is female. Great white sharks reproduce very slowly, as it takes over 10 years for the adults to reach sexual maturity. Losing even just one sexually mature female, in a fragile population model, could have long lasting effects on the entire great white population.
In my opinion, shark encounters like these are incredibly important to connect people to animals once only thought of as “devil man eating machines”. I truly believe that by meeting extraordinary animals, like white sharks, face-to-face, people become more connected and invested in them in the future. It goes without saying; it is human nature to care more about what you know than what you don’t. If done legally and responsibly, cage diving with sharks of all species can be a tremendous tool for their conservation.
References and photos courtesy of: