Not just Shark
Pictures: Elasmodiver contains photos of sharks, skates, rays, and
chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web
based shark field guide to help divers find the best places to
encounter the different species of sharks and rays that live in
shallow water but it has slowly evolved into a much larger project
containing information on all aspects of shark diving and shark
There are now
more than 5000 shark pictures and sections on shark evolution,
biology, and conservation. There is a large library of reviewed
shark books, a constantly updated shark taxonomy page, a monster
list of shark links, and deeper in the site there are numerous
articles and stories about shark encounters. Elasmodiver is now so
difficult to check for updates, that new information and pictures
are listed on an Elasmodiver Updates Page that can be accessed here:
SHARK DIVING - THE DO'S AND
DON'TS OF BECOMING A RESPONSIBLE SHARK DIVER
Maybe the concept of
'responsible shark diving' sounds a little oxymoronic but there are many
things that you can do to protect yourself and the sharks during your
and foremost, I can't stress enough the need to gain as much knowledge as
possible about the animals and their environment. To go into the water without
at least a basic idea of how the sharks are likely to react is foolhardy to say
the least. If you are participating in an organized "shark diving
may feel that the operator's knowledge is sufficient and that you can sit back
and watch the show. It's important to remember that every shark interaction is
different. Just because countless people have watched the parade of sharks at a
particular site passively swim by does not mean that you will have the same
experience. Following are some guidelines for minimising the dangers associated
with interacting in the wild with sharks and rays. Whilst the advice
hopefully is useful it should be regarded as a vague guideline only. Your
experiences will differ greatly from mine and the sharks and rays you
encounter may react in a completely different way. As such, I take no
responsibility for the outcome of any encounters that you may have or for
the validity of any information stated below.
local divers and fishers what species of sharks you are likely to see. Knowing
if an area is frequented by nurse sharks or tigers may make a big difference to
how alert you feel you need to be on the dive. Learn the stats on different
sharks. The shark attack file is a good place to start to find out which sharks
have been responsible for attacks in the past.
out how the sharks in the area normally respond to divers. Most free swimming
sharks will disappear the minute they see a noisy, bubble blowing diver heading
their way but some sharks are more curious. Occasionally sharks like to wander
up to divers
and give them a closer look. Being buzzed or even brushed by a shark does not
necessarily mean that you are about to become lunch.
the sharks in the area regularly fed by divers? It can be disconcerting to drop
down onto an area of reef where shark feeds normally take place and immediately
find yourself surrounded by expectant sharks.
if bait will be used or if any member of the dive group is planning to spear
fish. Aggressive behaviour is significantly increased in the presence of
struggling fish or when blood and other juices are in the water.
out if the sharks in the area are territorial. Sharks may respond to divers as
threats to territory and defensively attack.
are differing points of view on the subject of what colors are most likely to
attract a shark's attention. Every conceivable color combination has been tried
at one time or another in an effort to deter sharks from attacking. Even broad
black and white stripes have been tried in an effort to replicate the
appearance of a banded sea snake which is an animal avoided by the majority of
a rule of thumb, tropical sharks are mainly fish eaters and as such are
attracted to bright and shiny objects. Therefore it would seem logical that a
neon yellow wetsuit would attract the attention of sharks looking for a meal.
In shark diving circles neon yellow has actually been given the nickname of
"yum yum yellow". Other bright colours may also have the same effect
so if you're planning on regularly putting yourself in the presence of tropical
fish eating sharks it may be a good idea to tone down your fashion statement
and choose a more muted color or black. Bear in mind that thousands of divers
swim with tropical sharks every day wearing all manner of clothing from bikinis
to camouflaged full body dive skins and the incidence of attack is extremely
you have bright metal objects such as reels or dive knifes attached to the
outside of your BC try to stash them out of sight in a pocket or replace them
with darker coloured alternatives. Even a shark diver's first stage can look good to
a hungry reef shark as I found out in the Bahamas.
dark gloves. From a shark's point of view there's nothing more tempting than
seeing two small lily white "fish" flapping around in front of them.
If you don't have any gloves try to keep your arms folded across your chest.
Using your hands to swim with is asking for trouble.
suits are better than shorty wetsuits. This is the same principle as exposing
your hands. try not to expose distinct areas of skin that a shark can focus on
or mistake for a fish. Even if you have dark skin it's a good idea to cover up.
A lot of injury can occur from the brush of a shark's sandpaper like
sharks in temperate seas feed on seals and sea lions. The chances are that you
will never see a white shark under water. I have a friend that lives on
Catalina Island who has seen a couple but he considers himself very lucky
indeed to have done so. Many divers prefer the tough guy black commando look
and this is reflected by the choices of suits that manufacturers offer.
Personally I think that mimicking a seal doesn't seem like such a good idea.
Keep in mind again that there are plenty of fish eaters in temperate seas as
well, including smaller white sharks, so flashing bright colours and shiny
objects may also be unwise. I own a nice neutral blue dry suit that hopefully differentiates
me from both pinnipeds and schools of fish.
fins tend to be prime targets for bites. This is more likely to do with their
movements and exposed position rather than colour but white, silver, or bright
fins should probably be avoided.
Avoid erratic movements.
are able to pick up on disturbances in their environment. They are looking for
the tell tale signature of a wounded fish or other animal. Once they find one
they carry out their civic duty and remove the wounded creature from the gene
pool. Thrashing around in the water may mimic the vibrations sent out by a
wounded fish and/or may replicate the movements of a feeding shark. Either way,
slow, rhythmic fin strokes are more likely to be ignored. Good buoyancy is also
important. crashing into the reef or struggling to stay down could generate
interest or may work in reverse and drive away sharks that you were hoping
would stay around.
Look but don't touch.
best way to get bitten by a shark is to grab it by the tail or any other part
of its anatomy. You wouldn't think this needs putting into print but a
surprising amount of shark bites are the direct result of divers trying to man
handle otherwise docile creatures. Joe shark diver sees a nurse shark's tail
protruding from under the reef and thinks that if he gives it a little poke or
tug the nurse shark will shift into a position where Joe can get a better look
at its head. He grabs the shark's tail and before he has time to register
exactly what has happened he looks down to find a nurse shark jaw wrapped
around his wrist. Contrary to popular belief, nurse sharks do have rows of
sharp little teeth and once Joe is finally released (which sometimes doesn't
happen until he is literally dragged out of the water) Joe gets to spend the
rest of his holiday at the very least with a bandaged arm. Don't be Joe
Shark Diver. Sharks are extremely flexible and explosively fast.
usually remain very docile if you approach them slowly until their personal
space is encroached upon and then they finally either bolt or slowly lift off
the bottom and relocate a few meters away. The best way to get near them is to
move in close to the sea bed. Rays feel more threatened when approached from
rays the two defence mechanisms that a diver needs to be aware of are: the
stingrays tail barb, and the electric rays ability to shock.
(often fishing) have been wounded and even killed where medical attention was
not available as the result of stingray barbs entering the abdomen or other
vital organs. The barbs often carry toxins which compound the medical problem
and create immense pain. Luckily divers are rarely faced with stingrays using
this defence mechanism as it is only employed as a last resort when the animal
is pinned down. Stingrays are more than happy to move away if they are too
closely approached by a diver. I am not aware of a single diver that has been
stabbed whilst on a dive. This is not to say that you won't step on one with
painful results whilst attempting a shore entry. If this occurs wash the wound
in fresh water and apply as much heat to the area as possible. This will help
to break down the toxins and relieve some of the pain. Seek medical attention
as soon as possible. Stingray barbs often break up upon entry and the wound
may need to be cut open and cleaned to avoid infection.
electric organs of some rays are potentially dangerous but again in the
majority of cases the ray is far more likely to move away than shock. However,
torpedo rays are known to have a bad temper and there have been a few cases of
these animals chasing divers and repeatedly shocking them. Some torpedo rays
have been shown to be able to emit in excess of 200 volts! Usually if the
animal is not harassed it will leave divers alone.
Stay away from the chum.
that come to a shark feed are not there to socialise. They want food and if
you're between them and dinner you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Keep your distance from any hanging bait that has been placed in the water and
if the current is moving a chum slick away from the area make sure that you are
positioned off to the side or up stream.
watched the shark's behaviour for some time you may feel confident about moving
in for better pictures or a better look. Remember that if the current is
running and you are down stream any sharks that are swimming up to the bait may
think that those delicious odours are emanating from you. Now you're stuck in a
position where a shark is coming toward you and you are drifting into it. As
it's very hard to swim against even a mild current you probably now have to
turn around to make headway against it to get back up stream which puts you
with your back to the approaching shark. A better course of action is to swim
sideways until clear of the chum slick at which point you can kick up current
without looking like a fleeing wounded animal.
at the surface in the presence of sharks sends the wrong message. You want to
descend as soon as you can for a few reasons:
a body floating at the surface is high on the list of desirable objects for a
shark to explore. In the ocean dead things float. Oily chum tends to create a
slick on the surface that you may be covering yourself in while you remain
if your head is above water you are effectively blind to the movements of any
a positively buoyant diver's actions are far more limited. It takes time to
become negative and descend out of trouble and swimming at the surface in dive
gear looks an awful lot like a thrashing animal.
Read the sharks.
important to pay attention to the behaviour of the sharks participating in a
shark feed. Although sharks become agitated as soon as they know food is available
they will usually continue to cruise around calmly waiting for the opportunity
to strike at the bait. In a well organized feed, access to the bait is often
restricted to keep the sharks interested but not overexcited.
too much bait ends up in the water, the sharks may become very aggressive. They
may chase each other tearing at the food and in their single-mindedness any
divers that get in the way stand a chance of getting hit. To understand the
significance of being thumped by a shark underwater it's necessary to look at
the medium the sharks are moving through. If an adrenalin filled dog were to
hit you at 20 miles an hour it would bowl you down. Now replay this scenario in
a medium 800 times denser than air and you don't get bowled over anymore
because you're supported by the water. However, the object hitting you is still
travelling at the same speed resulting in a tremendous impact. Even a leisurely
swimming shark can hurt a diver but sharks rarely collide with anything unless
they are panicked. Pay attention to the dynamics of the feed.
a critical level of excitement sharks may become too aggressive for divers to
safely remain in the water, and it is difficult to judge when this point is
approaching. If many sharks are in attendance and ploughing into the food,
seemingly indifferent to anything else around them they may become excited
enough to bite randomly at whatever is close to them. Often the surprising
thing is how fast the pace can change.
sharks regardless of food stimulus may become aggressive towards divers. Any
type of posturing is a bad sign. The threat display of Grey reef sharks has
been well documented. This consists of exaggerated swimming motions, back
arching, raising of the snout, lowering of the pectoral fins, and head
swinging. Not all sharks will give you these visual cues but you may see some
small modified behaviour. The message is a clear one: BACK OFF! Hopefully the
diver will notice the posturing and move away before the shark takes its next
defensive strategy which is often to attack. The most common scenario in which
this situation occurs is when a shark is cornered. Try to always give sharks an
may be tempting to want to photograph posturing behaviour but this has proven
to be the downfall of numerous divers in the past. A camera flash is often the catalyst
that brings on the final attack. Even bringing a camera up to eye level may be
enough to push a shark over the edge and it's important to remember that no
matter how ready you think you are, if a shark attacks at speed you are
unlikely to be able to block the attack in time.
Be a responsible participant.
have come a long way since the early days of Jacques Cousteau pitting himself
against the monsters of the sea. The survival of the sharks that cruise today's
oceans hangs in the balance. There is no excuse for harming any shark or even
interrupting important behaviours such as mating or birthing. If you feel that
a shark diving situation may require the use of a power head or other weapon
for protection then the dive should not take place.
is also important to protect the fragile environment that sharks and rays
inhabit. "Getting the shot" is secondary to protecting the reef
regardless of what the subject is. Always practice good buoyancy skills and if
the situation calls for you to crouch inconspicuously on the sea floor find a
barren spot that will not damage any corals or other marine creatures. That
group of orange sponges may make for a better photo location but not at the
expense of the surrounding corals.
baiting sharks in to an area is enough to create a worthwhile experience, then
actual feeding is not necessary. The consensus is that it is far more harmful
and behaviour changing to actually feed sharks that to just lure them into the
to avoid creating a repetitive feeding area where resident sharks wait for a
handout. Whilst this may be a convenient way to re-attract sharks it provides
an easy target for unscrupulous shark fishers.
with sharks can be a fun and highly rewarding activity but this becomes hollow
and selfish enjoyment if you in any way harm the animals that you have come to