Swimming With Sharks: How You Can Help Save The Sharks

By swimming with sharks or diving with them, you can actually help save sharks and the entire marine ecosystem.

Sharkwater

How? Read on to find out how.

how swimming with sharks can help save sharks

How Shark Tourism Can Help Save Sharks

Swimming with sharks and encouraging shark tourism may sound like a contradiction. Most tourists want to avoid sharks. No surfer ever entered the water saying I hope I see a shark today!

But there is a select group of adventure travelers that will seek out swimming with sharks. I had no idea about this until I watched the documentary Sharkwater. The photo book is one of my all-time favorite books.

I quickly became obsessed with sharks and learned that a select group of scuba divers seek out sharks and they’ll go to the ends of the earth to do find them.  I  became one of them.

If sharks are worth more alive – from the money that shark tourism brings in, governments will do more to protect them from shark finning.

This is the cruel practice of cutting off the shark fins, then throwing the rest of the shark in the water. The shark then drowns. Or is eaten alive by other fish. All for a bowl of shark fin soup which is popular in some parts of Asia.

Watch this short video by National Geographic to see what a cruel practice it is:

Shark finning is one of the major threats to sharks. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year. It’s unsustainable and incredibly cruel to the individual shark.

It’s illegal in most countries. However, enforcement is sparse in many countries due to the lack of funds to patrol the waters.

Therefore that’s why I believe that encouraging more adventurers to swim or dive with sharks, promoting shark tourism, is one of the keys to saving sharks.

The funds generated by swimming or diving with sharks can then be used to help protect sharks. To patrol the waters. To keep the shark finners out.

shark divers hanging out with a white-tip reef shark.
Photo courtesy of Aggressor Galapagos. Fellow divers hanging out with a White-tip reef shark.

The downside to Shark Tourism and Swimming with Sharks

It has to be done responsibly and not interfere with the shark’s natural behavior. Sadly that isn’t always the case, especially when it comes to swimming with whale sharks.

It’s not uncommon in places where whale sharks congregate like Isla Mujeres or in Playa del Carmen to have multiple boats filled with snorkellers all mobbing the poor shark. That’s NOT OK. It’s not good for the shark. And it will drive the sharks away. Similar to what some guides predict to happen to the leopards in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka.

However, shark tourism can be done responsibly.  The number of swimmers or divers can be limited. Well-trained guides can be employed who are incentivized to enforce the regulations.  Each swimmer and diver should also take personal responsibility and keep a respectable distance from the shark.

Then, shark tourism can help save sharks. 

Shark diving near Cocos Island in Costa Rica

Congregations of hammerhead sharks are a draw for some divers.
Hammerhead sharks. Photo courtesy of  Aggressor Galapagos.

Cocos Island is the world’s largest uninhabited island located over 500km (~330 miles) from mainland Costa Rica.  Cocos is one of the few places in the world where hammerhead sharks school in large numbers.

The only way to reach Cocos is by a 30-hour boat ride. Overnight visits are not permitted, so divers wanting to dive at Coco’s must stay on a liveaboard.

Cocos is a national park. Shark finning is illegal. But unfortunately, it’s an all too common occurrence. One of the key constraints is a lack of government funds to patrol the waters on a more frequent basis. Fortunately, satellite technology is making it easier to track illegal fishing boats which could dramatically decrease shark finning. But countries need to start implementing it.

I am hopeful that one day Cocos waters and its sharks will be protected. If not by the government, then by the dive companies who operate there to create a sustainable shark tourism industry. This is the case for Wolf and Darwin Island in the Galapagos. And it’s incredibly effective.

hammerhead sharks on Wolf and Darwin Islands attract shark divers.
Shark divers can expect to see huge congregations of hammerhead sharks like this on Wolf and Darwin Island. Photo courtesy of Aggressor Galapagos.

Shark Diving on Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos

Wolf and Darwin Islands are home to hundreds of schooling hammerheads. Not to mention a variety of other shark species including Silkies, Galapagos sharks, and in summer, whale sharks.

On one dive alone I counted over 500 sharks!  The dive companies have come together and now have a patrol boat at Wolf and Darwin Islands to enforce the ban on shark finning.

They know that without the sharks there is no shark tourism, It’s more economical to pay for law enforcement. That keeps shark tourism and diving with sharks sustainable for the long term.

It’s a great example of how shark diving can help save sharks.

swimming with a whale shark is at the top of many adventurer's bucket list.
Diving with a whale shark. This guy has some damage, likely caused by a boat on his right gill.  Photo courtesy of Aggressor Galapagos.

Palau’s Shark Sanctuary

Perhaps the best example of shark tourism in action is in the Pacific island nation of Palau. In 2009 they created the world’s first shark sanctuary.

Studies conducted there show that a single reef shark brings in $1.9 million USD over its lifetime. And that’s just one shark.  Shark tourism alone brings in over $18 million USD to Palau, accounting for 8% of the nation’s GDP.

See Priced Off the Menu? Palau’s Sharks Are Worth $1.9 Million Each for more info.

When you show that sharks are worth more alive than dead, we can save them. 

save sharks shark tourism whitetips
Whitetip sharks “the little guys” for shark divers. Photo courtesy of Aggressor Galapagos.

Swimming with Sharks Aids in Marine Conservation

When you swim or dive with sharks, you’re not just saving sharks.  Sharks are an APEX predator, so if you save them, you’re saving the entire marine ecosystem where they live.

My Shark Diving Experiences

Besides the fact that I love diving with sharks, I went to Palau last year to show my support for the Shark Sanctuary. I wanted  – to put my money where my mouth was so to speak.

I also visited Cocos and the Galapagos because of shark tourism.  And shark diving in South Africa – without a cage,  was at the top of my list. I loved diving with raggies. You can also dive with Tiger sharks near Durban. Of course, there is also cage diving and diving with other sharks near Cape Town. Unfortunately, I was there out of season.

If I’m going to go way out of my way, endure long flights and an expensive trip, it has to be something really special.

Shark diving also introduces you to new places. I had no idea that there were sharks in Okinawa, Japan, or such great diving. I was very impressed and saw a reef shark on my first dive!

And for me, that’s the privilege of diving with sharks in their natural habitat –  no cages and no bait. It changes you as a person. You gain a new perspective. It erases the images you have of JAWS. Instead, they’re replaced with a beautiful graceful creature that deserves to be honored, not feared.

And that is why swimming or diving with sharks is absolutely priceless.

 

This article was originally published in 2011 but updated and republished in Feb 2019. 

 

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18 thoughts on “Swimming With Sharks: How You Can Help Save The Sharks”

  1. @Christopher – It really is horrific, but hopefully will be thing of the past soon. Can you imagine if this was happening to panda bears? People wouldn’t stand for it. I think it’s tolerated because people are scared of sharks, even though they need not be 99.9% of the time.

    Reply
    • You make a good point. There is a sort of fear that I feel of sharks even though they are beautiful. Maybe it is combined with apprehension of being underwater.

      Thanks for giving me another viewpoint at sharks. I would swim with sharks for a good cause! I have to try everything at least once.

      Reply
  2. Great educational posting. When we were in California recently people were fishing on the pier & they caught a shark (small little thing by shark standards) but we unfortunately watched it die. Saddened our family- and that was not just for fins!

    Reply
  3. As an animal lover through and through, projects like this are very dear to my heart. Thanks for highlighting such an important cause- and I’ll share with everyone I know! Thanks, Laurel.

    Reply
  4. About two weeks ago I heard a radio coverage about the effects of the improved financial situation of more and more people in china on sharks.

    Strange link, I thought at first, until it was made clear that Shark fin soup is still a popular item of Chinese cuisine. It’s costly, but more and more people can afford it.

    I remember a number (I have not checked) of 70 Million sharks per year end up in the fishing fleets.

    I remember the numer left me dazed. 70.000.000! Per year! Demand increasing!

    That’s one of the occasions you realize there may be intelligent individuals, but the human race on the whole acts completely insane.

    Back to the topic of sharks: I really hope NBA Star Yao Ming’s campaign to encourage consumers to stop consuming sharks fin soup has an effect.

    Reply
  5. Fantastic post Laurel (I’ve signed!!). I am rather obsessed with sharks – in equal parts amazed and terrified. How can one not be in awe of a creature so perfect that it’s been around for millions and millions of years without really evolving?!! Eek.

    Reply
  6. @Michaela – Yeah! So glad to hear you would try swimming with sharks, I was surprised at how relaxing it is – once you’re in the water.

    @Sue – That would be tough to see. Sharks give birth so infrequently, making them so vulnerable.

    @Jade – Thanks so much for spreading the word Jade. I don’t think a lot of people know how wide spread shark finning is and how not only cruel it is, but how it is devastating our shark populations.

    @Joachin – Thanks for your comment. It really worries me that if more people can afford it that the demand will only increase. I’ve even heard numbers upwards of 100 million sharks a year, which I agree, is such a high number, it’s almost unfathomable. I applaud NBA Star Yao Ming for taking a public stance against shark fin soup and hope other celebrities follow suite.

    @Robin – The first time I saw a hammerhead I was in such awe of it that I opened my mouth and swallowed a mouthful of sea water. They really are truly incredible creatures.

    @Frau Dietz – Yeah, thanks for signing and glad to hear I ‘m not the only one obsessed with sharks. I used to be terrified, but am now just completely in awe (OK I might be terrified if I ran into a great white). It’s hard to believe that they’re one of the oldest creatures on earth and have been around for 400 million years.

    Reply
  7. Idea of swimming with sharks is a bit intimidating. But I know not every shark bites human instantly XD The whale shark in the photo looks beautiful, along with the hammer shark photo. ^_^ Hopefully programs like this will allow people to gain more understanding of the sharks we have in the ocean.

    Reply
    • “But I know not every shark bites human instantly” – This just made me Laugh Out Loud! But, yes, those are great pictures. I get goosebumps just imagining swimming with the school of sharks. Very beautiful.

      Reply
  8. What a great idea. Glad that people are trying to something to stop the hunting.

    I admire your love of sharks and diving with them. I’m too scared to attempt that and am content to view them from afar in your blog … they are stunning though!

    Reply
  9. @Annie – Your comment made me laugh. I’ve dove with hundreds of sharks and have never been bitten (fingers crossed). I hope that European Shark Week is a huge success as I don’t think a lot of people think “sharks” when they think of Europe.

    @Michaela – I loved Annie’s comment too! The photos were taken by the dive master on our trip to the Galapagos. I tried my hand at underwater photography but my pictures didn’t turn out anything like these ones did.

    Reply
  10. Thanks for this post and this shows very clearly how important tourism can be to support and be a tool for wildlife conservation. The examples that you have given in terms of revenue generations is the same to Tiger Tourism as well as Elephant Tourism in Africa. Its a sad world how these amazing species have a battle to survive for future generations. Keep up your good work and spread the Twitter Hashtag #CSTT (Conserve Species Through Travel).

    Wishes
    Wild Navigator

    Reply
  11. @The Travel Chica – I love Utila, saw my first whale shark there. I’ve tried underwater photography but have decided it’s not my thing, although I love looking at underwater photos.

    @Claire – Thanks.

    @Wild Navigator – I agree it’s sad, but glad to see there are programs that are working well for tigers and elephants. It seems that when there is money to be made, there is a better chance of saving these incredible species.

    Reply
    • So true – there needs to be tools in wildlife tourism to save the very important factor that makes their business – (The species) survive for a sustainable future. If that goes, everything around it including human’s and our involvement’s will finish.

      Reply

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