Bull sharks surround scuba divers during feeding exercise
Bull sharks are big animals and they are very intimidating with their stocky bodies and huge moths full of razor sharp teeth. They are sharks with a reputation for being aggressive feeders. Dominant in the waters of Fiji, only a tiger shark holds a more commanding presence. They are strong and very capable hunters.
These large shark frequent the area to the south of the Island of Viti Levu in the Republic of Fiji. Scuba operations here conducted feeding demonstrations for tourists and researchers. These sharks are eager volunteers in this controlled fish feeding that is conducted on a ledge in 20m (60 feet) of water. The guides use closed bait buckets that can be opened with cables in order to release fish scraps that the sharks quickly devour. Scuba divers who watch are able to see sharks'
Although there conflicting opinions about shark feeding operations, the benefits here are difficult to ignore. In previous years, fish stocks were in balance when the Fijian people were the only ones harvesting fish on the local reefs. Sharks were seen as competitors and a threat to their food supply. Protecting the sharks represented a loss to the people and an impediment to the survival of the people.
Outside commercial fishing operations came and offered lucrative deals for the rights to fish in the coastal waters. This depleted fish supplies at an alarming rate, causing an even greater need for the money that the fishing operations offered.
Conservationists and shark lovers found that the sharks could provide the answer. Scuba diving tours offer the possibility of generating revenue without harming sharks or fish. The sharks are worth a lot in terms of tourist dollars and it became obvious that they needed the protection of the people living here. The income generated was more than enough to offset the money lost by limiting commercial fishing operations. The fish populations rebounded and the natural balance of the reef was restored. The Fijian people that own this land are thriving from the tourist revenue. The fish processing companies are also paid for the scraps that would otherwise be discarded. This creates significant revenue and it returns the biomass to the ocean, giving a boost to the food chain on the reef.
These shark feeding tours also represent an opportunity to educate people about the sharks and their benefit to the ocean. Guides provide interesting facts about the role they play in the ecosystem and the effect that losing sharks would have on the planet. Guides also explain that they are not the cold blooded killers that we have believed them to be.
After seeing these majestic creatures close up, it is hard not to fall in love with them and to develop a healthy respect for these beautiful animals.