Sharks have always been decried and considered as a threat to mankind. They nevertheless play an important role in the equilibrium of ecosystems, regulating the lower links of the food chain and cleaning the sea of beached carcasses and sick fishes, stopping the spread of diseases and viruses.
Yet today sharks are slaughtered around the world largely to satisfy traditions and old medicinal beliefs in Asia. And as if that wasn't enough, the cosmetics industry also hunts sharks for its oil used in some of its products.
Today, 180 species of sharks are endangered, and it is estimated that their population has declined by 90% in areas where they are being commercially fished. 100,000,000 sharks are killed each year, but few people care about the plight of sharks out of lack of knowledge or fear. This fear of shark “attacks” is largely due to the human tendency to exaggerate to the likelihood of rare events happening (shark bites, plane crashes...), vividly conveyed by the media and horror films.
Yet accidents are almost non-existent if diving calmly, in daylight, avoiding wearing shiny objects and leaving sharks to evolve freely.
Anyone who has dived in clear water with a shark will tell you that fear disappears to make room for deep admiration.
The five emblematic sharks that we hope to come across are all threatened with extinction, and our greatest fear is not to swim with them but simply do not be able to find them.
The Great White Shark
Size: average 4 to 6m, max>7m
The best-known shark, the numerous attacks on humans it is responsible for and "Jaws" have definitively ruined its image in the public opinion. Nevertheless, the attitude of the white shark to humans is not particularly aggressive. And most of today’s attacks are due to confusion between humans (including surfers seen from below) and the usual preys of the white sharks: sea lions.
Its status on the IUCN Red List (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is "vulnerable", and our only meeting chance is to move closer to Guadalupe Island where they congregate between July and September. The hardest part will be to obtain permits to swim without cage with this supra-predator. Diving with the great white is very regulated in the surrounding area.
The Whitetip Shark
Size: average 2.5 to 3.5m, max>4m
Recognisable by its large pectoral fin dotted with white, it is the open seas shark by excellence. In the past, the deaths of thousands of shipwrecked sailors have been blamed on the whitetip. It is commonly accepted nowadays that the whitetip only feeds on human bodies after their death because of the effects of the elements (water, cold, sun). It is very inquisitive and does not hesitate to get close to divers.
Its status on the IUCN Red List is "vulnerable” worldwide and "in critical danger of extinction" for the Northwest and Central West Atlantic. Pelagic and rare, this is the shark which seems to us to be the hardest to find. We hope to put the odds on our side by going to Cat Island in the Bahamas in April, one of the rare times when they seem to congregate.
The Hammerhead Shark
Size: average 3 to 5m, max>6m
Of the different species of hammerhead sharks, only the great hammerhead is considered dangerous to mankind, but information is lacking on this subject. Its large flattened head extensions give its a unique appearance. While the great hammerhead shark is rather solitary, its cousin the scalloped hammerhead can be seen in groups of over a hundred individuals.
These species are considered as "endangered" and have been listed on the IUCN red list, but some marine sanctuaries such as the island of Malpelo (Colombia) and Coco (Costa Rica) are still home to colonies of hammerhead sharks. Again, the main challenge will be to get permission to dive on these reserves that protect sharks from overfishing.
The Tiger Shark
Size: average 3 to 4m, max>7m
Easily recognisable thanks to its zebra-like stripes. It is nicknamed the “garbage can of the seas” as it does swallow anything it comes across. All types of objects have been found in the stomachs of specimen caught: bottles, cans, plastic bags or even car registration plates.
Classified as "near threatened" species by the IUCN, we are hoping to find tiger sharks in the Bahamas where they seem to have settled.
The Bull Shark
Size: average 2 to 3 m, max>3.50 m
With a stocky appearance, it is one of the only species of sharks in the world able to acclimatise to hyposaline waters and therefore swim up rivers. Extremely territorial, the bull shark is not afraid to approach the coastline. Although unpredictable, it is easy to know its intentions by observing its swimming pattern and the position of its fins. Although slow, its incredible power allows it to knock out its preys to weaken them before eating them.
Responsible for most of the accidents listed in recent years in La Réunion, it is considered very dangerous. Nevertheless, its attitude towards divers is most often very passive, sometimes a little curious.
IUCN classifies it as a “near threatened” species, but fortunately for us it is almost certain that we will see some in Playa del Carmen (Mexico) where they gather every year between November and March.
Interaction with sharks
We are experienced divers (Rescue diver, Dive Master) and we have been free diving regularly from a very young age, in compliance with the basic safety instructions. We have been fortunate to interact with sharks during many dives around the world (Malaysia, Egypt, Kenya, Philippines…) but encountering the five targeted species will be a major first.
As the interaction with sharks is at the heart of this project, we will ensure that it is carried out with the greatest respect for these marine species. Therefore, the instructions contained in the « Shark education » charter: (http://www.sharkeducation.com/charteecotourismerequin/) will be followed with the greatest attention. Among the commonsense measures this implies, two aspects will be particularly important:
• Never attempt to touch a shark
• No « Shark Feeding
Dives will always take place in a minimum group of Three and if possible with the support of local organizations working on the conservation of sharks or within a responsible tourism operator.