Close Encounters Man vs. Nature

Shark riding a troubling trend at popular dive spot

Thrill-seeking tourists in Guam photographed being pulled through water on backs of predators; experts are critical of 'really dangerous' activity

sharkride2

Last week we shared a story about a Florida teen who jumped overboard and hitched a brief ride on a 30-foot whale shark in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a random event and the teen was criticized for acting irresponsibly.

Perhaps more troubling is news out of Guam, where divers have come to regard shark riding as some kind of thrilling new sport (see video report below; note that the word “riding” is misspelled in the title).

This disturbing trend involves nurse sharks at Gab Gab II, a popular dive site in Guam. Sharks are fed at the dive site but until recently people were content merely to swim with or photograph the predators.

The accompanying footage, however, reveals that grabbing onto dorsal fins and riding the sharks, for some, is much more fun.

A potential problem is that nurse sharks, unlike filter-feeding whale sharks, have sharp teeth and powerful jaws. If one decides to fend off a thrill-seeking diver, blood could be spilled.

sharkride3

Photos and video are courtesy of Pacific News Center

Another problem is that sharks are being harassed as divers are pulling them this way and that, and twisting their fins.

Janetta Adams, a course director for the Micronesian Divers Association, says in the Pacific News Center video: “People think of them as docile animals and so it’s OK to touch them. But the reality of it is the way their mouths are … their teeth are inverted so if they do get aggravated to the point that they bite, you can’t pull that limb out unless you want all the flesh to come off … This is a really dangerous thing to be doing.”

Adds Brent Tibbats, a biologist with Guam’s Department of Agriculture: “Either it’s gonna make the sharks wary of people and afraid of people or it’s gonna make sharks more used to people,” Tibbatts told PNC. “Generally when sharks become too comfortable around people is when there’s a real risk of a human shark interaction, which is what we want to avoid.”

States the Florida Museum of Natural History website, as part of a nurse shark species description

“Mainly non-aggressive, generally will swim away when approached. However, some unprovoked attacks on swimmers and divers have been reported. If disturbed it may bite with a powerful vice-like grip capable of inflicting serious injury. In some instances, jaws release was accomplished only after using surgical instruments. The frequency of bites has increased recently as a result of ecotourism feeding operations.”

Perhaps this could be made into a warning sign for divers.

–Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter