Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No More Chumming for Sharks off Farallon Islands

From the Los Angeles Times:

It's been a popular sport for thrill-seeking divers and even photo-snapping tourists here and abroad. Toss chunks of fish and blood in the water and wait for great whites to show up. But it will no longer be permitted around the Farallon Islands off San Francisco under a new management plan for three marine sanctuaries off Central California.

Such chumming was abolished years ago off Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve just south of San Francisco, a place frequented by the sharks and marine mammals of various kinds. Beside the seals and sea lions, surfers also take to these waters. Understandably they objected to the practice of teaching white sharks to associate humans with blood and chunks of fish in the water. These waters, after all, are known as the "Bloody Triangle" or "Red Triangle" for the concentrations of humans and white sharks that have brought about a legacy of shark attacks. The triangle roughly covers the waters from Santa Cruz to Bodega Bay and reaching offshore to the Farallones.

Under the extensive new rules, federal officials also forbid attracting seabirds by tossing food in the water, as well as other kinds of sea life. Tour boats will have to remain a respectful 55 yards away when white sharks feed on elephant seas, as they go there to do. That'll make it harder to get a close-up shot, but managers say that whites have been seen abandoning a kill when boats venture too close.

Some researchers and others have used seal-shaped decoys that lie passively on the water's surface to attract sharks. Once the new regulations go into effect in mid-March, such decoys would only be allowed by special permit.

For a different perspective, check out this post from RTSea Blog (Hat tip: Shark Divers).

Regarding the "no-chum" zone, there was a statement made by William Douros, western regional director of the National Marine Sanctuaries program that disturbed me. About the chum regulations, he said, "We just think it was a bad idea for white sharks to associate humans with blood in the water."

While this makes for an interesting news bite (one that the L.A. Times highlighted in the front section as a "quote of the day"), my concern is whether this is anecdotal or supported by solid quantifiable research. I am afraid of the implication that divers participating in shark diving in sturdy cages are somehow exposed to greater danger because, due to chumming, the shark is viewing them as a food source and would consider attacking or breeching the cage specifically because it wants to prey on a caged diver. This is not a behavior that I have witnessed in five years of filming these animals. And this has been supported by people like Rodney Fox and others.

Also be sure to check out Neutral Dive Gear Worldwide: Farallon Islands.

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