Water Chumming

Recently in Mexico, a woman gave me an account of a recent dive in Honduras. In this dive, the dive leader brought a bucket of chum (various fish parts). He would pull the fish parts out of the bucket and feed them to a swarm of sharks directly in front of the dive group. This gave the divers an up-close view of these amazing animals.

A similar story is told in a recent New York Times article. This time, the story takes place in Fiji. The author casually talks about the dive leader, who goes so far as to call himself "Papa", feeding sharks as if they were his pets. The sharks know the ritual, gently taking "turns approaching the feeder in an orderly single file."

What is wrong with this picture? Let me share several issues I have with this practice:

  • It's unnatural. This is the most common argument. Sharks are not pets. Feeding sharks on regular tourist schedules alters their natural feeding habits permanently. Even after chumming was prohibited in the Bahamas, sharks still regularly gather in those chum spots.

  • It's dangerous. The chum handler usually wears chain mail to protect her arm. What about everyone else on the dive? Divers are told to keep their arms close to their bodies, otherwise the sharks, who associate human arms with food, will go in for a quick bite. What about divers who happen to encounter one of these "domesticated" animals? What about those in the Bahamas who find one of these formerly fed sharks, a primitive animal that is expecting a free meal---from you!

  • It's not real. Encountering sharks under chumming conditions is basically a petting zoo. I think seeing one lone shark in its natural environment inspires more awe than 20 sharks waiting in line like its McDonald's.

I've been debating in my mind whether I would ever participate in such a dive. For something like a great white cage dive the answer is easily, "no." But what about something like a bull shark dive? After some thought, I feel the downsides of such an activity outweigh any desire I have to see a large gathering of sharks. I encourage readers to think through their positions and find where they stand.