Is putting both the observer and the animals in great danger worth a “proud underwater selfie” with them? Source: Shutterstock.
THE NEW generation of travelers are all about experiences and venturing into the unknown because mainstream attractions and activities just do not cut it anymore.
There are a handful of adventurers who are willing to take a leap of faith and do something different while chasing the adrenaline rush on their travels and that is why adventure tourism is on the rise.
Adventure tourism can be split into even smaller niches in the tourism industry to involve dark or disaster tourism, extreme sports tourism, and shock tourism.
The one thing they all have in common is participating in dangerous situations such as bungee jumping off a tall structure, skydiving around Mount Everest, traveling across the Chernobyl zone, or canyoning across gorges and waterfalls.
It is not for the weakhearted.
But the extremities do not stop there.
In the early 2000s, a new form of underwater diving or snorkeling emerged in which an observer is put inside a protective cage and then lowered to the seabed to monitor sharks from up close.
It is used for scientific observation, underwater cinematography, and more recently, a tourist activity. When it was commercialized, it was given the “recreational” name of shark cave diving.
How does it work?
A “shark-proof” metal cage, built to withstand being rammed and bitten by the sharp-toothed, blazing-fast swimmers is used by the underwater diver.
In some cases, after tourists are lowered in a cage, the tour guides would use bait to attract sharks to the cage – a procedure known as chumming.
The most commonly observed sharks are the bull sharks and the great white sharks, both of which are known to be aggressive at times.
The duration of the experience can last anywhere from half an hour to an hour, depending on the tour operator and the package.
However, this controversial activity has been met with disapproval from some conversation groups, scuba divers, and underwater photographers as they consider it to be potentially dangerous.
Shark cage tourism can alter the natural behavior of sharks and change how they respond to swimmers or boats.
“Dive tourism, which aims to please (meaning they want to make money) puts food in the water, which results in increased visitations from the sharks in that area. In some species, this leads to higher population numbers in the area,” National Geographic quoted Florida Program for Shark Research Director George Burgess as saying.
“Feeding of sharks has the effect that it can get rid of that natural concern between the shark and human, or, in some cases, teach them to equate the human with free food.”
There have also been examples of sharks in the shallower water learning to respond to the sound of the boat’s motor, according to Burgess.
In South Australia, abalone divers have been attacked by great white sharks and divers believe that great white shark cage diving tourism has altered shark behavior, making them more inclined to approach boats.
Abalone diver Peter Stephenson has called for a ban on shark cage diving, calling it a “major workplace safety issue.”
Why is it dangerous?
In 2005, British tourist Mark Currie could have ended up as a shark’s meal when a 16-foot great white shark rammed and bit through the bars of a shark cage during a dive off the coast of South Africa.
He managed to be pulled to safety by the boat’s captain, who fended off the apex predator with blows to its head.
In 2016, a similar incident occurred when a shark cage that diver Ming Chan was in during a dive off the coast of Mexico was beached by a great white shark.
According to diver Brian, whose video of the horrifying event went viral afterward, it started when the great white shark lunged at the tuna bait used to lure it to the cage.
“So this shark lunged at the bait, accidentally hit the side of the cage, was most likely confused and not able to swim backwards, it thrust forward and broke the metal rail of the cage,” Brian said.
“There was a single diver inside the cage. He ended up outside the bottom of the cage, looking down on two great white sharks. The diver is a very experienced dive instructor, remained calm, and when the shark thrashed back outside the cage, the diver calmly swam back up and climbed out completely uninjured.”
More recently, a new-ish form of cave dive has emerged.
In the heart of Darwin city in Austalia, curious holidaymakers can now sign up for a face-to-face encounter with a 16-foot saltwater crocodile via an activity aptly named Cage of Death – separated by only a thin plastic barrier.
Tourists pay AUD170 (US$125) per person or AUD260 (US$191) for two pax to “marvel at their size and their prehistoric features.”
Put in the aquatic enclosure, tourists are first hoisted over the water to see the beast swirling below before they are lowered into the waters. Keepers will then feed the reptile to keep it moving around in the water.
The encounter, which lasts for about 30 minutes, promises “360-degree views of you and the crocs as our on-site photographers capture amazing images both inside and outside of the crocodile enclosures.”
Tourists are first hoisted over the water to see the crocodile swirling below before they are lowered into the waters.
In 2015, a Dutch tourist Cynthia Spaan feared for her life when the gantry for the cage that she was in got stuck, leaving her suspended above a crocodile for half an hour.
“It knew something was going on and he was basically sitting underneath just waiting for his meal to drop,” witness Anson Segall said.
“Radios were in full use, people running back and forth.”
After running around frantically, the staff succeeded in getting Spaan out of the enclosure unharmed. Still, it was an incident that could have gone horribly wrong.
Another outfitter, Big Animals Expeditions, promotes diving with crocodiles in the remote waters of Botswana for upwards of US$14,000 per person.
“We are inextricably drawn to predators. We know how dangerous they are, but we want more than anything to get close to them. This is your chance to be in the water with an apex predator capable of taking down animals far larger and stronger than humans,” the operator said.
In their current forms, are these diving activities sustainable or will they only lead to more accidents and tragedies?
Is putting both humans and the animals in potentially great danger worth a “proud underwater selfie” with them?
More importantly, are these extreme adventure travel operators really in it to raise awareness or is it just all about the money?
Lainey Loh | @laineyx
A certified daydreamer, when she's not physically travelling, she's often going places in her head. Her first love is coffee & her second, wine – & she accepts bribes in either forms. She's also entirely capable of deep conversations about life & random musings just for laughs, but do excuse her if she appears AWOL mid-chat – she's just going places in her head.