"" Writer's Wanderings: Pavlov's Sharks?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pavlov's Sharks?

It's finally happened. A diver was fatally bitten by a shark during a shark dive in the Bahamas where the dive company was feeding the sharks. It's not the first time a diver has been bitten by a shark during such a dive. It is the first death. This is reminiscent of the the stories you see where no one installs a signal crossing at a railroad intersection until a certain number of people die there.

Some divers will do anything (like some drivers) for the rush--like pulling the tail of a nurse shark. Shortly after we took this picture someone else came along and tried to aggravate this creature. I've seen some divers work themselves into a frenzy over diving with sharks--not because of research or the casual encounter but because of the sheer adrenaline rush of being in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy. Shark diving is bringing in the dollars.

Some researchers and diving associations are finally beginning to admit that perhaps they are changing the behavior of the sharks by coming to a dive location and dropping chum or a "chumsicle" (a frozen clump of fish part) into the water with divers on a regular basis. Long ago I learned about Pavlov's dogs. Didn't anyone else get that in elementary science?

While sharks may not salivate, I've seen how they congregate when they've been conditioned to being fed. In Walker's Cay in the Bahama's, the shark feeding dive begins by going to the spot where they discovered sharks congregated because garbage (including fish parts) was dumped there each day. They surmised that the sharks heard the truck and approached because they knew the sound meant food.

At the beginning of each shark dive the boats circle the area where the dive is to be. The sound of the boats has now become the cue to the sharks that there is food available. Divers are put into the water and kneel in a large circle around a "chumsicle" and watch as the sharks weave in and out among them to have at the chum.

It's not a big leap to think that food and divers can be associated. Certainly we are not on the food chain for sharks. They bite but they don't like what they get is what we're told. Still, whenever you dive near a place that does a shark feeding dive, there are always those gray forms that appear and silently slip by--perhaps trailing a little saliva.

So, you ask, how do you really feel about this?


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