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Divers, Sharks, and Selfies

Posted on Apr 1, 2016 by in Animal Care

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I’m a Diver. In fact, I am a really lucky diver who gets to dive every day at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. My job here is Dive Safety Coordinator which means; I do a lot of diving with sharks and train divers how to safely interact with them. The one question I always get asked is, “Aren’t you afraid of sharks?”.

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My answer is, and always has been “NO”, and then people think I am crazy, but let me tell you why I’m not!

As aquarium divers we are extremely conscientious of our proximity to animals in our exhibits. While we are not afraid of the sharks, we do have a healthy respect for them. We take special precautions to maintain safe distances so that we can avoid spooking the sharks or bumping into them. We also need to be careful to keep our hands and arms into our bodies so that we do not accidentally touch a shark. A shark could inflict serious physical injury to a diver if they got smacked by the sharks tail, there powerful bodies can really pack a punch.

We move very slowly and steadily and dive buddies work in teams and act as shark spotters for one another. We also have a special tool called a shark stick. We use this tool as a visual aid, kind of like a stop sign, reminding the sharks to stay a little farther away from the divers. We utilize other methods to reinforce certain desirable behaviors, for example, we feed the sharks with a pole in one area of the exhibit at a consistently set time. This way the sharks do not associate divers with food. By doing these simple things, we the divers, are able to function in the environment with our large sharks without negative interactions. Our sharks are accustomed to seeing divers in the water everyday they are indifferent to our presence. In their eyes we are large awkward fish who produce a lot of annoying bubbles and not a food source.

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Sharks are misunderstood creatures and as a diver who has seen them in the wild I find them absolutely astounding and utterly fascinating to watch. With the current status of our world’s oceans in such disarray it has become increasingly rare to encounter a wild shark. They are not at all the man killers they are made out to be, sharks have garnered one of the worst reputations in the animal kingdom. Most sharks are at best uninterested in humans we are not a food they seek out. Generally, when I have seen a shark while diving they immediately swim away. We humans are their only predators and biggest threat. The numerous ways in which people are decimating the shark population are astounding; every day more than 273,973 sharks are killed by humans.

I don’t know how many times I can say that sharks are not typically dangerous to humans the occasions when sharks have bit people it’s generally mistaken identity.  Check out the relative risk of shark attacks compared to other everyday activities. They now say that the average person is more likely to be killed taking a selfie than by a shark which really puts into perspective the rarity of shark attacks.

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So, the next time you worry about swimming or diving in the ocean because of shark attacks think about how many selfies you have taken and remember which one kills more people a year.

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