Every year since 1988, the Discovery Channel has devoted a whole week to jaws-dropping (sorry) programmes about sharks. They’re fascinating, intelligent and graceful creatures and seeing them in their natural habitat can be mesmerising. But how can you do it sustainably?
We asked marine biologist and Shark Trust patron Monty Halls – who will be leading The Great Shark Chase, in which he and his team follow the annual sardine run, tracking the sharks which chase this huge seafood buffet off the coast of South Africa – about the importance of sharks to our oceans.
Where should we go to see sharks in the wild?
South Africa is superb. There are 104 species of shark there, from the “big hitters” in the Cape – the great white, surely one of the most charismatic sharks on earth – to the tigers, black tips, bronzes and hammerheads of Aliwal Shaol, and right through to the cruising giant whale sharks of Sodwana in the far northeast.
Australia also has some superb shark encounters, as does the Caribbean. For the most dramatic encounters with great whites, Isla Guadalupe off Mexico is probably top of the list.
How can we contribute to shark conservation while on holiday?
For thousands of years sharks have been on the wrong end of a bad PR campaign, so the more people we can get in the water with them in a positive interaction, the better it is for them as a species.
Shark feeding, when done well, is the most amazing shop window for these animals; it also gives them value for local people.
Why should we be interested in shark conservation?
Because they are disappearing at a phenomenal rate – 100 million a year is an oft-quoted figure – and there will be a profound impact on the sea when they go. And in one way or another, we all depend on the sea. We lose our sharks, and the knock on effects will be immense.
© Fiona Ayerst/Shutterstock
Is chumming (luring sharks to a boat by dropping bait into the water) an issue in shark tourism?
Fishermen have been gutting fish at sea since time immemorial – there isn’t a fishing boat anywhere in the tropics that doesn’t have a shark or two sniffing around come gutting time.
It is important to check out your operator first, though – there are a few bad ones out there. Sometimes the biggest shark you’re going to see is the one driving the boat.
What advice would you give to anyone with touch of shark-phobia?
Oddly enough I would reassure you that it’s a rational fear – you're not weird! Fear of the unknown, fear of predators, these are hardwired into us. However, you are more likely to be killed by a vending machine during the course of your life than by a shark. The chances of even seeing a shark during normal swimming or recreational activities are so vanishingly small that they are almost non-existent.
It is, genuinely, such an insignificant threat that it should never affect what you get up to on holiday or on the beach.
Shark Week will run in the UK from Sunday June 26–Saturday July 2 on the Discovery Channel.
Top image © Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock