An image of a diver reaching out of a dive cage and touching the nose of a shark off the coast of Guadalupe Island, Mexico, has been circulating online and in the media. While the photograph is undoubtedly eye-catching, experts have warned that this is a really, really dumb idea.
First of all, in case it wasn’t obvious, messing around with a 2,268-kilogram (5,000-pound) great white shark is extremely dangerous. Not only are these apex predators exceptionally powerful and quick, their behavior is also extremely hard to anticipate, even if you're an expert.
Accordingly, all established cage-diving companies enforce strict rules to ensure divers keep their bodies and cameras inside the shark cage. This is to protect the divers, as much as it is to protect the sharks themselves.
— ABC News (@ABC) January 25, 2016
“The animal can get wedged inside or be damaged by ramming the cage," explained shark biologist Dr. Austin Gallagher to Earth Touch News. "Nobody should ever encourage this type of behavior. This is one of the dumbest and most dangerous shark interactions I have ever seen. Actions like this by daredevils put the entire industry at risk and I hope those involved are prosecuted by Mexican officials.”
Although most people repost these images with good – or simply innocent – intentions, sharing them is also a concern to some shark researchers.
Photographs such as these are a double-edged sword: While they might initially gather attention and interest in sharks and their conservation, it could also be potentially damaging to their already tarnished reputation.
Talking to Earth Touch News, shark biologist Dr. Christopher Lowe explained: “When footage like this gets out, it gets attention and encourages more people to do it. As the old saying goes: 'It’s all fun and games until someone gets their arm bitten off!' The next handsy fellow might not be so lucky, and an incident like that would likely close down those operations.”