Pacific Fisheries Coalition





  sharks in murky waters
Shark Conference 2000
Online Documents

Honolulu, Hawaii February 21-24


Sponsored By:
The Barbara Delano Foundation
The Marisla Foundation
The David & Lucile Packard Foundation
The AVINA Foundation


Presented By:
Hawaii Audubon Society
Pacific Fisheries Coalition



Rick Gaffney
Rick Gaffney & Associates, Inc.
73-1062 Ahikawa Street
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Phone: 808 325-5000
Fax: 808 325-7023


Like Carcharhinids drawn to the carcass of a dying whale, sharks have attracted tourists to various destinations on our planet, for centuries. Long before the colossus of Jaws had infected the imaginations of movie-goers around the world, a profound fascination with the ocean's most respected predator and most basic fish, already existed in the human mind.

Sharks have played a part in coastal tourism and ocean recreation for as long as humankind has visited the shoreline, or gone to sea in boats for either pleasure or for sport. The ocean's apex predators have long been both feared and revered by those who visit and play in the marine environment, and by those who develop and promote those activities.

The various interactions between recreating humans and the charismatic carcharhinids in their natural environment can be simply categorized as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (with thanks to Clint Eastwood).

Good interactions between tourism and sharks are those that tend to enhance public education regarding the species, such as aquarium and museum displays; those that increase our knowledge of the species, such as sport fishing tag and release programs; and those that include observing sharks in their natural settings.

Bad interactions between tourists and sharks include those that induce an inaccurate impression of sharks, such as the interactions created by shark feeding programs; those human/shark interactions that change the behavior of sharks, such as activities that create unnatural aggregations; and those interactions that induce a false sense of species sustainability, such as famous seafood restaurants that feature shark on the menu.

The Ugly interactions between tourist and sharks are those in which tourists are attacked and even killed by sharks, and those in which sharks are sought out, attacked and killed by tourists.

To paraphrase a famous uttering by the comic strip character Pogo: the planet's apex predators have met the enemy, and he is us.

The long history of human interactions with sharks in a tourist setting is altogether uncertain, but we do know that the people of Polynesia, including those who populated these islands centuries ago, had not only a profound respect for sharks, but also apparently pursued them for sport, on occasion.

We will leave the details of the extensive cultural interaction of the Hawaiian people and the sharks of these islands to others who are far more knowledgeable on subject, but we will speculate here that because the Hawaiian ali'i (those of chiefly rank ) apparently did make a game of the pursuit of a shark they called niuhi (man-eating shark) and because it is apparent that the ali'i of Hawaii were quite competitive by nature, it is probably reasonable to presume that Hawaiians who pursued niuhi for sport may have traveled to other famous shark-fishing places in Hawaii to do so.

If the Hawaiians did travel to pursue niuhi for sport, then this could well be one of the earliest examples of shark-related tourism in human history.

Sport Fishing for Sharks

Fishing with a pole and an artificial lure has a history that dates back to the early Egyptians circa 2000 B.C.. There is an illustration of a rod and reel in use as early as 1100 A.D., in Asia, and it has been speculated that Marco Polo may actually have introduced Chinese fishing reels into Europe, where the first treatise on angling was published in 1496.

However, most of the very earliest known angling as sport was fresh water based and quite genteel. It is not clear when big game angling, particularly fishing for sharks, began. European seamen and various salt water fishermen in boats regularly tangled with sharks, but mostly to rid themselves of creatures they considered bad luck or a nemesis.

Charles F.Holder, one of the founders of the world's oldest saltwater fishing club, a man considered by many to be the father of modern game fishing, said this of sharks in his book Big Game at Sea (1908):

The shark is not generally considered a game fish but rather a loutish scavenger, a bait-taker, and a general nuisance, to be hauled in, strung up and executed with derision. Yet despite its reputation, I am inclined to champion this maligned boneless monster, basing its claims to gameness upon many hours I have had with it, often single-handed, in various waters from Maine to California.

If one does not undertake shark-fishing in a sportsmanlike manner, there is very little sport in it. . .If it is fished for with recognition of what constitutes fair play, it often becomes a foeman well deserving the attention of the sportsman.

There are documented reports of sport fishing for great white and other species of sharks in South Africa and Australia and for mako sharks in New Zealand, in the later part of the 19th century. The oldest offshore sport fishing organization on record is The Tuna Club that was founded at Avalon, on Catalina Island off the coast of California, in 1898.

Sport fishing for sharks was also being pursued off Honolulu in the late 1800s. The brothers Will, Herbert and Jack Young offered sport fishing excursions for sharks off Honolulu Harbor in the area where the city's garbage scows dumped the community's refuse. Many large tiger sharks were reportedly taken there, some by visitors to the islands.

As sport fishing evolved some sporting anglers came to agree with Holder and certain species of shark-generally the great white and the mako-were added to the list true game fish and sporting quarry. Today, great white, mako, blue, thresher and tiger sharks and porbeagles are listed by the International Game Fish Association for world record purposes.

Scientists have also sought and won the sport fisherman's assistance in scientifically tagging and releasing sharks so that more can be learned about their movements, rate of growth and longevity. For half a century now researchers have benefited in valuable information gleaned from sharks that have been marked by an angler with a numbered dart-tag, detailed on a simple mail-in card and released. When recaptured, data gathered with regard to how much the animal has grown and where it has traveled, benefits science.

Despite the consideration of several species of sharks as game fish, they remained simply a nemesis for many sport fishermen. One of the many things writer and adventurer Ernest Hemmingway is famous for is developing an angling technique that allowed him to become the first sport fisherman to land a bluefin tuna in the Bahamas, that had not been mauled by sharks.

Many great gamefish were mutilated or taken by sharks in the early days of game fishing. One of the most legendary was the first 1000 pound marlin ever taken on rod and reel, a fish caught by Western-writer Zane Grey, off Tahiti in the 1930s. In that same era, mako sharks over 750 pounds were being caught on rod and reel in New Zealand and even larger great white sharks were being landed in Australia, two sport fisheries documented by Grey who spent much of his earnings as a writer pursuing the great game fish of the Pacific.

The largest game fish posted in the International Game Fish Association's World Record Book is a 2664 pound great white shark landed by legendary Australian angler Alf Dean in Ceduna, South Australia in 1959. It was one of several white sharks over a ton in weight, which he landed.

Australia has long dominated the world record charts for sharks. There are roughly 100 world record categories for white, mako, hammerhead, blue and tiger sharks, and Australians hold nearly half of those records. Other widely-recognized sport fishing areas for sharks include New England, South Florida and Southern California in the United States, and the waters around Great Britain and New Zealand.

Diving and Sharks

While fishing may be the oldest form of tourism to interact regularly with sharks, the much younger sport of scuba diving often gets up close and personal with sharks in ways many non-divers seem to find hard to believe.

For instance, try to explain to your mother-in-law in Kansas, how you plan descend 60' and ride a three-knot current out a reef pass in Rangiroa atoll, past a phalanx of aggressive, milling sharks, while your dive guide calmly hand feeds them. Try to regale your office mates about the squadron of 10-foot plus hammerheads that swam past you off Cocos Island. You are likely to face complete and utter disbelief, or questions about your sanity in the mere description of this sort of lunacy. Truth be known, these sorts of underwater adventures happen on a daily basis.

Shark feeding programs, shark dives, cage-diving for great white shark observation and "big-critter" hot-spots, are all the rage in parts of the dive community. At the same time, others in the industry deplore the shark diving trend suggesting that it tends to scare away new initiates to the sport and that shark feeding programs alter the natural scheme of things.

Some would argue that diving's most positive contribution to shark tourism is the practice of observing various shark species in their natural environment. Some of the most famous shark dives in the world--off Australia's Great Barrier Reef, on Palau's Blue Corner, off Costa Rica's Cocos Island, in the Galapagos Islands-involved little more than the insertion of scuba divers into the shark's natural environment.

There have been some observations that indicate that regular intrusions by divers, into a shark-rich environment with little or no history of human interaction, may change the animal's normal patterns of aggression. A number of "new" dive spots have been witness to these changes in behavior, but there is not much in the literature about the impacts of what may be behavior modifications on local shark populations or the ecosystems they focus on.

Unfortunately, the "attraction" promised by large aggregations of sharks led to the practice of creating artificial congregations of various species by baiting and chumming. Many of the most widely advertised "shark dives" are a product of artificial attractants, not natural behavior. The impact of congregating many sharks in one area on a regular basis by the use off "sharkcicles" (frozen chum blocks) and other artificial means is not clear.

Great white sharks have long been observed by attracting them with various gory offerings, and then drawing and holding them near a shark cage bearing diver/observers, by using tethered baits. Many of the best underwater photos of great white sharks, and much of the footage shot for television specials on sharks and megafauna film festivals like "Shark Week" on TV's Discovery Channel, are obtained by this means.

The practice of attracting then observing great white sharks has been popular in South Africa and Australia for years, but it was widely denounced when an entrepreneur sought to initiate a similar business in Monterey Bay a few years ago. The chum would attract more dangerous sharks into nearby surf spots, said some. It will upset the natural balance of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, suggested others.

The Issues

First and foremost, sharks are considered by many in the industry simply as a detriment to tourism. The Jaws syndrome is the worst nightmare of every tourism official in any ocean-oriented destination area. Shark attacks are widely covered by the media, whether the victim is merely bitten (and full recovery is likely) or the attack is fatal.

Shark attacks on their guests are of such concern that resort developers have been known to employ shark experts to set longlines in the waters fronting their developments, to remove any possible predators from the area. The State of Hawaii maintained a shark eradication program for decades after the death of Honolulu high-school student Billy Weaver in 1959.

In some parts of the world concern for shark attacks is so great that swimming areas are cordoned-off by massive shark nets that keep the roving predators at bay. Here in the islands, fear of adverse publicity once led the Maui Visitors Association to put the kibosh on plans for an international shark fishing tournament on the popular island.

Eating visitors is the least popular thing sharks can do in a tourist area, but eating significant game fish catches is also a concern to many. The rules of the International Game Fish Association, the international arbiter for all world record catches, disallows any world record catch which has been "mutilated" by shark bite, the theory being that the mutilation gives the game fish less than a fighting chance.

In some parts of the world, sharks which might otherwise avoid a massive, weapon carrying game fish such as a 1000 pound black marlin, make quick work of these mega-fish after they have been significantly slowed and tired, by 70 pounds of drag on the fishing reel. Sporting anglers hate to lose great fish such as these to sharks, but not nearly as much as game fishing destinations hate to lose the publicity those great catches may bring, or lose the anglers that fail to return after several seasons of very expensive shark-feeding charters.

In those areas where tourists are actually attracted by accessible shark populations, tourism officials may even become protective of the resource, especially from rapacious over-fishing by commercial interests. White shark populations are being zealously protected in communities where they are an important source of tourist dollars, and by the few governments who recognize the value of viable populations of the planet's most revered apex predators.

Where sharks are important as a game fishing resource for regional tourist economies, mandatory tag and release programs have been and will continue to be instituted to protect the slowly replenished populations from less than environmentally conscious anglers.

Artificial congregations of sharks, especially those created by shark chumming and feeding programs may have a number of detrimental impacts on the environmental balance in the immediate area of the aggregation, to those sharks which are drawn to the area and to those sharks which are part of that eco-system.

The issue of artificial diets has been pursued with regard to reef fish, and it has generally been perceived as environmentally inappropriate for reef fish populations. It would be valuable to determine the impact of constant and regularly timed feedings of artificial diets to the various species of sharks that are impacted by these activities.

Perhaps one of the least understood impacts of diving on shark communities are the changing patterns of aggression that have been observed in previously untouched areas, as divers begin to frequent newly promoted dive destinations. Does the decline in aggression toward divers include a change in patterns of aggression in general? It is a subject worthy or research.


The interaction between tourists and sharks has evolved dramatically from the early days of travel when these unique and ancient predators were mostly feared and often hunted with derision. We are now at the dawning of a new millennium, and a time when sharks are embraced as an important component of many tourist destinations; a time when they are actively sought out by traveling divers and adventurers; a time when they are no longer hooked and slaughtered by anglers; and a time when they have come to be more fully appreciated.

Tourism raises its own set of issues with regard to the world's shark populations, some of those issues (unnatural aggregation, displacement of natural populations, changes in aggression, and so on) are certainly worthy of additional study.

All-in-all, the tourism industry's profound fascination with sharks can generally be construed as a positive thing for one of the oldest of the charismatic megafauna on Earth.

Shark Tourism Hotspots:


  • Game fishing (great white, mako, thresher, tiger sharks)
  • Cage diving (great white sharks)
  • Natural observation
  • Great Barrier Reef (various sp.)
  • Ningaloo (whale sharks)


  • Shark feeding
  • Walker's Cay
  • Grand Bahama

Cocos Island

  • Natural observation (hammerhead sharks, etc.)

French Polynesia

  • Shark dives (gray reef sharks, etc.)
  • Rangiroa Atoll
  • Bora Bora


  • Natural observation (hammerhead sharks, etc.)

Marshall Islands

  • Bikini (gray reef sharks)


  • Sea of Cortez (whale sharks)
  • Revillagigedo Islands (whale sharks & other sp.)

New Zealand

  • Game fishing (mako and thresher sharks)

Papua New Guinea

  • Natural observation (silver-tip sharks, etc.)

South Africa

  • Game fishing (great white sharks)
  • Cage diving (great white sharks)

United States

  • Florida Keys
  • Game fishing (tiger sharks)
  • Midway Atoll
  • Natural observation (Galapagos and tiger sharks)
  • Montauk
  • Game fishing (mako sharks)
  • San Diego
  • Shark dives (blue and mako sharks)
  • Southern California
  • Game fishing (mako sharks)

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