Diver Recounts His Encounter with a Cage-Breaking Great White Shark
The New York Times by KATIE ROGERSOCT. 14, 2016
A scuba diver who was on a diving tour of great white shark habitats narrowly escaped an encounter with one this month when it broke through the bars of a diving cage and thrashed for nearly a minute until it freed itself.
The diver, Chan Ming, a Shanghai-based advertising executive who is a scuba instructor in his spare time, was among about 20 people on a five-day tour from Ensenada, Mexico, to Guadalupe Island. The main purpose was to see sharks, and Mr. Chan, 51, jumped into the water on Oct. 5 with a camera. He entered the cage hoping for a close-up.
During the encounter, which was caught on video and then shared across the internet, a juvenile great white leaps for a piece of tuna. Mid-leap, the shark slaps against the bars of the cage, entering and thrashing while Mr. Chan is trapped inside.
Great White Shark Cage Breach Accident Video by Gabe and Garrett
A tour employee immediately leaps forward to open the top hatch of the cage to allow the shark to escape. About 20 harrowing seconds later, the shark finally wriggles free, breaching as it finds its way back to open water in the Pacific Ocean.
The footage was captured by the operator of the Gabe and Garrett YouTube page, an adventure-themed account for children. The boys’ father, who identified himself as Brian but would not give his last name out of concern for the safety of his children, said in an interview that two divers had left the water about two minutes before the encounter, which was “good timing on their part.”
In a telephone interview, Mr. Chan said he did not have time to take photos of the encounter, and could not see what was happening as the shark was thrashing because the cage was rattling so sharply. He said he was not afraid to be trapped inside the cage with the shark.
“Honestly at that moment I don’t have time to get afraid,” he said. “Because the shark is coming, a very sharp moment, two seconds.”
Instead, he focused on staying inside the cage. When the shark finally breached, Mr. Chan pulled himself up and out of the cage. In the end, he still had three more days of diving left. Did he go into the water again?
“The next day,” Mr. Chan said.
“I felt so lucky,” he added, “why would I be scared?”
Great White Shark Breaks Through Cage with Diver Still Inside
A YouTube user posted a video this week of a great white shark thrashing around between the metal bars of a diving cage, and it's already racked up over a million views.
"On a recent great white shark cage diving trip we experienced a very rare event, a shark breaching the side of the cage," the caption to the video reads. "What might appear to be an aggressive great white shark trying to attack the cage, this is not the case. These awesome sharks are biting at large chunks of tuna tied to a rope."
To the YouTube user's credit, the caption points out that the shark is not being aggressive. In fact, the caption admits that the shark was lured there by food, in a practice called "chumming" or baiting. And that's what appears to have left the terrified shark stuck and bleeding in the cage.
"I believe this unfortunate incident was due to the boat operators acting illegally," Candace Crespi, campaign director at Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), told The Dodo. "In Guadalupe, [California], chumming or baiting over or on a shark-diving cage is prohibited. There are plenty of sharks in this area to observe without force feeding the wild animals."
The dramatic footage shows a recreational activity that's popular along the coasts of California, Mexico, South Africa and Australia, and can do animals more harm than good.
The video shows blood pouring from a cut in the shark's skin, just before he manages to break away from the metal bars and swim free.
"[W]hen the shark thrashed back outside the cage, the diver calmly swam back up and climbed out completely uninjured," the caption reads. "The boat owner, captain, and crew are to be commended for making what could've been a tragic event into a happy ending … I want to return next year for another great white shark adventure!"
So, a tragic event was avoided — this time.
Originally, cage diving was popularized as an alternative to hunting sharks for sport. But sharks are still under threat from human beings. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year because of the shark fin soup industry alone, while sharks off the Australian coasts are being controversially culled for getting to close to beachgoers.
Meanwhile, cage divers want to get as close as possible to sharks.
Some people have become concerned that baiting sharks for cage diving teaches them to come close to people, associating human beings with food sources. This is why Guadalupe Island, off the coast of California, where the viral video was shot, among other popular destinations for cage diving, have banned the use of bait.
But the ban, it seems, is hard to enforce. "Like in many places, people don't follow the rules — which aren't even necessarily for their own protection, but that of the animals," shark biologist Dr. Christopher Lowe told Earth Touch News Network, which identified the operation as Nautilus Liveaboards, claiming that this is the third time it has seen the operation use bait.
"Great white sharks are ocean predators, more than capable of feeding for themselves, and any unnatural enticement seems unnecessarily dangerous," Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, told The Dodo. "Best to leave wildlife to behave naturally and watch from a distance.
The more that scary encounters like this between humans and sharks go viral, the worse the reputation of sharks — as man-eating beasts rather than amazing, prehistoric creatures — suffers. And that can be a matter of life and death.
When asked whether baiting was used, despite the ban, and what the operation would do to prevent incidents like this in the future, Mike Lever, captain of Nautilus Liveaboards, replied: "Our cages are very safe. We comply fully with all park and national regulations. The safety of our guests is always #1."
So all this kerfuffle could have been avoided had the shark not been baited with food. Shouldn't this "eco-tour" outfit be heavily fined and/or lose their license?
Hopefully the shark involved in this incident will give shark-cages and humans in general a wide berth. Otherwise, he may end up in a situation where he is deemed "dangerous" and killed for it.
I shake my head at people putting themselves and the animals into such stupid and dangerous situations. Like the guy in the picture above, petting a shark that is large enough to bite him in half. Would he do that with a lion?