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Bull sharks to touch? Avoid feeding sharks: Tips for divers, snorkelers and surfers

Shark Dive - Diving with bull sharks
© joe lum-do

Why divers should stay away from shark feedings and what divers, snorkelers and surfers should bear in mind when encountering sharks.

The first encounter with a shark is an unforgettable experience for every diver. As these shy animals are not often encountered, shark feedings are used in some places. The aim is to attract sharks – and make divers on safaris happy. SeaHelp editor Matt. Müncheberg took part in one of these cage-free “shark dives” in Fiji’s Beqa Lagoon between the south coast of Viti Levu and the island of Beqa. Thoughts on dealing with the top predators of the underwater world.

When Joe, the dive instructor on the MS Caledonian Sky, suggests that we take part in a shark dive in the Beqa lagoon near the island of the same name during our cruise through Fiji’s Lau Archipelago and promises that we will almost certainly see several bull sharks, we don’t think anything of it at first and spontaneously agree.

After all, when else do you get such a unique opportunity? After all, bull sharks are one of the most impressive shark species of all.

The bull shark or common ground shark probably owes its name primarily to its physique. The grey-greenish colored sharks with a white underside of the belly appear somewhat compressed in length due to their body weight of up to 315 kilograms. In addition, the snout, which is wider than it is long, reinforces this bull-like impression.

The aggressive and unpredictable behavior attributed to bull sharks may also have been a decisive factor in their name

The aggressive and unpredictable behavior often attributed to bull sharks may also have been decisive for the naming. At 2.4 meters long and weighing around 130 kilograms, the females are larger than the males. They are only about 2.2 meters long and weigh around 95 kilograms. However, specimens up to four meters long have also been spotted.

The bull shark is easy to distinguish from other sharks. It is not only its compact, powerful appearance that makes it unique. It is also easy to identify due to its almost right-angled dorsal fin and the absence of the so-called interdorsal ridge between the front and rear dorsal fins.


3d picture bull shark
© 3dReefGear


We feel a little queasy as we get ready to dive in the morning and set off on one of the MS Caledonian Sky’s powerfully motorized, black MilPro Zodiacs to the nearby dive spot, the “Cathedral”.


© Marc Godfrey


What to do if a bull shark is interested in a diver and approaches us directly, we want to know from Joe on the speedboat trip. There’s not much you can do, the experienced diver replies with a laugh, and adds: if a bull shark has an appetite for someone, there’s nothing that can stop it.


Padi Dive Instructor Marc Godfrey
Padi Dive Instructor Marc Godfrey© Claudia Florian


Two different liability waivers must be signed directly before the dive

Our uneasy feeling is intensified when we are asked to sign two different liability waivers right before the dive, one for Captain Cook Cruises, the company we are travelling with and for which Joe works, and one for the external diving service provider who has prepared and organized the dive and is also carrying it out on site on the reef.


Dive boat shark dive


When we reach the dive spot, the diving company gives us a short briefing. We learn that there is a rope that leads us almost vertically to the bottom. There, at the “Cathedral”, there is a wall, a kind of flat coral wall, which we should hold on to and behind which we can duck.

And: we should avoid stretching our hands with the cameras too far forwards or upwards when taking photos or filming at the wall. That’s it.

We shimmy down the bottom rope one after the other, there is a slight current, visibility is not particularly good and the water is a little murky. Then we reach the wall we’ve been told about, find a spot behind it – and wait.


Shark Dive - Diving with bull sharks
© joe lum-do


A heavy metal box lying on the bottom in front of us contains bait meat to attract the sharks

In front of us, local divers dressed in thick black neoprene with hoods, heavy gloves and additional forearm protectors place fish remains in a heavy, angular metal crate on the bottom directly in front of the wall and close it again for the time being.

The metal box has holes in it to attract the sharks. It doesn’t take long before small fish are swarming around the metal box. Then the time has come. Out of nowhere, the first heavy bull shark appears right in front of us. Then another one, making a total of four.



One of them, a powerful female, has a conspicuous large scar on the left side of her mouth. Another bullshark has a large cut directly above its eye, which makes the already dangerous animal appear even more aggressive.

If you weren’t underwater, you’d be holding your breath with excitement. For us, however, the most important diving rule applies: stay calm no matter what happens, breathe deeply and regularly, relax. Admittedly, we find this difficult.

The divers in front of us now take larger pieces of tuna from the metal box and present them to the bull sharks. Overly intrusive sharks are prevented from getting too close to us divers behind the small wall with aluminum poles.



Sometimes one of the bull sharks still manages to approach us. If we were to reach out now, we could touch the animals passing us by. Seeing the bull sharks’ razor-sharp teeth and their large, cold-looking eyes from such a short distance is impressive – fascinating on the one hand, and a little frightening on the other.

The professional divers try to push the “curious” shark away with aluminum poles

Instead, we quickly duck our heads and duck behind the natural barrier as far as we can. The professional divers try to “push” the “curious” shark away with aluminum poles, but when that doesn’t help, one of the men gently pushes the bull shark to the side / downwards by its snout.

A tiger shark and several reef sharks have now also mingled with the visitors to the feeding orgy; several nurse sharks are also doing their rounds near the bottom. But the stars of the show are clearly the bull sharks with their powerful, dynamic appearance.

A few minutes later, the spectacle is over. The box is empty, the sharks do a few more laps and then slowly turn away. We slowly shimmy up the rope, climb out of the water and back into the inflatable boat.

The bull shark, along with the tiger shark and the great white shark, is one of the sharks allegedly responsible for most shark attacks on humans

We only really realize what we have just experienced a few hours later: we have just encountered a species that, along with the tiger shark and the great white shark, is one of the sharks allegedly responsible for most shark attacks on humans.

In the International Shark Attack Files of the Florida Museum of Natural History, 75 so-called unprovoked attacks and 23 deaths are listed. Experts assume that many attacks on humans that are actually attributed to the great white shark are actually caused by the bull shark. They cite the similar teeth and therefore barely distinguishable bite marks of the two species as the main reason for possible confusion.

This dive was special, exciting, fascinating, no question about it. And yet we are left with an uneasy, somewhat queasy feeling. Is it a good thing to feed sharks? What are the consequences? Are we not changing the behavior of the animals? Is this intervention in nature justifiable? What is the “right” way to behave as a diver?

Fiji Tourism, the tourism organization of the Pacific island state, promises “exciting shark diving adventures in Fiji”

“Exciting shark diving adventures in Fiji” promises the tourism organization of the Pacific island state. There are “not many places in the world where you can dive with sharks in tropical waters”; this is certainly “not for the faint-hearted”. But “for an experienced diver and shark enthusiast”, this dive can be “one of the most exciting, adrenaline-filled and unforgettable experiences of a lifetime”.


Map Fiji with Shark Dive
© beqa-lagune shark dive


The coral-fringed lagoon around Beqa Island is touted by Fiji Tourism as “the home of the official Shark Reef Marine Reserve”, where “methods to protect sharks in these areas are high on the agenda”. It is here that it is most likely to see “bull bula sharks in their natural state” and they are “hardly interested in divers”

Guests on a shark diving tour in the Beqa lagoon have “the excellent opportunity to watch the guides feed sharks by hand”, this experience is simply “mind-altering”.

Many diving companies heavily promote bull shark feeding in Fiji

Many diving companies also heavily advertise bull shark feeding in Fiji: “while diving with bull sharks sounds like an exciting and daring venture”, it offers “far more than just an adrenaline rush”, Coralcoastdivers, for example, praises the activity.

Diving with bull sharks even offers “educational value”: by observing their behavior and dispelling myths about their temperament”, divers can gain “a deeper understanding of these apex predators”. They would “realize that bull sharks are not mindlessly aggressive, but rather intelligent and calculated in their movements”.

Feeding is “a somewhat controversial practice in some parts of the world”, the Coralcoastdivers themselves admit. When it comes to the Beqa lagoon, however, “the history and the results speak for themselves”. The dive company’s reasoning: in the late 1990s, Beqa Lagoon was heavily fished and had “no rich coral life” compared to other parts of Fiji.

Local dive stores saw the shark population as an “opportunity for tourism” – and for the lagoon as a whole. For this reason, parts of the lagoon have been protected through cooperation with the local villages.

Today, the local fishermen would “rather deal with shark diving than fishing in these areas”. Shark feeding has not only increased the shark population, but coral life is now richer again and there are positive effects on many other marine animal populations, whose numbers have recovered.

Critical organizations such as also welcome efforts to bring people closer to the animals

For this reason, critical organizations such as also welcome efforts to bring people closer to the animals. The more people are enthusiastic about sharks, the bigger and stronger their lobby will be and the better their protection can succeed, writes Sandra Henoch. The problem with shark feedings, however, is that they can counteract this – when incidents with sharks occur.

Pieces of fish are sometimes dumped into the water for shark diving, and in some cases the sharks are even fed by hand – as in Fiji in the Beqa lagoon during our dive. “In South Africa, cages in the water protect the shark divers from potential attacks by fed great white sharks; in the Bahamas, there are dozens of different species that react to scent bait and pieces of fish,” continues It is “not difficult to be aware of the risks for divers”. Because feeding also has consequences.

Feeding causes sharks to change their feeding behavior

“Contrary to the prevailing opinion, sharks are intelligent creatures with social structures. There are solitary predators and those that like to gather in groups. If large quantities of food are regularly made available in certain places at defined times, many sharks will also come together. Loners mingle with the group animals, small and large sharks swim together”. This could lead to “aggression or further changes in behavior”.

In addition, the sharks would change their feeding behavior as a result of feeding: in the reef and in the oceans, bull sharks are “a kind of health police that keep the sea clean and eat sick and weak water dwellers”. If the police are missing, this could have an impact on the food pyramid in the sea.

In addition, “large amounts of food in the water, unnaturally many conspecifics, conditioned predators and shark divers around them” would pose a risk that should not be underestimated: the animals would “come much closer to humans during shark feedings than they would naturally do”. Divers and swimmers could “fatally resemble prey animals, depending on the depth and nature of the equipment”.


Drawing Shark feeding procedure
© Diveplanit-Blog


In June 2019, there was a serious diving accident in the Beqa lagoon – involving a tiger shark

A female tiger shark approached the divers crouching behind the wall at the Cathedral from behind – just like during the shark feeding in the Beqa Lagoon in July 2019. Then everything happened very quickly: the shark grabbed the head of one of the divers, captured live with several GoPros and posted on YouTube.

“The shark bit into Steve’s head and left a three-centimeter-long wound. Fortunately, he mainly had a metal tank in his mouth and not his skull,” writes Ricardo Gerstner on; “His head was in the shark’s mouth,” Gerstner quotes a close friend of the diver in the article.

There was also a diving accident in Hurghada last year (tiger shark); at the Embudu Express dive site off the Maldives island of the same name, a woman was injured by a nurse shark while snorkeling. Direct or indirect shark feeding is said to have been the cause of both accidents.

If an incident like the one described then occurs, the blame is placed on the animals. Then shark feeding no longer has a positive influence on the image of the animals, because in this case “they (do) exactly what Hollywood productions accuse them of: They hurt people,” writes Sandra Henoch.

Prowildlife advises all divers to be patient; it is better to observe sharks in their natural behavior

Prowildlife therefore advises all divers to “be patient”. It is better to observe sharks in their natural behavior or to observe natural gatherings of sharks”. After all, there is “nothing better than experiencing surprising sightings underwater”.

This opinion is also held by the Shark Project Protection organization, which says it initiates and implements measures to protect sharks and their habitat, draws attention to abuses and tries to eliminate them. Shark Project Protection has the following advice for divers who encounter sharks:

“A good guide will tell you at the briefing what sharks to expect and how to behave. If you are diving with sharks, a good guide will tell you about emergency procedures”. If the diver’s hobby is photography or filming, you should ask your buddy or guide to keep an eye on you. Nevertheless, you should always keep an “all-round view” – and not just the “camera view”.

Feeding – or feeding – sharks is a no-go

Respect is the top priority, because sharks are wild animals. Touching them is therefore a no-go. The same applies to harassing and in particular – as in the case described – feeding or feeding the sharks.

If you nevertheless take part in such an activity or get caught up in a shark feeding, Shark Project Protection recommends the following: “Turn around regularly and look behind you. The shark can quickly return unnoticed”, even if no shark is visible at the time.

Divers should wear “gloves, a hood and dark clothing without contrasts” when diving with large sharks that are attracted by fish bait. Reason: bright contrasts could easily be mistaken for prey.

Divers should not touch or approach the bait, “even if the action is there for good photos”. In the case of open food or hand feeding, it is better to leave the water immediately. In general, you should stay away from the “scent line” and pay attention to the current line.

If approached by a shark, it is recommended to adopt a vertical position in the water, maintain eye contact and turn with the shark

If a shark swims towards you, you should “remain calm, maintain eye contact and turn with the shark as it circles you”. It is recommended to adopt a vertical position in the water. Good to know: Sharks always swim forwards, they cannot go backwards.

Finally, divers should always stay with their group. You should “keep such a small distance from the other divers that a shark cannot swim in between”.

Shark Project Protection also has suitable tips for snorkelers, swimmers and bathers. You should always be aware of your surroundings and not snorkel in areas where there are large sharks, where sharks are attracted by fish, where there is a river mouth nearby and the water is murky and choppy, or where sharks are baited or fed for divers.

Snorkelers should train their fin stroke to avoid splashing noises on the surface. Splashing and splashing in the water is interesting for sharks as they see it as “wriggling prey”.

As with diving, you should watch the shark and maintain eye contact. Before snorkeling, you should inform yourself about possible currents – and avoid them.

Surfers should avoid shark hunting grounds; a break should be spent “completely on the board”

Surfers should not get on their boards in areas where sharks hunt. Sharkproject Protection considers this to include seal and sea lion areas or schools of fish. Areas with shark feeding areas for divers should also be avoided as a matter of urgency, as should river mouths, and anglers or fishermen in the vicinity could also attract sharks.

The organization also warns that turbid, choppy water with surf can irritate the sharks’ senses. It is therefore not recommended to surf there.

If you are tired and need a break, you should take it “completely on the board”. It is important not to leave your arms or legs hanging in the water.

The general rule for a shark encounter in the water is: “Enjoy the unique encounter. Stay calm, don’t scream, don’t wriggle. Don’t swim away – that’s how prey animals behave and you become interesting for the shark. Watch the shark and, if possible, turn with your body. But above all: never lose respect for a shark.

Every diver must decide for themselves whether to take part in a shark dive – or not. If you decide to do so, it is recommended that you find out as much as possible about the company in question and the shark species to be expected beforehand and make sure that you are given detailed information before the dive – including about possible emergency measures – and, above all, that the company does not take part in shark feeding.

Participating divers should have a minimum level of experience; Padi’s Advanced Open Water Diver or comparable certifications are recommended.

Information / booking of a cruise on the MS Caledonian Sky through the Fijian Lau Archipelago with diving opportunities at the most beautiful dive spots – some of which are payable extra:, Tel. +61 2 9126 8160, Mob. +679 9985252,

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