Paua divers' fears over great white shark tours

A shark sightseeing operation has sparked fears from the Paua Industry Council about paua divers being attacked by great white sharks in Foveaux Strait.

Council chairman Storm Stanley said the great whites in Foveaux Strait were not as aggressive as those in Australia or the Chatham Islands.

However, he was concerned that if the Great White Southern Dive's operations were successful, there would be a proliferation of operations in the area which may modify the sharks' hunting behaviour.

"We've got up to 20 divers in the water there, wearing 7mm rubber wetsuits, which is little protection from something that is the size of a Subaru station wagon with two sets of chainsaws on the front.

"They are big and they are a dangerous animal. We're concerned that if shark diving operations aren't done carefully, the sharks might start mistaking divers for food."

Mr Stanley was not concerned about Great White Southern Dive beginning its operations this year, but said he would like to see the Department of Conservation (Doc) develop guidelines and a concessions system to limit the number of operators which could take tours in Foveaux Strait.

"It would also put in place sets of rules which would prevent cowboys from chucking half a sheep into the water.

"Doc needs to make sure they've got a handle on this situation. If they've protected the species, then they should also make sure it's protected from overexploitation from tourist operators."

Mr Stanley said the Paua Industry Council would meet Great White Southern Dive within the next month to discuss solutions to their concerns about shark behaviour modification.

Great White Southern Dive co-owner Peter Scott welcomed the meetings.

He said he was also concerned about "cowboy" operators setting up shark sightseeing tours in Foveaux Strait.

"The last thing we want to do is put people in danger. We want it to be as safe as we can make it."

Mr Scott said there was no consent required or Doc regulations to follow in setting up the operation.

"So, it's really important that we have this meeting so we can set up some guidelines or regulations which Great White Southern Dive and other future operators must follow."

Doc marine scientist Clinton Duffy said there was evidence to suggest human interference could change the hunting behaviour of sharks.

Mr Duffy spent four days studying great whites near Titi Island in March this year.

On the day he arrived, a cod boat was operating nearby and discharging offal overboard.

He said he saw six great whites on the first day, but after the cod boat left, he saw fewer and fewer sharks in the area.

By the fourth day, only one great white was spotted, even though he was chumming (using minced tuna to attract them), he said.

"Anecdotally, sharks are capable of learning to associate boats with food. My impression was, because the sharks weren't getting a free meal from us, they became less inclined to come near us."

If cage divers used chunks of food to attract the sharks, it could modify their hunting behaviour, he said.

"There is potential for divers to be attacked."

 

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