To Touch or Not To Touch
Updated: Aug 12
I want to preface this blog with: If you do not have experience with wildlife and are not an experienced diver please do not try touching wildlife, specifically sharks. If you don't have the experience to handle this sort of situation it can be very dangerous! If you don’t understand the behavior of the animal it can be very dangerous! Sharks are not monsters but they are extremely capable predators and deserve to be treated as such.
IS IT OK TO TOUCH WILDLIFE?
This subject is definitely in the grey area and people have very strong opinions about whether or not touching wildlife is or isn’t appropriate. There are many people that feel like touching any wildlife by any means is unacceptable and that any sort of physical contact is a definite no go.
My opinions on this subject are definitely in the grey area.
You’re probably going to see a bunch of pictures of me making physical contact with marine life, specifically sharks, through this blog but also all of my social media. I would be lying if I said that I don’t really enjoy those close interactions. However, I am a firm believer in not harassing wildlife. I think there is a big difference between a natural interaction and something forced.
MY INTERACTIONS WITH SHARKS
In my experience some individuals prefer or tolerate touch more than others. I know specific tiger sharks that are much more interested in physical contact, or just in being within closer proximity to divers, than others. I can’t read their mind so who knows if they actually enjoy touch or not, but it does seem as though some individuals seek it out.
It is hard when a beautiful tiger shark, or really any shark, comes up to you to resist the urge to reach out and touch it. Honestly as humans it is in our nature to be very tactile. I often think that those critical of touch, not everyone but a good percentage, if given the chance to have an opportunity to touch wildlife would take advantage of it. So I have rules for myself to make sure that the animals best interest is always taken into account first.
MY RULES FOR INTERACTION
1) I will not and do not chase after or follow for excess time any wildlife. Not only is it extremely disrespectful to any animal to chase after them, any sort of forced interaction is not as special or as good as a natural one.
2) I don’t reach out until almost the very last second. I am still mentally and physically prepared to make contact if needed but I let the animal come to me. With sharks, there have been many times where they have turned off just before contact would’ve been needed.
3) I try to use other deterrents first before initiating any kind of touch. For example, extending a GoPro or fins out between the animal and myself. There are some species, like the larger tiger sharks, where this tends to be pretty ineffective but it does work better for smaller species.
Not all, but a majority of the images you will see of me touching sharks are for safety purposes. Redirection, the pushing of yourself away from an individual or guiding that individual away from yourself or others, is a tool sometimes necessary to keep not only myself but others safe in the water. More often than not sharks are very cautious and don’t approach people but there are some individuals that may be more curious or eventually gain the confidence to approach. For those that criticize and say that even redirection shouldn’t be allowed or ok, would you rather I let a 14ft tiger shark just run me over?
It is important you stand your ground when a shark approaches you as running away could make you appear more interesting or like something they may want to chase.
There is truly not much that is more magical than when an animal decides to approach you and gives you the opportunity to interact with it. The interactions between myself and an animal where we are mutually interested in each other are those that I cherish the most. Touching wildlife is definitely a grey area. I strongly disagree with situations where the animal is chased in order to force that sort of interaction. I have seen both images and video where it is obvious that the person is not respecting the animal. However, there are times where touch is not only necessary for safety purposes, but is something that almost seems sought out by the animal. Ultimately as long as the animal’s interest were taken into account first then I think a respectful interaction involving touch can be possible.
photo credits: @chiaraphoto