Sharks should be seen, not fed
EVERYONE is familiar with Ivan Pavlov's experiments with the conditioned reflexes of dogs, but less known is his line of study that became known as "Pavlov's Sharks."
Pavlov found that, like dogs that could be conditioned to salivate simply at the sound of a bell, a similar reaction could be generated in sharks. By feeding sharks cow shanks from a motorboat, Pavlov found that the sharks eventually would associate the sound of the boat's motor with cow shanks and follow the boat not only all the way to shore, but to Pavlov's house, a situation that his neighbors found very annoying. Every time they would start their car, sharks would swarm into their yards, and they'd have to chase them away with lawn mowers, shouting, "There are no cow shanks here! Go away!"
Unfortunately, most members of the Nobel Prize Science Committee were dog lovers, so he got the prize for his work with making dogs salivate by ringing bells, and his groundbreaking work conditioning sharks to follow motorboats and take city buses to the suburbs was largely forgotten. (Members of the Nobel Prize committee also ignored "Pavlov's Gerbils," an extensive study of gerbil salivation about which one prize judge sniffed, "That's just silly.")
BUT members of Oahu's North Shore should study up on "Pavlov's Sharks" because it appears that money-minded commercial shark tour operators are inadvertently re-creating Pavlov's conditioned-reflex experiments.
Critics of the tours say the operators attract sharks by putting chum in the water. ("Chum" being a mix of yucky animal innards, not chum, as in, "Hey, chum, lean over the gunwale and grab that bait bucket for me.")
The operators claim that the sharks are merely attracted to the sound of tour boats. That might be the case now, but marine animal experts say the sharks wouldn't have been attracted to the engine noise in the first place if there wasn't something there to eat. Sharks rarely consume engine parts in the wild.
North Shore surfers are worried that the sharks have become so conditioned to being fed by the tour boats that they are moving closer to shore and might decide to put surfers and beachgoers on their menu, especially surfers and beachgoers who make motorboat sounds.
I consulted several authorities on sharks, and they said not only are the tour operators conditioning the sharks to follow boats and move more inshore, it won't be long until, like Pavlov's sharks, they'll be hanging out at Kua Aina Sandwich Shop and other Haleiwa stores and eventually boarding the bus to downtown Honolulu and trolling through Fort Street Mall.
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (that's a mouthful, even for a shark) is studying commercial shark-viewing operations and has held meetings on the North Shore to gather comments from residents.
A recent meeting was well attended by people, but, sadly, there were no sharks on hand to give their side of things.
It's against state law to feed sharks as part of a commercial activity, but that only applies to waters within three miles of shore. The shark tours operate outside of that limit. But the federal fish management agency has jurisdiction over water 200 miles off Hawaii, which is why it's sticking its nose into the matter. It could come up with rules the shark tours must adhere to.
Some suggestions include banning the use of cages for viewing sharks. If someone wants to get in the water with sharks, they should do it without the use of a protective cage. As four out of five sharks put it, "Fair is fair."
Another suggestion was for the state to pay for construction of a large chain-link fence off shore for the entire length of the North Shore to protect swimmers and surfers from sharks. The gentleman who made that suggestion, owner of Billy's North Shore Chain Link Fence Co., was roundly shouted down by others in attendance.
Whatever happens, people should be aware that conditioning dangerous ocean predators to associate humans -- even humans in boats with camcorders -- with food is foolhardy. As Pavlov's experiments showed, you can lead a gerbil to a Snickers bar, but getting it out of his sharp little teeth later is another matter.
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