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Cage-diving tours found not to increase shark risk


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POSTED: Friday, May 15, 2009

There is no scientific evidence that Oahu North Shore cage-diving tours increase shark attack risk for recreational ocean users in near-shore waters, a two-year study of shark behavior concluded.

Scientists from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology noted a lack of proof during the latest shark tour debate, said biologist Carl Meyer.

Meyer, who represented the scientists, presented data from the study, which focused on public safety concerning the North Shore shark cage-diving tours, at an informational briefing at the state Capitol last night.

About 50 people attended the meeting. It was quiet compared with the confrontational one held in Hawaii Kai on April 16, with many opposed to a Hawaii Kai man's plan to start a shark cage-diving tour in Maunalua Bay. The man has abandoned the plan.

Such shark tours pose no significant threat to near-shore ocean recreation users, and there is no reason to believe they will as long as they remain “;spatially separated from recreational ocean users,”; Meyer said in response to a question on whether the data might shift if there is an increase in the number of tour operators on the South Shore.

Meyer noted other studies that show a greater number of attacks were in connection with shark tours that involved an operation with underwater divers who sit on the reef and attract sharks with fish parts versus cage-diving tours.

He also noted that 40 years of crab fishing in the area, which involves dumping old bait, has preconditioned the sharks and produced the same phenomenon.

“;As a biologist, I would be concerned if they would go into a pristine area,”; he said.

State Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kalaeloa-Makakilo) said a Florida study showed shark tours lead to negative interaction of sharks with people because sharks become accustomed to the sound of boats and expect a free meal.

Meyer said the sharks appear to respond only to the tour boats and not to other boats.

Billy Robello, a recreational fisherman, disagreed, saying in Maunalua Bay sharks would swarm around his boat in an area he believed had been baited with fish parts.