Can chumming be responsible for dangerous changes in sharks behaviors?
In May 2005, the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council held a meeting to discuss the effect North Shore shark tour operators have on shark behavior. They wanted to know what people had to say about possible danger to swimmers and surfers and about impact on fishing grounds.
Those possible dangers and effects are being discussed again after one of the tour operators captured video of a great white shark off Haleiwa last week.
Hawaii Shark Encounters is one of two Oahu companies that put bait in the ocean to attract sharks. Once sharks arrive, customers can slip into a submerged cage for an up-close look at the sharks.
"We attract sharks. We attract sand bar sharks and Galapagos sharks, never been known to bit anyone in Hawaii," Jimmy Hall told KGMB9 Tuesday. Hall is co-owner of Hawaii Shark Encounters. He left the cage last week to swim with the great white.
"The excitement on the boat was just phenomenal, even from the customers," said Julian Oliphant, a Hawaii Shark Encounter employee who was on the boat when the great white made its surprise visit. "I don't even know if they were really appreciating it as much as me and Jimmy were, but it was just amazing all the way around. So big; I mean it was the biggest fish I've ever seen."
The first ever video of a great white in Hawaiian waters has scientific value. It also has some wondering why tour operators are allowed to chum the water to attract sharks.
"If there was this much of a chance I was endangering anybody in the slightest way, I would never ever do this," Hall said holding two of his fingers about a centimeter apart. "And let me tell you this. There is no shark expert nor is there anyone that has come out with us that thinks what we're doing is wrong."
The operators are not allowed in state waters, so they say they always go at least three miles from shore, beyond state limits.
The federal government hasn't taken a position on the chumming, but wants to know what effect the tour companies are having on shark behavior, so the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council supports a study to track shark movement.
One of the things the agency wants to know is whether the sharks following tour boats back to land.
"The great concern [is] oh, you are attracting the sharks to the beach. I don't think we're doing that much of anything, but if anything we're bringing them away from the beach, three miles out there," Hall said pointing to the open ocean off Haleiwa.
Hall is sure his business is not putting anyone in danger. But he says the sharks he attracts could affect the catch of fishermen nearby.
He says he is working with fishermen to address the issue.