Sharks pay well!
Sharks have economic value for the entire fishery, from the fisherman to your local fishmonger. However, this value tends to decrease due to the overall declining of shark catches. Shark ecotourism, on the other hand, has become a profitable and sustainable economic activity, generating millions of dollars of revenue and creating thousands of direct or induced jobs. Sharks also have a heritage value for certain ethnic groups: for the insular peoples of the Pacific Ocean, they are demi-gods, family members, totemic creatures that can be consumed, but in respecting certain rules to capture them.
Annual income by country and by species
Similar economic studies have been carried out on other sites, and different species: the requiem sharks from the Maldives and Bahamas islands, the whale shark in Australia, Belize and Seychelles, the great white shark in South Africa, etc. The first study dates back to 1993 and concerns the Maldives islands: annual income was estimated at $ 2.3 million, and tripled in 2006 (in 12 years). The same is true for the great white shark in South Africa: annual income rose from $ 1.6 million in 1997 to 4.4 in 2003. The Bahamas islands with an amazing annual income of $ 78 million hold the record; this high figure is due to the exorbitant prices practiced by American operators who have customers with high purchasing power.
Some species “pay” more than others. The most “economic” is the grey reef shark with an individual income of $ 3,300 (in the Maldives islands). The whale shark can “bring back big money” with an individual value of up to $ 235,000 (in Belize). In comparison, an elephant or lion in Kenya’s wildlife parks earns $ 14,000 and $ 27,000 per year, respectively. Even if these figures are estimates that need to be specified, they clearly show that an animal, and especially a shark, is more profitable alive than dead! Overall, fishing revenues are still higher than those of ecotourism, but the activity has a very high growth rate of 50% over 20 years.
Trends – Future of Ecotourism
Ecotouristic shark species tend to become “patrimonial” species! For example, the Greenland shark, the Skalugsuka, has heritage value for the Inuit people. It is the only shark whose flesh is naturally toxic; in order to consume it meat, it must be macerated in water. Its teeth are used to make scrapers to clean the skin of seals and special knives, called tseki or ulu, to cut women’s hair. A heritage species is therefore a species to which man subjectively attributes a value because it is important to him either ecologically or culturally. By “adopting” certain species of sharks, divers gradually transform them into patrimonial species.
So, to keep the sharks, you have to swim with them! But these “encounters of the third type” have their detractors! It is legitimate to ask whether repeated and prolonged feeding could condition sharks to combine food and human presence. Similarly, in the long term, this activity could make sharks aggressive towards humans and consequently increase the number of accidents (e.g. bites) at feeding sites when no food is brought. Finally, could regular feeding on ecotourism sites increase the risk of attacks in neighbouring areas? Studies show that sharks are able to associate a place with the possibility of finding food, and at some sites there is an increase in the number of sharks.
On the other hand, there is no scientific evidence that sharks associate man and food. However, on a site visited by sharks, any living organisms present on this site could be “watched” as potential prey! The difference between “associating” and “looking” may seem subtle, but it is real – it is not just a question of semantics!
Behavioural studies show that large migratory sharks (e.g. large white, tiger) that frequent feeding sites leave them at some point in their life cycle. They do not remain in a site, but they regularly resume their migratory movements: their natural instinct is stronger than the attraction of easy “sweets”!