Local shark feeding operations and how to reduce bite chances

UNDERWATER photographer and shark diver Andre Musgrove touches the nose of a Tiger Shark. Photo: Kori Burkhardt

UNDERWATER photographer and shark diver Andre Musgrove touches the nose of a Tiger Shark. Photo: Kori Burkhardt


UNDERWATER photographer and shark diver Andre Musgrove.


ANDRE Musgrove is an underwater photographer, filmmaker, and private dive guide - who has frequently encountered sharks during his undersea explorations. He writes for The Tribune on what can be done to reduce the risk of shark attacks in our waters.

MY name is André Musgrove. I’m a professional underwater photographer, shark diver, and spearfisherman from the Bahamas, and have extensive experience working with sharks and shark scientists worldwide, including Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, and Great White Sharks.

Most shark feeding operations in The Bahamas feed the sharks one at a time at depth from a bait crate that a designated shark feeder controls, referred to as “Controlled Feeding”. Shark-feeding dive operations in The Bahamas conduct scuba dives at specific spots, regularly using fish bait to attract sharks for observation.

According to all local dive shops websites that do shark feed dives here in The Bahamas, they require guests to be certified scuba divers or be accompanied by a scuba instructor after doing an introductory scuba course to participate in any shark dives. They give dive safety briefings to all guests before dives and the dives are accompanied by safety divers. Most dives are conducted while scuba diving.

Some foreign charter shark diving vessels have different requirements regarding safety protocol and optional dive safety briefings before dives. Every operator has different dive protocols and practices.

Some operators use chumsicle feeding instead of controlled feeding which are essentially frozen buckets of chum attached to a line, and put in the water at depth for the sharks to eat freely. The local dive shops usually conduct one regular scheduled shark feed dives per day with more shark feed dives happening on rare occasions for special projects. The majority of foreign charter vessels that do shark dives are liveaboard style, conducting dives throughout the day at the designated shark feeding sites. Some participate in controlled feeding, while others introduce bait to attract sharks but do not directly feed them. The repeated schedule of introducing dead fish in the water at these specific locations has created well-established shark provisioning sites.

The fishing industry, comprising both commercial and recreational vessels, is widespread across our archipelago. From spearfishing to deep dropping, various fishing practices are employed, often resulting in fish blood and bait attracting sharks. Notably, areas frequented by fishers, particularly those where fish scraps are dis- carded, become hotspots for shark activity.

Sharks can get an easy meal from taking the fish off the lines or predating on an already bleeding fish in the reef from a bad spearfisher shot. These practices influence sharks to associate the sound of some boat engines, and persons in the water with food, in the areas the sharks have been able to get an easy meal, conditioning them to frequent these areas nationwide in search of an easy meal.

There are seven total well-established shark dive-feeding locations and two shark-provisioned dive sites in The Bahamas where shark dive operations frequent:

• Tiger Beach, West End, Grand Bahama.

• Shark Junction, Freeport, Grand Bahama.

• The Hammerhead Shark Site, South Bimini.

• The Caribbean Reef Shark Site, Southwest New Providence.

• Split Head Reef for Caribbean Reef Sharks, in Cape Eleuthera.

• Austin Smith Wreck, North Exuma Cays.

• The Oceanic Whitetip Shark Site, South Cat Island.

• The two Provisioned Sites are South Andros Reef Shark Dive Site, Andros and Triangle Rocks, Bimini.

Commercial and recreational fishing vessels in The Bahamas operate on nearly every inhabited island of the Bahamas engaging in different fishing practices, including spearfishing, compressor diving, bottom fishing, deep dropping, and high-speed trolling.

According to the Global Shark Attack files, between 2018 and 2023, there have been a total of 24 reported shark bites with 21 being non-fatal and three fatal bites across The Bahamas. Looking at some of these bites based on activity and location:

Five non-fatal bites occurred while spearfishing with four of the five bites happening all around the island of Abaco, which has a healthy population of fish and coral reef.

Four bites total occurred while snorkeling with two being fatal. The two fatal bites occurred within less than two miles of each other with the one at Green Cay being a popular location where tour operators chum at the surface to attract sea turtles. These locations are on the north-eastern side of New Providence with the shark species involved rumoured to be Bull Sharks or Tiger Sharks.

Three bites occurred while engaging in scuba diving activities with two of them occurring at popular shark diving sites, including Tiger Beach with a foreign operator. The other happened at Shark Junction where surface chumming was being con- ducted by a tour operator that does not conduct scuba diving trips.

Four non-fatal bites occurred while swimming in the Exuma Cays in popular spots where persons swim with Nurse sharks in marinas where the sharks are chummed at the surface and fishers clean fish.

Drawing connections between reported shark bites and popular shark feeding sites, fishing areas, and fish cleaning docks reveals potential correlations. For instance, the concentration of tour operators and fishers on the north-eastern side of New Providence coincides with increased shark activity in these waters.

To mitigate risks associated with shark encounters, proactive measures must be taken. Implementing fish depository stations at docks, where fish scraps can be disposed of in deep waters, could deter sharks from high-traffic human areas. Regulating surface chumming and enforcing stricter guidelines for shark dive operators are vital steps in ensuring safer waters. Surface chumming should be minimised or avoided altogether, depending on the location and species of sharks present. New regulations and public awareness efforts are necessary for establishing ocean chumming or feeding spots, preventing individuals from inadvertently entering areas with potential risks. Shark dive operators must employ highly experienced staff and adhere to strict requirements for in-water shark encounters, first aid, and safety protocols.

While spearfishing, always be extremely vigilant before, during, and after shooting a fish, and always dive with a buddy who has a similar or better experience level as you spearfishing. Avoid spearing fish when sharks are visibly or knowingly in the area; taking that risk significantly increases the chance of a shark bite.

I encourage The Bahamas government to enforce stricter rules for all shark dive operators and chumming based on science and the data history of what methods work safely to keep persons safer in the water. Any operators with a consistent history of negative shark incidents should undergo investigation, with solutions implemented to reduce future risks and or denial of operational permits.

• For more on Andre Musgrove, visit www.andremusgrove.com.


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