Shark tourism

Shark tourism is a way for tourists to experience seeing sharks the ocean rather than in an aquarium. It is a form of eco-tourism rooted in having communities appreciate that local shark species are more valuable alive than dead. Instead of opting for a one time economic benefit of harvesting sharks for their body parts, communities are made to assist interested tourists who may want to see live sharks. People can come close to them by free or scuba diving or dropping into the water in a protective cage. Many divers and people are involved in interest groups such as the late iDive Sharks Network[1] that aim to celebrate and promote safe and responsible shark diving activities.[2]


Species commonly seen in shark tourism activities include

Great white shark

Great White Shark viewing is available at the Neptune Islands[4] in South Australia, South Africa, Isla Guadalupe in Mexico, and New Zealand. Great White sharks are viewed using shark cages to keep the diver safe. Because of the exceptional visibility underwater in Isla Guadalupe, more outside the cage diving is done than anywhere else.[5]

The Great White industry was founded in the 1970s by pioneer Australian diver and Great White attack survivor Rodney Fox in South Australia. He was the sole world-wide operator until the South African industry was founded in early 1989 by Pieter van der Walt. He was joined shortly thereafter by pioneer diver and underwater photographer George Askew who handled promotions and put South African cage diving "on the map" with the publicity he got - until they split in Jan 1992, after they, together with famous Australian divers, Ron and Valerie Taylor, did the world's first dive amongst Great White sharks without a cage and completely unprotected.[6]

This 'Frontier Pushing' dive was directly responsible for the upsurge in Shark Tourism – especially free-diving (i.e. Out of cage) swimming with big sharks. When would-be operators around the world became aware of these four mad people who proved that the Great White was quite approachable and not likely to attack – thought that then maybe all the other 'Bad Boy' sharks like Tigers, Bulls and Oceanic's were safe to swim with too. This proved to be the case and shark tourism has become a multi-million-dollar a year industry.[7]In attempt to protect the Great White Shark species, some places around the world, such as in South Australia, there is mandatory logbook reporting and photograph/identification required to monitor how cage-diving tourism may impact white sharks involved in these tourism attractions.[8]

Tiger, bull and oceanic white tip

The Bahamas is a favorite region for pelagic sharks. Divers in the Bahamas experience reef sharks and tiger sharks while they are hand-fed. Isla Guadalupe, Mexico has been named a Biosphere Reserve in an effort to control the shark diving activities there. Although the practice of shark diving proves to be controversial, it has been proven very effective in attracting tourists. Whale sharks, while not traditionally harvested for their fins but are sometimes harvested for their meat, have also benefited from shark tourism because of snorkelers getting into the water with the gentle giants. In the Philippines snorkelers must maintain a distance of four feet from the sharks and there is a fine and possible jail time for anyone who touches the animals.[9]

All manner of reef shark species are prevalent at the many shark feeding dives within the Pacific Region. Grey reef sharks are the main diners in places such as the Great Barrier Reef, Micronesia and Tahiti. Silvertips and Black Tips Reef Sharks tend to be more seen around the PNG coastlines. Bull sharks are around Mexico, Playa del Carmen in particular.[10]

Whale Shark

Whale sharks attract a large amount of tourists each year to South Ari Atoll in the Republic of Maldives, yet, there is still some ambiguity regarding the economic extent of the attraction of these animals. Thus, making conservation/ implementation of management methods difficult to conduct.[11]

Additionally, whale sharks in the waters of the small town of Oslob, on Cebu islands in the Philippines, The sharks have become a top tourist attraction, local governments in the Philippines have followed along in the legalization of feeding these animals in attempt to attract more tourists. Although a huge commercial success, there is growing concern for the implementation of regulation and protection for the whale sharks and its marine environment. [12]

The coral reefs in the Philippines are being harmed greatly by the overpopulation of sharks and people in the area. As the population increases immensely so does the opportunity for the coral reefs to diminish. Sharks are overpopulating because they are being fed by tour operators and it is attracting many more sharks to the area than there naturally would be. This is causing the sharks to be more aggressive with people because they are getting too comfortable with people because they are associating feeding time with the people that are tossing the food to them.

Free Diving

This type of shark tourism is done by professionals that dive down with the individuals that are partaking in the tourism event. A diver takes a small group of people down approximately 40 meters deep where the shark actions takes place. Often times sharks do not pay much attention to the divers, but in rare cases when there are threatening times the operator uses his/her training skills to prevent an attack from occurring.

Ningaloo Marine Park

Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia is the site of an annual whale shark aggregation. This site is a very popular tourist site, as whale sharks are incredibly gentle creatures that pose very little threat to humans. Introduced in 1997 and revised to its current version in 2013, the Department of Parks and Wildlife is responsible for a whale shark management program designed to protect the whale shark species and regulate human interaction with them.[13]


The shark tourism industry is meant to educate and increase awareness of the natural environment as well as generate profits for the local people. Whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, from the years 2006 to 2010 data has been evaluated to determine the scale of the tourism operations and the spatial and temporal distribution of interactions between whale sharks and humans; for example: whale shark tours at Ningaloo increased by about 70%.[14] The whale shark management program of Ningaloo Marine Park relies on the Conservation and Land Management Act of 1984 (CALM Act) and the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1950. The CALM Act requires tour operators to obtain a commercial tourist activity licence, and the Wildlife Conservation Act requires a wildlife interaction licence for each protected species a tour may come in contact with. This includes the whale sharks but is not limited to whales, other shark species, and dugongs.[15] Under these laws, the Western Australian government is able to regulate how tourists interact with whale sharks and to what extent. A maximum of 15 operators are allowed to obtain licences at a given time. In addition, only one tour vessel is allowed to travel to the whale sharks while the rest must stay 250 metres away. Only ten swimmers are allowed in the water at a time, which controls the crowding of the area, and tourists are prohibited from feeding or touching the whale sharks.[16]


Whale sharks are considered a vulnerable species and have been targeted by fishermen for many years. In Ningaloo Marine Park, they are entirely protected.[17] The whale sharks in the area are considered highly valuable in the ecotourism industry, as the industry provides numerous jobs to local people and brings in $12 million USD annually. Tourist interest in wildlife tourism continues to grow, and the whale shark tourism industry is expected to increase through the year 2020.[18]

Economic Valuation of Whale Shark Tourism

Previous economic valuation of whale shark tourism (in US million dollars).

Valuations reported in other currencies were converted to US$ using the average official rate for the year of 2007.


(season duration)

Year Total


Expenditure on

WS excursions

Method Reference
Belize (6 wks) 2002 $3.7 Direct spend Graham (2003)
Seychelles (14 wks) 2003 $1.2 Contingent Cesar et al. (2004)
2007 $3.9–5.0 Direct spend H Newman et al.,

2007, unpublished dataa

Ningaloo (9 wks) 1994 $4.7 $1.0 Direct spend Davis et al. (1997)
2004 $13.3 Unknown Norman (2005)
2006 $4.5 $2.3 Direct spend Catlin et al. (2010b)
2006 $1.8–3.5 Substitution value Catlin et al. (2010b)


Conservation benefits

Passive and active forms of shark tourism are believed to conserve the species by generating commercial value to their lives in the natural world. In North Carolina wreck divers regularly visit the World War II shipwrecks to dive with the Sand Tiger sharks that make the wrecks their home.[20] The shark tourism industry conducted a search, using a global questionnaire; detecting that 42% of operators conducting shark tourism used an attractant to lure sharks, and that 93% of operators surveyed regulated their practices using codes of conduct.[21]

Business Related to Shark Tourism

Shark Tourism opened up a beneficial economic opportunity all over the globe. This helps the poverty stricken areas of the Bahamas, Moorea, Maldives, Australia and many more places around the globe. The only things needed for shark tourism to take place is sharks, which are found almost everywhere in the oceans encompassing the world. Shark tourism is positively impacting the lives of many, as conductors are making good money to take the people down into the water to view the sharks and the people are paying big money to do just this.Tourism providers often provide food to attract sharks to areas where they can be more easily viewed, although this is controversial.[22] In Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the states of Hawaii and Florida shark feeding is prohibited.[23] Hawaii had several issues with the banning of shark feeding. The initial law that prohibited it was passed in 2002, but many locals realized the tour companies were not following this law and pushed for stricter enforcement.[24]

Shark tourism in Hawaii

Sharks, or "mano" as they are called by the local Hawaiians, are viewed as sacred. Early Hawaiians worshiped and protected the sharks which they saw as family gods or "aumaka".[25] In recent years, shark cage diving has become a very profitable tourist attraction in the state. Native Hawaiians were not pleased with this at first due to the fact that the companies were luring in the sharks using bait; they viewed these animals as sacred and feeding them for entertainment was said to be unjust.[26] There was also speculations that by feeding them, the sharks would begin to associate the boats and humans with food. For this reason, a bill was passed in Hawaii in 2002 that banned the feeding of sharks in state waters, which is about 3 miles off shore.[27]

Shark Tourism in Fiji

Beqa Lagoon is home to eight species of sharks, each of whom are very prominent around feeding sites. Shark diving and shark feeding is very popular in the area, locals have been swimming with the sharks for close to three thousand years. The people have passed down many myths of these creatures since even before Christianity. Because of their grandiosity, they are easily spotted in the waters of Beqa Lagoon Resort, which is their primary feeding ground. Shark tourism in places such as this are very profitable in Fiji, generating around 42 million USD. [28]

Shark Tourism in Palau

Palau is home to three species of sharks; the Grey Reef Shark, the Leopard Shark, and the Whitetip Reef Sharks. Palau's waters are saturated with coral reefs, which are home to Grey Reef Sharks, the most commonly seen of the three. Whitetip Reef sharks are also seen around coral reefs, and are much more curious than the other sharks. Many tourists and locals are fascinated by these creatures, so much so that shark diving has become a big part of many tourists incentive to come to Palau.In terms of economy, studies have shown that shark diving and shark tourism in general is a major contributor to the economy of Palau. Over $18 million USD is generated every year, which accounts for close to 10% of all domestic product in the country. The local communities and government benefit, receiving over $1 million and $1.5 million USD respectively.


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