Shark Cage diving is a major tourism draw card for those interested in getting up close and personal with the Ocean’s apex predator – the great white shark. However, for those who can’t muster up the courage to get into the water with the sharks, viewing these beasts from the safety of the aquarium would seem to be a worthy consolation.
But they would be out of luck. Great white sharks cannot be kept in captivity for a number of reasons that are unique to their species. Throughout the years, biologists have tried numerous methods of domesticating and introducing great whites into aquariums with a startling lack of success.
One case in particular stands out. Recently, scientists at Monterey Bay Aquarium attempted to confine a young male great white in a specialised million-gallon tank. The shark, who consumed a measly four pounds of salmon, one mackerel and one sardine during the 55 days in the tank was eventually released because he wasn’t eating.
Upon being tagged and re-released into the wild, the shark died just minutes after being put back into the water off the coast of Southern California.
The shark’s death puzzled scientists and prompted an investigation as to why an otherwise healthy shark would perish so early after being returned to the wild, especially considering that the same aquarium has successfully completed the procedure with other sharks a number of times previously.
The shark was released because it was displaying problems navigating around the tank, which scientists say could result in abrasions that may cause infected wounds, particularly around the shark’s snout.
Despite having nothing physically wrong with him, the shark’s data-tag confirmed he had died less than an hour after being put back into the ocean, causing scientists much distress and leaving them with a number of questions.
The White Shark Research Project at Monterrey Bay Aquarium has caught and released a number of great whites since it launched in 2002 and successfully contained a female white shark for an impressive 198 days before releasing her back into the wild. She survived her reintroduction and is currently being monitored by scientists, a feat that represents a huge success for those in charge of the project.
That being said, the case may well be an anomaly. No other aquarium in the world has ever exhibited a great white for longer than 16 days and there is now a general consensus in the marine research community that the great white’s inherent need for covering vast swathes of territory cannot be met when confined in an aquarium.
Sharks tagged by the Ocearch expedition have been tracked swimming hundreds of miles within a matter of days since being tagged.
Sharks get depressed while in the tank, making this already aggressive species even more volatile and many have been observed butting their noses against the glass in an effort to try and escape confinement.
Their reluctance to feed when in captivity is another major issue. Great white’s refuse to be fed by humans, suggesting their hunting habits are yet another crucial component to keeping them happy.
Logistically, the task of capturing these huge animals and resettling them in captivity is monumental. Great whites are incredibly sensitive to being removed from water and have to be transported in smaller tanks from the ocean to the aquarium. Additionally, to their size and aggressive disposition, many believe it is not worth the risk of coming into direct contact with them, especially considering there is such a low rate of survival once they are successfully moved into captivity.
It would seem then, that shark cage diving is the safest (for sharks and humans alike) and kindest way to observed these magnificent creatures. Living in their natural habitat, sharks show little signs of distress around humans in the cage and display a inquisitiveness and contentment unique to the species that is absent in any shark forced to respect the confines of a tank. Great white shark tours, though, offer a non-invasive opportunity to get up close and personal with the ocean’s apex predators and are a much better way of interacting with sharks.
View our first article on this topic here: Why great sharks cannot be kept in captivity part 1