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Richard Peirce


Richard Peirce

I believe in freedom, dangerous talk in our over-governed society, if an 'in power' politician reads these words I'll probably be arrested. I also believe that our 'health and safety culture' has gone too far. By saying that, I guess I don't only risk arrest, but probably execution as well!

Why shouldn't adult humans of sound mind and body be free to dive with sharks at their own risk? I have serious misgivings about some shark feeding eco-tourism, but that's a different debate. What I am talking about here is the freedom of the individual to take risks. Provided all those involved in the activity are similarly consenting, the activity is run by experts taking into account any knock-on danger factors, and the sharks are not put at risk, then I defend the freedom of individuals to dive/swim with sharks. There are many who disagree with me, so perhaps we should consider what might happen if a health and safety 'expert' got involved in recommending a code of conduct for those diving with dangerous sharks.
The Underwater Channel
"All divers will wear chain mail suits/All divers will wear armoured helmets and gloves/Divers will take with them a shark phrase book so they can say "buzz off" in shark language/Divers will carry shark billies and undergo a training course in their use. The course will involve learning about the upward thrust, the sideways poke, and the reverse downwards lunge/ Divers will all have propulsion units to assist should a speedy getaway become necessary/Divers will take with them a waterproof lap top in case they need to brush up on any aspects of the "shark safety course" that must be done by everyone before diving/Sharks must be made aware of the possibility of flash photography and its dangers/Sharks must clean their teeth before interacting with divers to minimise the risk of infection to humans should an accidental bite occur, etc. etc. etc." Hmmmm.
I have every sympathy with shark attack victims and their families, but the facts point to minimal risk. In 2008 there were 6.7 billion people in the world, there were 58 shark bites, 5 shark-caused human deaths, and 253,000 people died by drowning.

In general terms shark conservation has been on a bit of a roll for the last six months but that roll came to an abrupt end at the CITES conference in Doha during March. At the start of the conference conservationists had hopes that eight shark species would get listed the oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, spurdog, dusky, sandbar, great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead and smooth hammerhead. The hammerheads, oceanics, dusky and sandbars all dropped off the table relatively early in the two week conference, however hopes remained for the porbeagle and the spurdog. The porbeagle won the first vote by a small margin, and the spurdog lost by a large one. By the end of the Conference the porbeagle had been put to a second vote and lost by one. Result, no progress for sharks at CITES.

A terrible outcome brought about by nasty shenanigans. The porbeagle's initial success was scuppered by Japanese led manoeuvres. A tiny ray of light in the CITES gloom came when Qatar, the host country, announced complete protection for the critically endangered green sawfish. This is a major step towards keeping this animal away from extinction and is a result of work done in Qatar by the U.K.'s Shark Conservation Society.

Summer is here and I hope some of you will have shark encounters in British waters basking sharks, porbeagles, blues, spurdogs, tope and others are all possible species, and if anyone sees, films, or photographs a shark please don't forget to record time, place and species and let the Shark Trust know.

Work on my new film with John Boyle "Shark Attack Britain" is nearly complete, and the DVD will be out in time for the Birmingham Dive Show. In the meantime, 'Sharks in British Seas' (book), 'Sharks off Cornwall & Devon' (book), 'Sharks in British Seas' (DVD) and 'Pirates of Devon & Cornwall' can all be bought online.
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