Visit your local aquarium and you may find delicate jellyfish, playful dolphins, and acrobatic seals. You’ll also notice that mighty hunter: the shark. If sharks make you nervous, you may be glad for the aquarium’s thick glass walls. But if you head out to the open sea, you might gain a newfound respect for these powerful, and wonderful, creatures.
Shark tourism is the practice of seeing sharks in their natural habitats. And, with over five hundred species of shark in the ocean, there are tourist hotspots all over the world. You can swim with whale sharks in the Philippines, boat alongside great whites off Cape Cod, or cage dive with Haleiwa sharks Hawaii.
Don’t let Hollywood scare you with tales of evil, murderous predators. Sharks are vital components in their oceanic ecosystems, and they’re intelligent and social, too. Want a firsthand education in shark behavior? Take a boat tour to watch the grace with which great whites swim off the Massachusetts coast. Notice the gentleness of the filter-feeding whale shark, which sports a constellation of spots across its giant back.
Despite growing enthusiasm for shark tourism, some scientists point to its potential for negative effects, if unmanaged. Too much tourism can stress the animals, and tourist spots that provide chum could discourage sharks from natural hunting and migration.Yet the benefits of responsible and limited shark tourism are hard to ignore. Seeing sharks in their natural environments can educate the public and improve conservation awareness. With many sharks threatened by extinction, tourism promotes crucial conservation efforts, while also boosting local economies. Aquariums can bring the shark to you—but shark tourism brings you into the wild.