Shark Week: 5 Questions with a Shark Champion
How It Works spoke to Richard Peirce, chairman of the Shark Trust, about sharks, their behaviour around humans and how many species are becoming increasingly endangered.
The Shark Trust is a registered UK charity that’s dedicated to the conservation of sharks. Since 1997, the Trust has been promoting the study of sharks, skates and rays in the UK and across the world. Richard lives in Cornwall, England and is currently chairman of the Shark Trust, he took time out of his busy schedule travelling the world on shark conservation issues, to answer some questions for How It Works issue 26. You can find out more about the Shark Trust by visiting their website and more about Richard and his work by clicking here.
How It Works: What activities does the Shark Trust undertake?
Richard Peirce: The Trust was founded in 1997 and it was set up to advance the profile of all families of sharks through awareness, education, legislation and policy. In recent years we have become accepted as the first stop for government departments wanting to look at fisheries legislation.
HIW: Which sharks are native to the UK’s waters and are media claims of danger overblown?
RP: My book, Sharks In British Seas, lists the 30 or so species that inhabit our native waters. There are many top-of-the-range and iconic species close to home. For example, the hammerhead is a British species; the same can be said for threshers, makos and blue sharks. A favourite of mine is also native: the porbeagle, which is a genuine mini great white… and often mistaken as one.
On the area of danger to the public… there has never been a single recorded shark attack in British waters in the conventional sense. There have been shark-caused deaths and accidental incidents, but there has been nothing like we have tragically seen in other parts of the world, despite us having some sharks that certain people would consider dangerous to man.
HIW: Does a shark’s behaviour differ in the presence of humans?
RP: It differs mainly from species to species and circumstance. If you are a diver on air and just chilling out, diving along a reef, that is completely different from being with a shark in a baited situation where its feeding senses have been stimulated. So if you are chumming for sharks – a process where you put an attractant into the water to generate a scent corridor – and in a cage then they will be behaving completely differently.
HIW: What is cage diving all about?
RP: Cage diving is a fantastic way to see sharks… The cage has a hinged top that rests on the surface of the water. So the human jumps over the side of the boat and into the cage… They then proceed to move to the bottom of the cage, which is commonly about nine feet in depth. So the top of their head is usually only about three feet below the surface of the water… There is a rope out with some bait on it and the shark is drawn to that. The bait line is then drawn towards the cage and the shark will follow it. The boat’s operator will then say something like ‘coming in from the left’, and the cage’s occupant will then take a big draw of breath and submerge themselves for ten seconds or so, viewing the shark as it passes.
HIW: Where is the best place to go
RP: I would say South Africa. It isn’t necessarily the place with the clearest waters, but it is affordable and it is pretty commercialised, with companies running multiple dives a day. You can do it off Britain, though, and I myself helped set up Atlantic Divers in Newquay, Cornwall.
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