The effects of shark cage-diving operations on the behaviour and movements of white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, at the Neptune Islands, South Australia
The attraction or provisioning of sharks for the purpose of tourism is a lucrative and popular industry that remains controversial regarding its possible risks to target species and impacts on local ecosystems. The long-term impacts of such activities on the behaviour and movement patterns of sharks have typically been difficult to establish as most studies investigate contemporary behaviour concurrent with existing operations and thus have no comparative base from which to compare effects. We compared patterns of residency and behaviour of acoustic-tagged white sharks at the Neptune Islands in South Australia between periods before and after an abrupt and sustained doubling of cage-diving effort that occurred in 2007. The number of sharks reported by cage-dive operators significantly increased after 2007. Comparisons also revealed there were significant increases in sharks’ periods of residency, the periods spent within areas where shark cage-diving operations occur and changes in sharks’ diel pattern of habitat use. Changes were site-specific with no significant differences in shark behaviour revealed over the same period at an island group 12 km from regular shark cage-dive sites. The results suggest that cage-diving operations can lead to long-term changes in the site-specific behaviour of a highly vagile shark species which may need to be considered in the context of their conservation and in managing the impacts of the industry.