Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) Diving Tourism: Tourist Compliance and Shark Behaviour at Fish Rock, Australia
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- Smith, K., Scarr, M. & Scarpaci, C. Environmental Management (2010) 46: 699. doi:10.1007/s00267-010-9561-8
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Humans can dive with critically endangered grey nurse sharks (Carcharias taurus) along the east coast of Australia. This study investigated both compliance of tourist divers to a code of conduct and legislation and the behaviour of grey nurse sharks in the presence of divers. A total of 25 data collection dives were conducted from December 2008 to January 2009. Grey nurse shark and diver behaviour were documented using 2-min scan samples and continuous observation. The proportion of time spent observing human–shark interactions was 9.4% of total field time and mean human–shark interaction time was 15.0 min. Results were used to gauge the effectiveness of current management practices for the grey nurse shark dive industry at Fish Rock in New South Wales, Australia. Grey nurse shark dive tourists were compliant to stipulations in the code of conduct and legislation (compliance ranged from 88 to 100%). The research detailed factors that may promote compliance in wildlife tourism operations such as the clarity of the stipulations, locality of the target species and diver perceptions of sharks. Results indicated that grey nurse sharks spent the majority of their time milling (85%) followed by active swimming (15%). Milling behaviour significantly decreased in the presence of more than six divers. Distance between sharks and divers, interaction time and number of sharks were not significantly correlated with grey nurse shark school behaviour. Jaw gaping, rapid withdrawal and stiff or jerky movement were the specific behaviours of grey nurse sharks that occurred most frequently and were associated with distance between divers and sharks and the presence of six or more divers. Revision of the number of divers allowed per interaction with a school of grey nurse sharks and further research on the potential impacts that shark-diving tourism may pose to grey nurse sharks is recommended.