Marine expert wants to teach sharks to interact with people
A SUNSHINE Coast marine expert believes face-to-face encounters with sharks off our major tourist beaches would provide a multi-million-dollar boost for the tourism industry.
Experienced diver and shark educator Tony Isaacson wants to pave the way for interactive shark dives in which divers could make physical contact and watch "vigorous massage" of potentially dangerous species such as tiger sharks and bull sharks in their natural environment.
A long-time campaigner for greater tolerance of sharks, Mr Isaacson believes coastal communities should learn to live with the creatures rather than fear them.
He says interactive dives could take place close to the shoreline - maybe even closer than the HMAS Brisbane dive site off Mooloolaba.
While he expects to come in for criticism over his plan, he says the community must overcome its fear of sharks and cash in on a multi-million-dollar value-added tourism industry.
He acknowledges that emotions will "affect objectivity and the political will to trial a sentient shark innovation in Australia".
But Mr Isaacson is confident interactive shark dives would attract international divers to the Coast for an Australian-first innovation.
"We have to overcome the shark paradigm that was amplified by Spielberg's blockbuster Jaws in the summer of 1975," he said.
"I'm not saying we should attract sharks to the coast. They are already there. I am saying we should go out and find the sharks that are off our coast, the ones smart enough not to be caught in nets and on drumlines, and interact with them in their own space."
The key to Mr Isaacson's scheme would be conditioning individual sharks to trust humans and interact with them.
He estimates each shark, if successfully conditioned, would be worth $5.5 million to the tourism industry during its lifetime.
It's a feat which has been achieved at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas and Mr Isaacson believes there is no reason it can't be repeated on the Sunshine Coast.
He has approached Mayor Mark Jamieson for financial support for a study tour to the Bahamas next month.
There, he will meet leading authorities on shark encounters and investigate how best to attract sharks without using food.
And that could be as simple as rattling a soft drink bottle or coconuts, or releasing a scent which sharks would associate with the noise of the dive boat.
"Sharks have the intelligence to make choices," he said.
"When they make mistakes, a bite causes a feeding frenzy for media that fuels our fear.
"What happens overseas has to be seen to be believed.
"Our council has to decide if it wants to be informed by the world's best experts who are already making millions of dollars from live shark tourism and set a precedent for Australian tourism.
"The fact that sharks can show love and affection is totally outside the mindset of people.
"I want to demonstrate that there are ways of interacting with sharks and controlling them without lethal measures."
Would you support interactive shark tourism on the Sunshine Coast?
This poll ended on 11 November 2015.
No. This is crazy. Why would we want to teach sharks to approach humans?
Yes. The sharks are always here anyway we should learn to live with them?
Why not leave it to the Bahamas and South Australia?
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.