by Natalie Novak
If you feed them, someone will eventually get bitten.
When I was a teenager I studied scuba diving in Belize and became a dive professional. I spent a lot of time diving with the original family who had brought recreational scuba diving to Belize. I had some amazing learning experiences in my time in San Pedro, and on the mainland, but now I prefer Akumal and the Rivera Maya.
One of the reasons I treasure Akumal is that we do not feed animals on our dives or snorkel trips. When I was a teenager I thought it was so cool that the guides would feed stingrays and nurse sharks in Shark Ray Alley. A friend of mine would even pick up the nurse sharks and turn them over (which paralyzes them) so guests could touch them.
One day I decided I should try feeding a stingray. The guys gave me a dead fish and, as I put it into the water, I was swarmed by stingrays and nurse sharks. So I let the fish go and took another. Then I swam away from the swarm holding the fish out of the water until I found a single stingray. As I tried to get it to take the fish, another stingray swam over me from behind. It was cool and it felt kind of rubbery. I let go of my fish and accomplished my mission of feeding a stingray. (I am in no way suggesting ever touching or trying to feed a stingray. The name alone should tell you why; as Ivan says, "There is a reason we do not call them hugrays.")
On our dives, the guides regularly fed groupers, nurse sharks and reef sharks; these were guides with 30 years of experience. In 100 dives with them I saw days where they had trouble opening a mask case that contained food and a nurse shark would bite the guide, or a disappointed grouper would nudge the divers to try and prompt a feeding. These are not natural behaviors for predators who naturally keep a distance form divers in areas where they are not fed.
On a trip back to the island a few years ago, I ran into my friend who regularly flipped over the nurse sharks on snorkel trips. He had a huge scar on one of his hands and was missing the webbing between his thumb and palm. He told me that while he was trying to lure a nurse shark, he had not noticed the barracuda over his shoulder who wanted the fish in his hand. When the barracuda struck, it missed the fish and took a chunk of his hand. I have seen firsthand that someone will eventually get bitten by playing with wild animals with sharp teeth.
Some people feed bull sharks in the sea in front of Playa del Carmen. I am happy this does not happen near Akumal. It would be horrible to draw natural predators to the juvenile green turtle sanctuary that is Akumal Bay, not to mention how bad this would be for visitors and for the sharks themselves. If you would like more info on how feeding affects sharks, visit this Web site.
Dive with Natalie & Ivan