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What is ‘chumming’ and how it benefits our understanding of shark behaviour?

What is ‘chumming’ and how it benefits our understanding of shark behaviour?

Chumming is the practise of luring various animals, usually fish and including sharks, by throwing parts of bone and blood into the water. Chum can be man made or natural but does not consist of ‘food.’ Mostly chum includes the parts left over, so nothing is going to waste. It is a practise used all over the globe and has been a technique used by fisheman for ages. In some circles, chumming can be a hotly debated subject, but there are some instances where chumming is okay.

The process of chumming is used in ecotourism operations and by the scientific community.  The attraction of sharks allows the public and researchers to observe shark behaviour in their natural habitat. Today, this is one of the only effective ways to attract sharks in open ocean. In Pelagic Safari, a member of the Pelagic Fleet, sharks are never fed. Blood or fish parts in the water is the only mechanism used to attract sharks and to observe their behaviour.

 

However, it is the open ocean where anything can happen, so witnessing and observing sharks is not always a given. In a pelagic, or open water environment, it’s not as simple as chumming and the sharks appear.

Years of knowledge about their habits, feeding patterns, prey preferences, and behaviours are needed to understand these complex species. In many places, this has only been possible through chumming and observing these interactions through the years.

Although chum is used to attract these animals, they are always free to leave. They aren’t given food to stay, and they are the ones who decide whether to stay or not. The fact that they are not fed proves they aren’t dependent on it. It would be nearly impossible to observe or study these shark ‘moods’ of any of the 11 species of shark found in the Baja California Sur area, without the scientific observation of them in their natural habitat. That is why, when on an open ocean safari, chumming is used as a technique. This is not the case for islands such as Socorro, Galapagos or Cocos Island where the area is protected in a surrounding marine reserve. In these areas sea mounts are found, which act as cleaning stations where sharks can be found all year long.

 

Sharks are misunderstood and complex species. Obtaining the knowledge and data to understand them is important.  As shark populations are declining , our observations can shed light as to how sharks are so important to the ecosystem.

 

Sharks don’t typically share territory because they are apex predators, meaning they’re at the top of the food chain. Because they are at a higher trophic level, they occur in lower numbers than other animals in the ecosystem. This is why protection is key and public engagement and education plays an important role in this.

 

Some areas around the globe, chumming has seen great results. Guadalupe Island, Mexico for instance, through the process of chumming has allowed divers from all over the world to interact with great white sharks. Divers in cages (a practise used on the Solmar V-member of The Pelagic Fleet) can observe these amazing sharks they would not otherwise be able see without the process of chumming.

 

Due to the amount of visitors from around the world, and the ability of scientists to establish Guadalupe as an important place for the populations of great white sharks, the island is now a protected area and national park. This has led to a higher population of great white sharks through ecotourism and more people wanting to protect great whites.

The method of chumming is not something new and does not damage the natural ecosystem if done in a responsible manner. It is a way for divers to have encounters with these elusive animals and a chance to change perspectives of people from around the world. The benefits of these interactions include awareness for the general public to understand the crucial role of sharks in our ocean ecosystems. In addition, an interaction with sharks helps to dispel myths of shark behavior.

With more people able to see sharks in their natural environment, people may have a better understanding them and be inspired to advocate for their conservation.

It is our hope that through our Pelagic Safaris, you will come away with an appreciation for the wildlife in the open ocean that we are fortunate enough to encounter.

While the shark species are our primary focus, we look for other pelagic wildlife, an experience very much like an African safari, but on the open ocean.

Pelagic Safari Team

 

 

Chumming references

 

 

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