Diving with Bull Sharks

By Gary Peart


Shark feeding dives are a controversial issue. The argument against them is that feeding sharks or any large predator is a disaster waiting to happen and that associating food with humans can only end in trouble. Supporters, however, maintain that it is the best way of getting divers to see and better understand shark behaviour, and that shark tourism makes sharks far more valuable to the local economy alive rather than dead. 

On a fringing reef of Fiji’s main island Veti Levu, Shark Reef Marine Reserve was established in 2004, a complex agreement between Beqa Adventure Divers and two local fishing villages. For a levy raised from each diver the villagers are compensated not to fish on the reef.

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Diving with the owner of Beqa Divers, Mike Neumann, in 2013, we witnessed first hand how successful this project has been. In 2007 Shark Reef became a shark corridor, protecting 30 miles of fringing reefs and signed into law by the government of Fiji. Two companies now operate feeding dives 4-5 times per week.

As we descended to 30m for the first of two dives, large sharks immediately began to emerge out of the gloom. At that time they were counting 40, sometimes 50 individual bull sharks on each dive, although interestingly they have tagged over 150, meaning that although the sharks on the whole appear to be resident they do not always attend the feeds. As a result of so many large bull sharks being present, many of the other visiting shark species (lemon, nurse, and even occasional tiger sharks) are seen less frequently, no doubt intimidated by the bulls. 


The feeding is done by two generations of local Fijians. At diver level fish heads are held out for approaching sharks. Each shark must approach this feeder from the left side, taking the bait in front of the line of kneeling divers and photographers. If individual sharks become too pushy, or approach from the wrong direction or the wrong height, they are not fed. Sometimes they have to be pushed away by divemasters with long prods. The sharks are never injured in this process. 

Certainly some of the big adults doing most of the eating have been conditioned over a decade of feeding, and it was fascinating watching younger animals warily watching and learning from the older experienced ones. These sharks are not reckless killers, they are cautious and calculated, not wanting to risk injury. 

After 20-25 minutes with the bulls, divers ascend to 10m and grey reef sharks are fed; the bulls have been discouraged from feeding shallow and seem to disappear as quickly as they first arrived.



There have been over 400 fish species recorded on Shark Reef, a huge diversity. The success of the marine protected area has been such that overspill of large fish has led to greatly increased fishing yields on nearby unprotected reefs.

It was an adrenaline filled experience, and an extraordinary privilege as a diver and photographer to be surrounded by so many large sharks. Shark populations around the globe are plummeting due to the brutal practice of shark finning. The oceans around Fiji are not protected, and like many of the Pacific islands, Japan and China are offering continued economic support for more fishing licenses. This, along with culls, and indiscriminate by-catch have plunged many shark species onto the endangered species list. At least in one small area sharks are protected, and their ecosystem is thriving.

It is great to report that as of November 2014 Shark Reef marine reserve has been designated Fiji’s first National Park Marine Reserve.


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Ocean Geographic Explorer (OGX) is a diving adventure resource with a special focus on marine photography and ocean conservation. Our content is divided up into six primary categories: Travel, Sea Science,  Equipment, Photography &Video, Conservation, and Lifestyle. We endeavor be a portal for people with all levels of interest in the marine environment  to learn about and become part of a community of like-minded ocean lovers who enjoy sharing their knowledge of and experiences in our fascinating ocean world.

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