isla del coco tiger shark

Sharks and their misconceptions – The Isla del Coco Incident

In marine conservation, scuba instructor dive life by

This is one those things that I feel that I need to write about. After the recent tragic event on Cocos just last week there has been lots of hyped up coverage on shark "attacks" and scuba diving. Before anything else is said I offer my condolences to the family of the Rohina Bhandari, I cannot fathom what your thoughts and feelings must be at this time. Also to the injured Divemaster, I hope you have a good recovery and I wish you the best.

The reporting on this incident as ever, with any shark encounters have been mixed. From papers discussing "savaging attacks"  and others reporting "gruesome attacks" it makes me sad. We will never know what happened exactly or why it did but we can only try and understand.

Having been fortunate enough to have dived in the waters around Isla del Coco a couple of years ago I know what a lifetime dream it is for many divers. It is truly a incredible place to witness.  An isolated island, 342 miles (550 km) off of the coast of Costa Rica.The fact is this, our oceans are in peril, and there is a significant unbalance in the ocean ecosystem due to our actions as a species. Cocos island is one of the more untouched places left and yet it still has seen a large impact in its wildlife numbers due to overfishing, poaching, pollution and more. 

Another fact is that Tiger sharks had not been seen on the island for many years and then returned just a few years ago. Question, why did they return? Was it lack of food source elsewhere due to fishing? We don't know. Now they estimate that there is a population of around 8 and at this time some local researchers are looking to complete a more detailed survey to find out how many there are. 

tiger shark at cocos island

Tiger Shark Facts

The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is a requiem shark and capable of reaching a length of 5m. It can be found around tropical and temperate waters and is generally a solitary hunter. It has a reputation as a "garbage eater" as many have been found with inedible man-made objects in their stomachs including number plates but in general its food source is very varied and it will eat anything from crustaceans, birds, small sharks, sea lions and fish. 

The shark has excellent eyesight and can react to both faint traces of blood in the water and low frequency pressure waves. These make it an efficient hunter very often with it exploring objects with it's snout before taking a bite. Due to it's size, the exploratory bite it takes can be fatal for much of its prey. 

It is believed that between the months of September to November, female tiger sharks give birth, and that during that time they can become more aggressive. Is that what happened here?

For whatever reason, on that particular morning the shark and divers had an encounter which unfortunately ended tragically.

As the second most aggressive shark recorded Tiger sharks already have a fearsome reputation, and yet for many of us, especially divers, who have witnessed their immense beauty and power underwater can only look on in awe. In over 400 years there have only been 31 recorded fatal encounters. Over 400 years! You are more likely to get struck by lightening or killed by a vending machine. That puts things in perspective. 

When we set fin in the ocean, we are entering their domain, their place, their home. We have no control over it and as such we must respect that. We accept the risk when we enter the water and cannot place blame when the ocean and its inhabitants answer back. 

It has been estimated in the past that we kill over 100 million sharks a year. So we as a species are more dangerous by far. They provide many important roles in the ocean ecosystem and by this total destruction we are unsettling a precious balance. 

Now with this sad, unfortunate incident, people are rushing to blame the sharks. It had a reason, whatever it may have been, to do what it did and we as mere spectators in its realm have to respect that. We cannot continue with this wanton destruction of our planet and senseless culling of an incredible species that has evolved and survived here for many years for a reason. 

My tiger shark at cocos island

Before you leap to the unfortunate conclusion of many people on the planet and rush to blame the shark and lap up the overzealous media, look at the facts, and try to understand the incredible creature who is fighting for its survival right now.

As, I said earlier, my deepest condolences to the family of the beautiful soul who passed and to the injured Divemaster, as well as all of the crew and divers involved and the guards who work tirelessly on the island, trying to preserve that amazing place.  My thoughts are with you all. But also spare a thought before you persecute to the misunderstood, majestic ocean dwellers.