Shark tourism: friend or foe?

  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2013, 2014
  • Archived
Project type
  • Research

Divers love seeing sharks, which often means attracting them with food, but how does this affect their behaviour and metabolism? Adam and Richard’s project will provide best practice guidelines for shark ecotourism operators.

Shark tourism: friend or foe?

Richard Fitzpatrick

Project leader
About the project leader

Richard is an Emmy Award-winning underwater cameraman and marine biologist who has shot more than 50 films for clients such as the BBC, National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel. Renowned for capturing complex behavioural sequences, many of which have never been seen before, he has filmed around the world, from the crystal-clear coral gardens of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the murky waters of the Amazon.

Having grown up with the Great Barrier Reef on his doorstep, Richard was the ultimate fish nerd. He spent his childhood snorkelling on the reef and keeping tropical fish (including his prized epaulette sharks) in...

Shark tourism: friend or foe?

Adam Barnett

Project leader
About the project leader

Adam got into marine biology in a more roundabout way. Originally a chef for 13 years, he wanted to turn his favourite pastimes, scuba diving and observing animals, into a job. Since changing from cooking animals to studying them, Adam has worked as an educator aboard an ecotourism vessel and as crew on more than 20 natural history documentaries. He has also completed a PhD on sevengill shark ecology, which was funded by the Save Our Seas Foundation. He currently holds a research position at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and is the director of the new initiative Oceans IQ,...

Project details

Activity patterns of reef sharks: does tourism affect their health?

Key objective

The key objective of this project is to measure activity patterns, metabolic rates and energy budgets of reef sharks, and determine tourism impacts on reef shark behaviour and health. In particular, provide the first estimate of how tourism affects the energetics of a shark species.

Why is this important

Shark ecotourism is a growing, multi-million dollar industry worldwide, with many dive companies marketing trips specifically to feed sharks. Despite being a controversial issue, there is still limited information on how provisioning sharks, or tourism in general, affects their natural behaviour and health.


Our previous work at Osprey Reef (Coral Sea, Australia) shows that tourism alters the diel activity patterns of whitetip reef sharks Triaenodon obesus, with the potential to have negative effects on metabolic rates, net energy gain and overall health. However, nothing has been reported on the effects tourism may have on sharks’ energetic budgets.
In light of our findings in Fitzpatrick et al. (2011) and the ever-increasing popularity of shark provisioning, this topic needs to be addressed in much more detail. Results will contribute to assessing animal health when species are subjected to human-induced impacts. Due to the life history characteristics of sharks and the ever-increasing rate and magnitude of anthropogenic activities in the world’s oceans, the importance of research looking at human and shark interactions has never been greater.

Fitzpatrick R, Abrantes K, Seymour J, Barnett A (2011) Variation in depth of whitetip reef sharks: do shark feeds change their behaviour? Coral Reefs 30: 569-577.

Aims & objectives
  • Electronic activity tags and loggers will be attached to whitetip Triaenodon obesus and grey Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos reef sharks to determine their activity levels, routine metabolic rates and energy budgets.
  • Activity levels and energetics will be compared on days when shark feeds are and are not conducted.
  • Swim sharks in a flume (swim chamber) to calibrate acceleration data to swimming speed and activity. This will supplement acceleration loggers from the field to more accurately interpret data from wild tagged sharks.
  • Results will be disseminated among tour operators so that they and management bodies can form guidelines for best practices in conducting shark ecotourism with minimal effects on shark behaviour and health.