The Doctor's (not) in (yet): Phase 3 - Smart about Sharks in Fiji

HOA and I are about to embark on our final and probably most exciting time in the field…Hang on, final!? But I just started, didn’t I? Six months ago I made my way to beautiful Niue to look at the Humpback whale swims, went to Kaikoura in the meantime to see what it’s like to swim with Fur seals and now I’ll be heading to Fiji to complete my data set by learning about shark encounters. Time flies.

Getting to Phase 3 was more than exciting. Until a couple of days ago, I was not sure whether my research permit will arrive on time so I had numerous sleepless nights. Research permits are always necessary when you want to conduct research overseas and is usually granted by respective governmental institutions such as immigration or the education ministries. I applied in last October, so you can see for how long I’ve been worried already…They’re also not very cheap, so it’s advised to deal with these things as early as possible.

Anyway, I’m all set and about to get my hands wet and dirty again. Fiji is not unfamiliar to me as I’ve been working as an intern for the Wildlife Conservation Society Fiji Program six years ago. I’m all excited to catch up with friends and colleagues! (plus, I really need to see my dentist as dentistry in NZ is expensive af!). I also want to get myself my own Sulu Jaba, which is a traditional Fijian two-piece dress. I didn’t buy one last time because I told myself I’ll never go to any occasion where I would actually be able to wear this and oh, I was so wrong! So the time is now or never!

While staying in cheap hostel accommodation during my previous data collection, I managed this time to get myself a fancy resort. How? I’ve booked early and got a hot deal that made it affordable. Because February is not the best time to go to Fiji – it’s muggy and it’s Cyclone season so they’re happy if anyone is coming at all, haha. To collect my data, I just have to cross the street. So this time, lots of convenience and since fieldwork can always be at least a little bit stressful (will I get sufficient data? How about the weather? Will there be any animals around?) this is how we should treat ourselves.

Well, the latter is not that much of concern anymore because in recent days, the dive site was visited by 40+ sharks! Holy moly, that are many jaws! The Fiji Shark Dive is world famous for its high abundance of shark species and the occurrence of two of the most feared: The Tiger and the Bull shark. Together with the Great White shark they are responsible for the most fatal attacks on humans worldwide. And this potentially is, why people are attracted to the opportunity to dive with them and to see them up-close. The sharks in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve in the Beqa lagoon are provisioned, which means that they are hand-fed by tour operators. This practice makes them accessible to divers and most individuals are used to this practice. The Bull sharks are pretty hungry during this time of the year because they’ve spent most of the past three months mating, when prey intake had not that much priority…In wildlife tourism, feeding is a highly debated topic, whether wild animals should be fed at all. As with anything really, this needs to be viewed from case to case and I’m curious to learn more about this practice on-site. Also this time I’ll get myself into gear to see what it’s like to dive with sharks. Three years ago I did a freedive with Galapagos and Sandbar sharks off O’ahu which was so exciting I got seasick. Needless to say my dad was not thrilled. And even after all these encounters I already had, he still isn’t happy with me diving with sharks. Because my dad has a very common perception, that sharks are man-eaters. But funny enough, this could not be further from the truth. When people get killed, it’s because they were in their way, not on their menu. And shark tourism is a critical tool to spread this message!

So I’m all excited to start my last data collection – at least for now! I hope there will be more projects to follow.

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