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Associative conditioning of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in a baited situation

R. L. Robbins

One of the most serious concerns about cage-diving operations is that, by the process of chumming and baiting, white sharks are learning to associate humans with food and are therefore more likely to lose their fear of, or attack, man. White sharks are capable of learning from experience and altering their behaviour accordingly, so the risk of conditioning of sharks to humans and bait.

This study investigated conditioning of white sharks to feeding by humans over a three-year period at the Neptune Islands, South Australia. Over half of the sharks (n = 69) were seen on one day only over the 3 year study, with the majority being observed for less than five days, thus discounting them from the risk of conditioning under the conditions outlined. The number of sharks at risk of conditioning was not statistically significant, with less than 5% of sharks falling into one or more “high conditioning risk” categories. Although not significant, signs of conditioning were evident in a few individuals, particularly those that were frequent visitors. Changes in the conduct of operators, such as bait limitations, were recommended to minimise the effects on the sharks’ behaviour.