The Latest Terrible Trend: People Riding Sharks

Slate’s animal blog.
Nov. 22 2013 12:18 PM

Please Do Not Hug the Sharks

Swimmer in Bora Bora Bear Hugs Shark and Goes For a Ride
Swimmer in Bora Bora hugs a shark and goes for a ride. Please don't do this.

Photo via Shark Attack News/Facebook

If you scan through social media sites looking for shark videos, you will come across countless videos of people diving with sharks, fishing for sharks, and even saving sharks. But you may also notice a new trend starting to emerge in the shark world: More and more people having hands-on encounters with sharks. And within this group, we are noticing an increase in the number of videos showing people engaging in the practice of shark riding—grabbing a shark by its dorsal fin and allowing it to pull you through the water. This activity has become so prevalent that we recently added the tag “riding a shark” to our blog index at Shark Attack News.

So how did this trend start? The early shark riding videos were primarily released by conservationists who were trying to drive home the message that sharks are not mindless killers that continually roam the oceans seeking out humans for their next meal.

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Ocean Ramsey, Kimi Werner, and Lesley Rochat are three of the better-known conservationists who have been depicted riding large tiger and great white sharks. Whether you agree with their tactics or not, the sight of these petite women holding onto the dorsal fins of large apex predators, often two to three times their own size, are absolutely extraordinary and thought-provoking.

These interactions are calculated. These conservationists have many years of experience dealing with sharks, and they have a level of comfort around sharks that most people do not. They did not engage in this activity without preparation, and they acknowledge that there are risks involved.

So what is driving this new surge involving ordinary folks riding sharks? My best guess is either alcohol or an unfounded sense that sharks are one step away from being pets. Either way, it’s a dangerous game that will most certainly end badly for some unfortunate soul down the road. And since many of these interactions are videotaped, I’m guessing we’ll have a new gruesome video making the rounds and sharks will once again be vilified.

The latest shark-riding video (below) emerged on Wednesday via YouTube. We see several vacationers in Bora Bora swimming at the surface while several lemon sharks swim below.

At the 22-second mark, one man swims down and grabs the dorsal fin of the lemon shark. After riding it for several seconds, he does something truly shocking. He swings around to the bottom of the shark, gives it a bear hug and hangs on belly to belly. His head is precariously located just below the shark's mouth and he hangs on for several seconds before finally letting it go.

According to Grant Murdock, who posted the video, he too rode one of the sharks but his encounter wasn’t recorded.

Grant wrote in his description of the video that the sharks “were gentle and accepting of our advances.”

“They didn't seem to mind at all that we were riding for free. It was as close to an out of body experience that I have ever felt.”

After posting the video on our Facebook page, the number of negative responses far outweighed the positive. Several people were rather succinct in their assessment of the swimmer and left the following one word comments: idiot, crazy, deplorable, and dumb.

Many expressed concern that the shark would get a bad rap if it bit the person. Samantha R. summed up the feeling quite well: “Sharks are unpredictable no matter what you think. And then when some stupid tourist does this & gets bitten, fatally or not, the shark gets the blame when it was only doing what the nature of it tells it to.”

So when will the next “shark rider” video surface? And more importantly, how will it end? I do believe that it is inevitable that we will see a shark rider video making the Darwin Awards list.

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