Swimming With Bali’s SharksBy Febriamy Hutapea, The Jarkata Globe, 24. May 2012
When snorkeling off Bali, you would expect to see some beautiful coral, ocean plants, schools of fish and maybe a turtle or two. But snorkeling in shark-filled waters is an entirely different beast.
It’s a unique way to get your adrenaline levels up and better understand some threatened animals that have been given the unfair title of public enemy.
Bali Sharks, a franchise of Bali Solusi, is located in Serangan, a 30-minute drive from Nusa Dua. While the island resort offers many outdoor sporting and leisure opportunities, only one gives you the chance to swim with sharks.
Bali Sharks was founded by Paul Friese, who wanted to protect the area’s sharks after he spent time as a volunteer shark trainer.
The company features a shark nursery to familiarize people with the animals before they can swim with them.
“You mention ‘swim with shark’ and the majority either think you are joking or crazy,” Friese said.
Some say that because sharks are an alpha predator type of animal, there is nothing listed above them on the food chain — aside from humans, that is.
Others say sharks have many enemies, including other sharks.
But the most dangerous enemies of sharks are humans. Fishermen catch sharks for their fins, flesh, skin and other parts. The fins and flesh are used as food, while other parts go toward other uses.
“Once again, it’s based on sharks getting a bad rap,” Friese said. “And unless people come out and swim with them, it’s a very hard concept to explain.”
The idea for Bali Sharks started during the end of a rainy season when Friese and a friend had set up lines to attract and observe sharks from a cage. A month later, he got a call saying a fisherman killed a three-meter tiger shark at their location.
Friese realized that every night, fishermen were going to poach the sharks that he and his friend attracted to the area. They decided to build a nursery to help protect the animals, especially young sharks, which are especially vulnerable.
Last year, Bali Sharks was able to rescue and release 25 sharks. This year, it currently has 17 new sharks and a goal to save 50.
Friese hopes to release sharks with some fanfare in the future to help raise awareness. It would be another way for communities, companies and governments to get involved, he said.
His efforts are paying off. The fishermen who were poaching the local sharks are now bringing the animals to the nursery. Friese pays a fair price for them.
Unfortunately, most sharks turned into the nursery are newborn sharks trapped by shoreline fishermen at low tide. Entire litters, ranging from five to 15, usually have opaque skin, meaning some are less than a day old.
Friese said if the fishermen catch larger sharks — a meter or longer — they kill them to avoid handling them. Friese also tries to educate the locals about the more rare species of sharks.
Although Bali Sharks is still new, Friese said that several hundred visitors have come to visit and learn about sharks.
“It’s always interesting to see visitors leave with a new outlook, or totally blown away by the fact they just swam with sharks,” he said.
His favorite visitors came from the orphanage, Yayasan Kasih Peduli Anak, (Foundation for the Love and Care of Children) last December.
“The children really connected with the young sharks and realized that these animals were also orphans,” he said.
Friese’s relationship with the sharks began when he was a child. Growing up in Hawaii, he saw sharks occasionally and saw each encounter as a treat.
“They are scared of people so it’s rare to see them, but they see us,” he said.
Friese said Hawaii is similar to Bali but has already gone through the environmental concerns that Bali now deals with.
His first trip to Bali was in September 1989, when he saw two black tips dart across a wave while surfing with his two friends.
“We were teenagers and paddled in as fast as we could,” he said.
Friese said fictional accounts painting sharks as vicious, man-eating creatures has led to them being misunderstood.
“Being a surfer and fisherman from Hawaii allowed me to be comfortable aro und sharks,” he said.
He said he hoped that Bali Sharks will partner with other companies to include more conservation and educational projects. There have been preliminary inquiries from Singapore and other locations in Indonesia.
“Either way, Indonesia should benefit by [hosting] the first interactive shark park,” he said.
The challenge is building the nursery, he said, because the business climate is not favorable for start-ups or foreign investment because of corruption.
Friese said he believed Bali Sharks would eventually become successful and attract tourists, travel agents and hotels.
Bali has worked to save sea turtles, and Indonesians are showing that they can learn about environmental issues and find ways to protect marine resources.
Agus Bar & Restaurant
Jl. Tukad Punggawa – Serangan
Daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information, contact email@example.com
Photo Credit: Bali Sharks