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The Observer Effect?

Discussion in 'Advanced Scuba Discussions' started by NYCNaiad, May 16, 2017.

  1. NWGratefulDiver

    NWGratefulDiver Mental toss flycoon ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
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    Last Saturday I visited one of our more popular advanced dive sites ... a clay wall in the Tacoma Narrows that is a popular place to find wolf eels. For those who haven't seen a wolf eel, imagine a serpentine creature roughly eight feet long and more than a foot in diameter (it's not actually an eel, but the world's largest species of blenny), bluish-gray in color, with a head bigger than yours who looks like an old Walter Matthau on a bad day. These creatures are common along this wall, and divers often bring out mesh bags of herring ... or worse, hot dogs ... to feed them.

    You cannot swim out 10 to 15 feet in front of them ... they won't let you get that close before charging toward you like a big puppy expecting a treat. And if, like me, you aren't one of those divers who likes to feed them, they will nibble on your dive gear looking for the treat you've obviously neglected to hold out to them. And whatever you do, don't wear white gloves ... wolfies tend to mistake them for a handful of squid.

    The whole concept of "don't touch the wildlife" goes completely out the window when you have to fend off a perpetually hungry animal who's roughly the same size you are ...

    IMG_1949.jpg

    ... Bob (Grateful Diver)
     
  2. dberry

    dberry Hydrophilic ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Philadelphia
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    :rofl3:
     
    Lorenzoid likes this.
  3. NYCNaiad

    NYCNaiad Hilariously absurd divebabble Staff Member

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    Location: NYC
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    I completely agree that if it's a choice between you protecting yourself or the health of a creature (whether it looks like old Walter Matthau on a bad day--hahaha--or not), self protection is of utmost importance.

    However, I personally believe that a creature attacking me is a sign I got way too close, should back off & (where possible) take steps to avoid this same situation in the future.
     
  4. NWGratefulDiver

    NWGratefulDiver Mental toss flycoon ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Pugetropolis
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    The animal wasn't "attacking" ... nor did I feel in any way threatened by it. It had learned to associate divers with treats ... thanks to humans who think that it's somehow OK to feed a wild animal ... and was aggressively seeking a hand-out. Good luck "backing off" ... although if you swim far enough away it'll eventually lose interest, especially if there's another diver in the area it can go bother. And the only way to avoid this same situation in the future would be not to go back to that dive site. We could get into a discussion on why people shouldn't feed these creatures and probably find some ground for agreement ... because doing so inevitably changes their behavior in ways that seldom work out well for the animal. But people do it precisely because it "trains" the creatures to become more interactive with humans. Left to their own natural tendencies, wolfies are more reclusive, and will usually just sit in their dens and stare out at you as you swim by.

    I've never felt threatened by a marine creature ... and that includes the oceanic white tip shark I almost landed on when exiting the dive boat in Egypt and the pack of sea lions who gang-tackled me in British Columbia. They can be curious, or defensive, but "attack" is mostly just a product of Hollywood or popular mythology that has little bearing on the reality of interaction between humans and marine species ...

    ... Bob (Grateful Diver)
     
    RainPilot and JamesBon92007 like this.
  5. NYCNaiad

    NYCNaiad Hilariously absurd divebabble Staff Member

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
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    That's a good point, @NWGratefulDiver. I shouldn't use the word "attack" as it only perpetuates most of these myths. Myths I don't believe in either. Defensive, curious and/or hungry are better ways to describe it.

    However, I do think that those behaviors can be seen as threatening since this is defined as "showing an intention to cause bodily harm" & "causing someone to feel vulnerable or at risk."

    I have been in threatening situations with marine life a few times:
    • Huge free swimming eel which was aggressively trying to find food on me & my dive buddy. I didn't return to the site because I didn't want to add to the behavior even though I carried no food on me.
    • During a shark feeding dive when the sharks were riled up by all the food & due to an illness, I was unable to get down enough to be close to the sand & other divers. This is one of the reasons why I no longer participate in any type of feeding dive & no longer dive when ill.
    • When I called over a diver to see a stonefish & the diver got way too close. When he jumped to the side after realizing he was pretty much on top of a stonefish, the stonefish was startled & moved towards me to get away. Lessons learned: Be clear about what I'm pointing out to others, keep a healthy distance from marine life especially poisonous marine life & increase this distance when other divers are near by because their actions can impact me.
     
  6. NWGratefulDiver

    NWGratefulDiver Mental toss flycoon ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Pugetropolis
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    We have a local dive park which, being a marine preserve area, is well-known for its large population of ling cod and cabezon ... large fish that are generally not aggressive except during winter when they're guarding their egg masses. Cabezon, in particular, will charge at any intruder into their nest zone ... which area they determine ... slamming head-first and rather hard to drive the intruder away. I've been head-butted a few times ... sometimes without ever seeing the egg mass, or even seeing the fish coming at me until contact is made. It's startling ... and if it hits you in the wrong place can even hurt. But it's not an attack ... it's a fish just following its own protective instincts, just as many smaller species do. In fact, the only time I've ever been bitten by a fish it was a clownfish ... who knew such a cute little fish could be such an aggressive bastard? Since then, every time I've watched Finding Nemo I found myself cheering for the barracuda. But again, we're in their world, we follow their rules or pay the price accordingly. It's how nature finds its balance, even among the cute little fishes of the world.

    I've been to one shark-feed in my lifetime ... in Fiji. It was interesting, but I question the value of such things, as it changes the behavior of the fish and turns them more into park animals than the wildlife we supposedly go there to see. I don't care to go again ... and wouldn't feel bad if such acts were permanently suspended worldwide. But it did give me an opportunity to have an up-close and personal with a bull shark. This isn't a very good picture ... it was taken while I was actively ducking to the sea floor to get the heck out of the shark's way ... had I not, it most likely would've bowled me over. But even at close range (maybe 3 feet at the time of the photo) it didn't feel threatening ...

    IMG_8076.jpg

    ... Bob (Grateful Diver)
     
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  7. JamesBon92007

    JamesBon92007 Manta Ray

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    I used to feed the fish sea urchins in SoCal when we were being told to kill the sea urchins but that was the only time. I have lived where coyotes are common and my dog was very nearly attacked by five one evening. When I tried to chase them away there were two that stood their ground. This I attributed to people feeding the coyotes. It changes their behavior. They lose their fear of humans (and dogs, to some extent) and this puts us in danger plus it also puts the coyotes in danger. Instead of being "coy" they end up making themselves easy targets. From my experiences I have come to the conclusion that it's generally a bad idea to feed any wildlife, however I have left water out for wild animals during times of extreme drought when their natural sources were not available.

    Great shot of the shark!
     
    Nick Steele likes this.
  8. TMHeimer

    TMHeimer Divemaster

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Murphy Cove, NS ,CANADA (Eastern Shore-Atlantic)
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    These are difficult areas to discuss. Yes, when we dive we are in "their" world. But it's OK for us to continue to multiply and encroach on land animals because that's "our" world? You set rat traps because you don't want them in "your" place. But before the house was built it was "their" place? One could also say that the ocean (or at least a tiny % of it) is our place as divers because we invented stuff to get us there. Not just trolling for controversy, just pointing out the various rationale.
    I do agree with the recent posts in that generally feeding any animal isn't the best idea. Well, except the ones WE domesticated...that OK?
    When I dive I pretty much do nothing but observe stuff and swim away (except shells, as everyone knows). I feel the ocean is just as much my place as anybody's.
     
    JamesBon92007 and drrich2 like this.
  9. Chavodel8en

    Chavodel8en Barracuda

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Oakland, CA
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    Just some anecdotal support for the notion that divers can change animal behavior.

    1) I saw my first Wolf Eel this Sunday at (aptly) Point Lobos. Lobos is a state reserve with strict rules protecting the wild life. So no feeding. Thus, the resident Wolf Eels here are generally reclusive and harder to find. This was probably my 20th dive at Lobos and my first Wolf Eel. They certainly wont come to you looking for food.
    Exactly what the Wolf did. I saw it slithering around, when it saw me, it found a nice nook and stayed there to kept watch on me.

    Interestingly, for the resident rockfish, somewhat the opposite happens. As there are no hunters, they grow big and are unafraid of divers - they wont swim away from you. One of the best aspects of Lobos (saw a HUGE vermillion rockfish, I say almost 3 feet)

    2) This past December I "accidentally" participated in a Bull Shark dive in Playa del Carmen. I actually did not plan to do a Bull Shark dive. I had reserved a plain old dive with a small outfit, but when I got there, they told me that another guy had come from Coz specifically for the Bull Shark dive. It was my only diving opportunity and too late to make other arrangements, so I went.

    We went down, the Bulls came around and swam around us, and at the end of the dive the DM gave them some fish heads.

    It was actually very fun. But, in retrospect, the Bulls acted a lot like my pet dogs when they are expecting a treat. They have essentially trained the Bulls to approach divers and in exchange, they get fed. When you think about it that way, it seems a lot less fun. Wild animals >>>> trained wild animals.

    I figure we shouldnt feed a Grizzly in Yosemite, so we shouldn't feed a shark in the ocean either. I'll make a better effort to avoid all wildlife feeding situations from now on.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2017
  10. Akimbo

    Akimbo Lift to Freedom Volunteer Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

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    Yeah, it's all about the food chain. Not much goes to waste in the ocean. We all prefer not to clumsily injure other critters but there are always a bunch of other hungry animals nearby hoping that we do.
     
    Bob DBF likes this.

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