Pearl Fleet hits back as Maldives shark-dive slammed

The dive guide can be seen carrying a fish-head as the tiger shark approaches (Les Pisitpacharakul)
The dive-guide can be seen carrying a fish-head as the tiger shark approaches (Les Pisitpacharakul)

Singapore-based Pearl Fleet has hit back at criticism of its shark-diving practices voiced by an environmental conservation group, following the circulation of video footage showing a dive that took place from its White Pearl liveaboard in the Maldives.

The operator has however conceded that it is now in the process of hiring an experienced dive manager “to ensure safer diving practices”, and that feeding sharks during dives will be banned on the vessel at the centre of the row.

White Pearl is an unusually large diving liveaboard at more than 56m long, and accommodates up to 26 guests. Pearl Fleet also operates the Black Pearl in Palau. 

Deep Sea Guardians, which is based in Switzerland, had shared footage of the dive taken by Thai instructor Les Pisitpacharakul, explaining that it showed guests from White Pearl with a dive-guide holding a marlin head interacting with a tiger shark in mid-water. 

Tiger shark interaction from the White Pearl liveaboard (Les Pisitpacharakul)
Tiger shark interaction (Les Pisitpacharakul)

In added commentary, DSG director Zimy refers to a “highly inexperienced diving operator” running the shark dive and also suggests that it appeared to have resulted in at least one shark bite sustained by a female diver – an observation Pearl Fleet has denied.

The moment the shark appears to bite at a diver's hand (Les Pisitpacharakul)
The moment the shark appears to bite at a diver's hand (Les Pisitpacharakul)

Deep Sea Guardians, which harnesses “the power of images, science and education to protect sharks”, said it wanted to share the video with divers to illustrate that certain operators “are the ones responsible when deadly accidents happen and, at the end of the day, sharks are always the ones paying the price”.

“Luckily, this tiger shark was extremely tolerant but, in such conditions, a diver could have easily been killed by the shark and it would have been in absolutely no way the shark’s fault!” says the campaigner. “The problem here is not shark-diving, shark-feeding or anything; the problem is the fact that people like that run dives with zero experience and zero knowledge.

Diver and tiger shark (Les Pisitpacharakul)
Diver and tiger shark (Les Pisitpacharakul)

“Because it takes only one ignorant operator like this one to ruin the work of thousands of well-experienced operators and conservationists like us that have been fighting for years to change this misconception we have about sharks. They are not monsters but they aren’t puppies either. They are apex predators and they must be respected for that.”

“The video footage that was shared was edited and may have been misleading,” Pearl Fleet’s marketing director Jennifer Qin told Divernet. “The dive-guide was always focused on the safety of our passengers – that’s why no one got hurt.”

She said that during the pre-dive briefing the dive-team had explained in detail to the divers how to behave when encountering sharks. 

Dive-guide with the tiger shark (Les Pisitpacharakul)
Dive-guide with the tiger shark (Les Pisitpacharakul)

“During the dive, a tiger shark was spotted and it seemed to be playing around with our divers. Fortunately, the shark showed no signs of aggression and no one was harmed. 

“We checked all the divers first after the dive and no one was hurt, and our divers were able to enjoy the rest of their journey happily.”

However Qin went on to say that, in response to criticism of the dive, the company had “conducted a thorough debriefing session to educate our divers on how to handle encounters with tiger sharks”, and planned both to hire an experienced dive manager and ban shark-feeding during dives.

The Maldives Tourism Ministry had declared shark-feeding illegal under clause 1, section 13 of the Recreational Diving Regulation in early 2021, in response to an increasing number of incidents. 

“We are committed to the safety and well-being of our clients and will continue to prioritise safety in all our dive operations,” said Qin.

Also on Divernet: The tiger sharks of Fuvahmulah, 22 degrees is tiger sharks’ Goldilocks temperature, Tiger sharks move north – good for divers?, Indo-Pacific tiger sharks get around

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ORCA Marine
ORCA Marine
1 month ago

Unbelievable! Maldives has laws against shark feeding, this company along with a few resorts that feed sharks for tourism need to be taken to task! Unfortunately Maldives is turning very much like Egypt and the 5hit pit that is.
Maldives diving is not all it’s cracked up to be any way, far better diving and less expensive places in the world Indonesia,Philippines,Bonaire and Belize to name a few.

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