By Dr. E. K. Ritter
On January 26 of this year, the GIMEC (Global Interactive Marine Experiences Council) met in New
Orleans and presented the first model showing how diving should take place with marine animals in the
presence of food/who are lured with food. Various public meetings on this theme were held last year in
Florida. Feeding opponents wanted to put a ban on all feeding practices and have it legally anchored
(SHARK INFO: 4/2000).
The government was opposed to such a law, at the same time, however, it declared
that an organization would have to be founded not only to control such feedings - mainly of sharks and
fish - but also to give them some kind of organizational structure. The GIMEC was thus established and
a model worked out which was now presented for the first time.
A block of frozen chunks of fish (chumsicle) is the most natural way of luring
sharks. The chumsicle simulates the everyday situation of a large, dead fish in the water.
© Shark Foundation
Various types of interactive
diving with marine animals have existed since the early 70s. Also termed as an IME (interactive marine
experience), this type of diving experience has in the meantime spread to more than 300 locations in
almost 40 countries. Over the years, IMEs have made both divers as well as governmental offices aware
that protective measures for marine organisms are necessary to preserve the ocean as a habitat and to
enable continuing observations of marine animals. Here it appears that divers have become increasingly
sensitized to this theme and are beginning to play a leading role in such efforts.
Feeding marine animals is an ambiguous subject and many organizations oppose it. In a
recent press article, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the largest animal protection
society in the U.S., also criticized this practice, advocating a total ban on feeding sharks in
Florida. On the one hand, the arguments of such opponents are understandable, yet facts are missing
which would really substantiate such a ban. The Florida Government thus gave the diving industry an
opportunity to establish rules and procedures which would make such feedings as safe as possible. Much
time has passed since the first public hearings were held on this theme and it has become clear that
the cause can only be furthered by an emotionless approach. Furthermore, it also became clear that no
real danger exists for people who practice such feedings.
Members of the GIMEC include commercial diving instructors,
scientists from various faculties and other specialized groups. Together their first task was to
establish guidelines and second to make sure these were followed with the objective of turning
interactive diving into a valuable and accident-free experience.
The GIMEC has clearly formulated objectives. It sees itself mainly as
a powerhouse for training people interested in IMEs and marine protection efforts, in addition to
collecting data and facts and supporting scientific projects. Another one of GIMEC's goals should,
however, also include making sure that those offering IMEs hold themselves to the respective
guidelines. Its most important tasks include:
Establishing safety measures to ensure a positive experience.
Educating and training people
employed by suppliers of IMEs who can become involved in activities.
Training and making people
understand applied feeding practices.
Training IME participants.
Promoting the idea of
Ensuring conservation measures.
Optimizing and selecting the feeding area.
Informing the public about the risks connected with feedings.
Establishing rescue and first aid
The GIMEC also profits from various already existing
experiences, projects and regulations, all of which are aimed at educating and awakening public
understanding for the cause. Also included in this model is the recommendation to integrate the past
efforts and resulting already applied principles developed by the Shark Foundation in Switzerland.
Emphasis was placed on two points: Making the general public aware of the endangered situation of
sharks and enabling them to react properly in their immediate encounters with these animals, the
latter point worth being supported by all suppliers.
The entire draft of the GIMEC Model is available from Shark Info.
* Dr. Erich K. Ritter is a shark biologist and adjunct assistant professor at Hofstra University, New York (USA)
May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info / Dr. E. K. Ritter