Two bull sharks have become occasional visitors to Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The two famous shark ray alleys in both Hol Chan and close to Caye Caulker have been populated by the very docile nurse sharks and stingrays for around two decades. Nurse sharks when treated with respect pose no danger to humans, although if you have food on you, they may still try to get it. Cornering them, touching them or provoking them is also not a good idea. You should be perfectly safe in the water with the nurse sharks, as long as you don’t feed or provoke them. Generally they are more scared of you, and are usually the only sharks you’ll see inside the reef.
Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are a completely different matter. Many guides seem to consider them an added occasional attraction to the otherwise safe Hol Chan, but please be aware that these sharks can be extremely dangerous. Nothing has happened yet to our knowledge, but worldwide they are considered one of the top three most dangerous sharks, along with tigers and great whites. These predators are known to be aggressive and exhibit erratic behaviour. It’s true that most of the attacks they make on humans are made in low visibility, such as in estuaries, in the surf, or far into a river basin. Our beautifully crystal-clear waters give us a huge advantage in that they are less likely to attack, and that we can see them coming from a distance. However they are large sharks and would not normally be inside the reef. Why are they here? Originally they were attracted to shark ray alley as some guides used bloody fish chum instead of the recommended frozen fish (which has no blood to attract from a distance) to attract the nurse sharks and stingrays. Once they’d been seen, people started feeding them, and now they are becoming used to humans and the handouts they get.
Does this make them tame? Certainly not! They are still a wild and dangerous animal. If you see these sharks, get out of the water, whatever your guide may be telling you.† Some guides have been witnessed leading their guests towards these sharks. Don’t do it! Feeding these large sharks inside the reef is a recipe for disaster. It could just be a matter of time before something nasty happens, or perhaps we’ll be lucky. That’s the thing, these are wild creatures and no one really knows. Other tips to keep yourself safe: Don’t become isolated, stay in your group, swim smoothly, not erratically, don’t wear bright colors or jewelery (barracudas are also attracted to bright colors) and DON”T FEED THEM!
Do we advocate killing the sharks in order to keep people safe? Definitely not. The sea is their habitat, not ours. Shark populations are plummeting worldwide, as much as 50% by some estimations. Upto 100 million sharks are killed every year for food, by carelessness and for thrill and sport. You are 4 times more likely to be struck by lightning than by a shark, and around seven times more likely to be killed by a falling coconut (don’t sit directly under them).
Away from the danger perspective, this is upsetting the natural balance of things. While these big sharks are inside the reef, many normally resident reef creatures will not be around.† They are less likely to reproduce, and the reef will lose some of its favorite and important residents. Bull sharks are known to feed on other fish, turtles, birds, rays, crustaceans and even dolphins.
We call on guides to stop feeding these sharks, and please get OUT of the water if you see them. We do not want any danger to our tourists, or locals, or to our fish and other reef inhabitants!