Reef sharks by Darcy Bradley
Reef sharks on Palmyra atoll inspect the baited remote underwater video system researchers placed to study their behavior. Darcy Bradley

Sharks don’t really care what humans think, at least not in the long term — scientists are saying scuba divers do not influence shark behavior, so that kind of marine tourism doesn’t harm conservation efforts. A study in the Marine Ecology Progress Series says while “sharks behaviourally respond to people in the water over short time scales,” those behavior changes are fleeting.

For their study, the researchers used Palmyra Atoll, a U.S. territory in the North Pacific where there is heavy diving in some areas — for scientific purposes — and no diving at all in others. While observing the sharks with video cameras on the ocean floor, they “did not detect differences” between the ones in the diving areas and the ones outside of it.

BRUV installation by Jenn Caselle
A researcher works on the video system used in a reef shark study. Jenn Caselle

Some of the short-term behaviors include avoidance, an example of which would be a shark swimming away from a diver, the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in a statement. That institution collaborated with Florida International University on the project.

Read: Watch This Daring Man Save a Shark’s Life

“Our results suggest that humans can interact with reef sharks without persistent behavioural impacts, and that well-regulated shark diving tourism can be accomplished without undermining conservation goals,” the authors wrote in their study.

This information could be useful along the Atlantic coast of the United States, where several species of sharks are finally on the rebound after overfishing all but decimated their populations. Recent research showed six types of sharks that had been the target of anti-shark sentiment and fishing in the wake of the 1975 horror movie “Jaws” have made gains since they reached dangerous lows in the early 1990s.

As UC Santa Barbara notes, humans can have a great effect on sharks, just as they do on other wildlife. But when it comes to scuba diving at least, it appears humans should be more worried about how sharks will affect them, rather than the other way around.

See also:

How Many Sharks Are Left?

These Two Extinct Reptiles Are Actually the Same Animal