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Bear Grylls' New 'Adventure Park' Will Let People Swim With Captive Sharks

There are so many ways this could go wrong 💔

Swimming with aquarium sharks.

It’s an experience most would call exhilarating — but is it bad for the sharks?

In the case of Bear Grylls Adventure Park, a new tourist attraction that’s allowing guests to dive in tanks full of live sharks, the short answer is a very likely "yes."

Set to open in Birmingham, England, this fall, the park is backed by celebrity survivalist Bear Grylls. The attraction promises to take guests on “some of the world's most incredible mental and physical challenges inspired by Bear’s love of adventure.”

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An artist rendering of the shark dive tank at Bear Grylls Adventure Park | Bear Grylls Adventure Park/Merlin Entertainment

The “ocean survivalist” section will have a tank filled with live blacktip reef sharks, and offer regular diving excursions inside the tank. Animal advocates and conservationists say that the stress it will put on the animals could be dangerous.

“If you put sharks into a combined space with humans, it’s inevitable that there will be stress,” DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute, told The Dodo. “Tanks simply can’t meet the physical and psychological needs of the sharks, which makes for an unhealthy animal.”

Even though blacktip reef sharks are a timid shark species typically used in aquariums, they are known to bite swimmers’ legs or ankles in the wild because they sometimes mistake humans for prey. Putting the sharks in closer proximity with people, with little room to avoid them, may further increase the chances of guests being bitten, Schubert explained.

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A group of divers observing sharks in the wild | Shutterstock

“The same [biting] behavior, if not worse behavior, can be observed in captive sharks because they don’t have the ability to escape from people within their tank,” Schubert said. “I would be concerned about the potential of adverse interactions with the customers.”

George Burgess, director emeritus of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, also expressed concerns about the limited space these captive sharks will be given — especially since other fish and humans will be within their living space, too.

“Unless you can provide the same space they’d see in their normal world, you’re fundamentally penalizing the animal for its existence,” Burgess said. “Take a human being, confine them to one room the rest of their lives, and they wouldn’t be very happy. They’d live just fine, with food and everything, but the reality is they wouldn’t be a very happy person. It’s a comparison for these animals, who would be simply too big for the space they’re given.”

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A diver watching blacktip reef sharks in the wild | Shutterstock

Since the park was announced, many animal advocates have spoken out against Grylls — and this isn’t the first time. In January, many viewers of his reality TV show, "The Island," were horrified to watch contestants killing crocodiles, pigs and turkeys for on-screen “survival challenges.”

In previous episodes of the show, one contestant drew controversy after jumping on a crocodile’s back and stabbing him in the neck. In another instance, some contestants on the show mistakenly killed and ate an endangered species of crocodile.

An online petition against the park surfaced three weeks ago, and it's garnered over 36,000 supporters. 

As with many attractions that hold sea life in captivity, the Bear Grylls Adventure Park operates under the pretense that it will contribute funds to shark conservation.

While Schubert supports the effort to fundraise, he worries that the attraction itself will send out the wrong message about how wildlife should be treated. It’s designed to provide a thrill for people — not help sharks, he said.

“It would be a great idea if the adventure park educated people about how to survive in the wilderness, without actually having wild animals in captivity,” Schubert said. “From our perspective, this is not a good idea. It’s a type of exploitation of sharks that teaches people the wrong lessons on how to interact with wild animals.”

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A viral photo from July showing beachgoers pulling a live sand tiger shark from the water in Fire Island, New York. | Facebook/Fire Island, New York

As seen in a recent viral photo of beachgoers pulling a live shark from the water to take photos on a New York beach, lessons about how to respect sharks are needed now more than ever.

This could potentially be accomplished by creating an immersive, electronic shark exhibit that shows footage of sharks in the wild, similarly to National Geographic’s Ocean Odyssey attraction in New York City, Schubert said.

“Just like people have become more sensitive to the cruelty associated with keeping orcas and dolphins in captivity, I’m hoping people will extend that to sharks and think twice before going to this facility,” Schubert said. “Bear Grylls has connections, and he could easily get access to video footage and create a spectacular exhibit about sharks without putting them into a captive environment.”

To tell Bear Grylls to remove sharks from his adventure park's plan, you can sign this online petition. To help protect sharks in the wild, you can make a donation to Sea Shepherd.
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