Do sharks feel pain?

There have been quite a few articles written on wether sharks feel pain or not. There is a lot of contention on both sides of the issue and the debate has gotten quite personal and ugly.

“Dr. Bob” with big bite marks on his gills.

“DaShark” has summarized what’s going on quite well and you can read his thoughts in his blog here.

I’m on the fence on the issue myself. I love sharks and personally would like to see a complete ban on shark fishing. Having said that, I know that this is an unrealistic expectation and that is why Shark Diver started the shark free marina initiative and began working with shark tournaments to include a catch and release division. Now catch and release has become highly controversial as well, specially in light of post release mortality and the above mentioned “can sharks feel pain” debate. Catch and release, with it’s post release mortality rate, is certainly not ideal, but it’s far better than catch and kill, with a 100% mortality rate.

As far as the pain is concerned, I’m not a scientist, so I can’t argue with scientific facts. I have been diving with great white sharks at Isla Guadalupe for 14 years and my observations have led me to think that they do not feel pain like we do.

Ila France Porter, in her blog, writes “Since animals cannot tell us how they feel, scientists have searched indirectly for evidence about their subjective experiences, in the studies of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and behavior. Researchers have developed strict criteria, all of which need to be met, before they can conclude that an animal can feel pain”. 

Fish meet all of these criteria, as has been shown in a wide variety of experiments. (Sneddon et al 2003, Reilly et al 2008). 

The blog further states that “the animal should be able to learn to avoid a painful stimulus. This should be so important to the animal that it avoids the threat of pain right away. The painful event should strongly interfere with normal behavior — it should not be an instantaneous withdrawal response, but long-term distress.”

and “Yet no evidence has ever been produced to support the idea that an animal could live successfully, and survive, without the ability to feel pain, which is an important warning sensation. It would result in inappropriate behaviour, and the fish would go straight into evolution’s garbage can. Only a small percentage of fish who come into the world live to adulthood, and any weakness would doom them”

My problem with these statement is this. If they are true, how would white sharks, along with other species, whose mating is an extremely painful event, survive? If their feeling of pain causes them to  “avoid the threat of pain right away” and “the pain strongly interferes with their normal behavior”, wouldn’t they learn to avoid mating in the first place and thus become extinct?

The very survival of a lot of sharks is dependent on what would be a very painful mating procedure, pain, that this article says the animal feeling it, would avoid at all cost.

I know, this is not going to be popular, but based on the above reasons and my observation of sharks with severe bit wounds, like “Chugey” in this picture, swimming around without any signs of distress, I’m not convinced that they feel pain in any way similar to humans.

Like I stated above, I’m not a fan of catch and release fishing and don’t want people to mistreat any living creature. What I’m saying though is this. If we want something to change, we have to address it scientifically and not emotionally. It’s easy to convince other people who love sharks as much as we do to protect them. If we want to save sharks, we have to convince those who do not share our love for the sharks to change. In order to do that, we need scientific facts and not rhetoric.

Martin Graf
CEO Shark Diver

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at

“Sharknado” is real!

When the syfy channel aired “sharknado” last year, we all assumed that unlike  the Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives! “documentary” on the Discovery channel, it was meant to be a spoof. Well, we have been wrong.


Just before the release of “Sharknado 2”, Tara Reid, in an interview with GQ magazine said:  

“I mean, the chances of it happening are very rare, but it can happen actually. Which is crazy. Not that it – the chances of it are, like, you know, it’s like probably ‘pigs could fly’. Like, I don’t think pigs could fly, but actually sharks could be stuck in tornados. There could be a sharknado.” 

Ahhhh,…… well,……. wow!

Tara, I mean the chances of it happening are very rare, but it can happen actually, which is crazy, not that it, the chances of it are rare, like, you know, it’s like you actually have a coherent thought, like I don’t think you could have a coherent thought, but actually you could be waking up one day, with a coherent thought. You could actually make sense one day!

In a related story, Discovery Channel has announced that Tara Reid will be joining them as a “shark expert” on  shark after dark.  We applaud their decision to add Tara to their lineup of shark experts. It will greatly improve the quality of those experts.

If you want to see those sharks in their natural environment, before they’re all sucked up in a tornado, join us on one of our our expeditions.

Martin Graf
Shark Diver 

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at

Good news? Bad news?

Popular wisdom holds that Sharks do not get cancer. That is why shark cartilage is widely used to prevent/treat cancer. Turns out that popular wisdom is once again proven wrong. According to an article in “livescience” sharks can indeed get cancer. …

Coming face to face with a great white shark. A spiritual experience?

We just finished our 2013 season, diving with Great White Sharks at Isla Guadalupe. We had the pleasure to be able to introduce 173 divers to our smiling friends!

Here is a letter from Jen Saunders, one of our divers, describing her experience.

A Shark Story: The Day I Saw God (He Healed Me)
As the only agnostic member from a devout Protestant household, I was always the black sheep at family reunions and was probably prayed for by aunts, uncles and grandparents more than anyone else in the Saunders clan. I just never bought into the whole “God thing”, but always maintained the highest respect for all walks of faith and those who follow various teachings. 
The year before my father passed away from pancreatic cancer we had a conversation about faith and God. My father, a retired professor of English literature, asked how I could feel complete without knowing and feeling the presence of a higher power. I simply replied by stating that his question was equivalent to one asking how I can sleep at night without having ever seen a space alien. My dad was unwavering in his notion that the little pit of emptiness I had always felt in the back of my soul stemmed from my disassociation with a spiritual deity, but it wasn’t until I journeyed to Isle de Guadalupe and gazed into the eyes of an 18 foot great white shark named Thor that this emptiness was filled with an awe for a god that had been absent all my life. 
As an avid scuba diver and lover of marine life, I had read various books on the great white shark. These creatures are pure perfection of evolutionary art. They boast six thousand pounds of muscle, are the only animal that devours its weaker siblings in the womb, is immune to cancer and is constantly awake. While navigating south from San Diego on the two-day boat ride, I thought about these facts and asked myself if there was a single creature higher than the great white so designed to live forever. 
Before I open the pages into the details of my spiritual awakening, permit me to set the stage: Upon entering the cage it only took about 10 minutes before the first shark appeared. It circled the cage carefully studying each diver. In the movie ‘Jaws’ the rugged shark hunter Quint states that great whites have “lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes”, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Great whites have a variety of eye colors that include blue and brown. Additionally, each shark made eye contact with every single diver. Later that day a great white named Thor made eye contact with me. I don’t know if sharks can sense emotions in humans or if our heart rates serve as a language they can understand. I stared into Thor’s eyes and felt a calming wave of warmth wash across the face of my soul. I looked into his intelligent eyes with awe and total respect, as a misunderstood creature, and marveled at his powerful mass. Just then he moved in and slowly approached the cage while never breaking eye contact with me. Then, two feet from the cage bars, he broke his path and headed to the right of the cage. Before he vanished into the blue, he swerved to the side and met my gaze once more, as if he was saying “farewell for now fellow soul”.
We shared a moment. I was sure of this. As a well-travelled individual who has lived and seen enough to fill 10 lifetimes, never had I witnessed something so spiritually moving. I felt the presence of a divine being within this shark. This powerful, sensitive creature that never sleeps imprinted his soul into mine. 
Two months later I can happily report that the emptiness I once felt has been filled. Perhaps my father was right; it may be that my soul simply needed to be filled with the spirit or energy of something ethereal and divine. 

Going face-to-face with a great white shark isn’t just reserved for the thrill-seeker or the curious. This is an excursion I would recommend to anyone who feels a void deep within their being, or someone who is suffering from any number of personal or health issues. The great white shark is a healer; he is the misunderstood shaman of the sea. 

Coming face to face with a Great White Shark can mean a lot of things to different individuals. What is universal is the fact that you will never forget the first time a Great White Shark looked you straight into the eyes.
Let’s go shark diving!
Martin Graf
Shark Diver

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at