As I was preparing my gear for a recent Tiger shark dive, I heard someone in our party ask, “Who has the yellow fins?”
“I do,” I responded.
I was warned that just a week earlier, another diver wore yellow fins and had to surface after less than half a dive because sharks had relentlessly beleaguered him. When he got back to shore, he drove to town and bought black fins in order to dive unharassed in the future.
At first I thought they were joking or teasing me. I had been on several shark dives including an out-of-cage Great White shark dive. I had never noticed sharks showing any unusual interest in my yellow fins. I normally wore them to ensure my dive buddy could always see me from a distance or in bad visibility. No one had ever warned me about yellow fins before.
On this, the first day of the Tiger shark dive, there were no extra fins on board. I was not about to miss this dive, so I had no choice except to forge on in my blaringly yellow fins. The water was freshly chummed, which was unnecessary as sharks crowded around the boat whenever it set anchor.
I saw more than twenty Caribbean reef, lemon, and other types of sharks circling the boat. Some of the reef sharks were twice the size of the black tips I had seen on a previous dive in Tahiti. I had never been in the water with Tigers and I knew they were responsible for the second highest recorded number of attacks next to the Great Whites.
I admit it – the sight gave me pause, but only for a second. Other than that fact that Tigers are deadly hunters and apparently have a yellow rubber fetish, what was there to worry about? Heck, I was not going to come all this way and miss this dive – nope, not me. So I jumped in and sank to the bottom quickly as recommended by the expedition leader, Amanda Cotton, and got into position to take photos with my huge camera rig.
I had my wide-angle lens and 9” glass dome with a Go Pro Hero next to the dome recording the event while I took photos (See Video Gallery). In addition, I also had a second Go Pro on a miniature stilt facing the rear of my camera so it could record what was behind me. Later I would be able to play it back and see what had gone on behind me. If I got attacked from behind, I wanted to be able to see it!
After reviewing several days’ worth of diving video, I concluded that sharks did not seem any more attracted to my fins than those of anyone else. In fact, I was disappointed I didn’t better close-up shots because the sharks didn’t come closer. But, the Tiger sharks were bumping some of the other divers, far more than me!
A few times, I was warned that I was not watching my back enough because I was too focused on taking pictures. Sharks were coming behind me and the safety diver had to make sure I was not being bothered. Actually, I did see this – twice on the video. On the other hand, I have many hours of video of with no incidents.
Even though I did not see an increase in shark interest, I decided this warranted further research. Had I just been lucky in the past or was there some truth that some colors, such as yellow, attracted sharks more than others. I did not find academic or scientific studies on the subject, much less any proof either way from these sources. However, I did find a diving forum that discussed the topic and from there, found a link to a YouTube video to a Myth Busters show that had investigated this topic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmt5gF1fqZo). For those not familiar with it, Myth Busters is an American show that explores and tests widely held beliefs, folkloric wisdom, movie portrayals, adages, and news stories. (http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters). The show’s hosts re-create the myths and put them to the test, precisely what they did regarding the danger of wearing yellow in shark-infested waters.
They discovered that, in fact, sharks are attracted to the color yellow. To reach this conclusion, they put chum into several porous bags, each of which was a different color: black, silver, blue, red, yellow and white. They tied the bags to a line, dropped it into the water, and counted which bag was bitten the most. They then switched the positions of the bags on the line to see if that made any difference. It did not. The yellow bag still had the most bites overall. (See photo of the count board below)
I watched my videos again from the Tiger shark dive and I thought back to all of my previous dives with sharks, including the Great White. On the Great White shark dive, I recalled that when we went down in the shark cage to approximately thirty-five feet, almost every time I got out of the cage, I saw a Great White or one came near me. However, whenever another diver had his turn out of the cage (twenty minute rotation among four divers), several had no Great Whites approach them. Some didn’t even see any during their rotation.
I reconsidered my position. Now, while I don’t think sharks will always attack something that is yellow, but they may be attracted to it when they see it moving, especially in the sun or in the open. For instance, in the Myth Busters episode the chum bags are at the surface where the waves are pushing the bags in the sunlight. They bit those bags but that was because they contained smelly, bloody chum. When I was on my knees waiting for the Tiger sharks to arrive, the sharks did not notice or bother me. However, in one video as I was swimming back to the boat as opposed to slowly crawling the bottom on my knees, a curious Tiger shark followed me. I kept a close eye on him and did not ascend to the boat right away. I sat on my knees until he swam away and then I made my ascent.
Everyone on the Tiger dive had an Octopus (spare regulator) with a yellow hose and the sharks did not go after the hose. I think the attraction depends on the size of the yellow object and whether it is waving in the right light.
At the end of the day, I don’t know for sure if it makes sense to throw out your yellow fins. But there is one thing I definitely know to be a fact: on my next shark dive, I am still going to be curious and probably keep the yellow ones on and have even more fun. Yes, I have a spare pair of red or black fins, just in case.
Let me know what you think.