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Swimming With The Sharks: Interview With Vivian Toro, One Of Stuart Cove's Female Shark Feeders
Underwatertimes.com News Service
June 9, 2009 21:25 EST

Vivian Toro of Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in the middle of the action during a shark feed. photo courtesy Stuart Cove

Female shark feeder Vivian Toro taking a break between shark dives. photo courtesy Stuart Cove

NASSAU, That Bahamas -- One of the few things you won’t see on the average person's resume, even dive resume, is 'Shark Feeder.' Yet everyday, one of Stuart Cove's dive staff does just that. Under the watchful eye of Stuart Cove and his senior Shark Adventure program leaders, Marc Taggart and Tohru Yamaguchi, a team of four women and three men (probably the largest shark feeding staff in the world) swim with, carefully feed and control the sharks every day off Nassau. In the coming months, we are going to interview some of our actual feeders and give you, our industry partners and friends, a snapshot into the life of actual shark feeders at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas.

Our interview is with Vivian Toro, of Puerto Rico. Vivian, how did you end up coming to work here at Stuart Cove's?

"I was living on a sailboat cruising the islands and had to make a stop in Nassau for repairs. While I was here, I decided to go for a few dives at Stuart Cove’s with some friends that already worked here... The repairs to the boat were going to take a few weeks, so I decided to go to work at the dive operation to pass the time. About three dives after I was hired, I had the opportunity to take a guest (as a private divemaster) on a shark dive. I think I actually had more fun than all the customers! From that moment, I decided I wanted to become a shark feeder. However, my enthusiasm was soon squelched when the General Manager, Alvin Duncanson, informed me that I only weigh slightly more than the bait box, and could not hope to ever feed the sharks.

Being from Puerto Rico, we do not like to be told ‘no’ or ‘can't’ so I set out to prove him wrong. Actually, after six months of leading dives, and squeezing in every opportunity to dive with the sharks (even on my days off), I finally met the requirements, and was invited to start the staff shark feeder training program. I think by that time, I almost knew all the sharks by name. Of course, thinking you know their names does not make them any less wild, which brings me to my ‘Most Memorable Experience.’"

What was your most memorable shark feeding experience?

"I was feeding the sharks on a typical day, wearing my full chain mail protection suit, with maybe 35 to 40 sharks in the water. The chain mail is a little loose on our bodies, to allow space for wetsuits and other covering underneath. I had just pulled a piece of bait out of the box, and a big, pregnant mama, maybe 400lbs, took the bait close to my leg and her teeth actually got stuck in my chain mail protection. Weighing about the same as a small bait box, I was like a top to the shark, as she spun me around trying to get untangled. I think I did a pirouette, you know, that French dancing move, as the shark lifted my leg like a dancer and spun me around. It was a surreal and strange experience. The video is hilarious!"

What do you hope your guests will take away from the feeding experience?

"I look at the afternoon (as shark dives are scheduled in the afternoons) as a whole experience. The shark feed takes about 30 minutes in the water, but I strive for making the whole trip experience a day to remember and try to educate our guests about how amazing the sharks really are. Truly these animals are at the top of the food chain in the ocean. However, many people think that our sharks are trained or somehow tame. They are anything but. However, they are also very misunderstood. Even though our guests get a small glimpse of how fierce a shark can be when they bite down on the bait and their teeth extend for a fraction of a moment, sharks need our protection. Once you have been in an “intimate” face-to-face experience, you can appreciate their beauty and the need to protect and preserve these amazing animals. That is what I hope our guests leave with at the end of the experience."