I have done some unusual mystery shops, but I have never mystery shopped a shark! The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) has hired secret shoppers to check out shark dive experience tour operators to make sure they are properly engaging with the wildlife. Shoppers are also being used to monitor dolphin and whale watching tours, kiwi viewing, guided walks and adventure tourism.
Adventure and nature tours are popular with tourists that want to get upclose with animals in their own habitats. However, it is important that the tours not be overly disruptive of those habitats, and that is what the DoC wanted to check with their mystery shopper program.
At least one shop report alleges that sharks are being encouraged to attack dive cages, with the potential to cause permanent injury to the sharks. The shopper’s report says, “One of the sharks rammed the cage head-on during the first dive. The impact broke the aluminium mesh and shattered one of the signs advising divers not to place body parts outside the cage.
“It occurred very rapidly and violently and shook the cage.”
The report said the tour operator was intent on luring the sharks as close to the cage as possible “without considering the implications for the shark.”
Of course, the tour operators are disputing the reports, saying that the shoppers are “untrained” and “just comment on what they see.” Well, duh. I don’t think seeing sharks crashing into dive cages with enough force to significantly damage the cage requires a PhD in sharks to understand that it could be harmful to the sharks.
You can read more about this in the New Zealand Herald.