MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Most people, when they see a shark in the water, they get out. CBS4, however, met a man who does the opposite—and he is trying to get closer than ever by hand-feeding them.
Feeding the sharks is illegal and this spring the State of Florida busted him for it—but that hasn’t stopped him. As CBS4’s David Sutta found out—Randy Jordan has upped his game.
Jordan may be the most controversial scuba diver in Florida. It’s not about where he’s going or who he’s doing it—its what he’s doing 100-feet below.
“What do you tell people who think you are insane for doing this?” Sutta asked Jordan. “I kinda take it as a compliment,” Jordan answered.
CBS4 journeyed down below with him recently to see his operation in person. He carries a crate packed with fresh fish—fish he intends to feed, by hand, to the sharks.
Jordan carried a crate packed with fresh fish to feed to the sharks, and just like that sharks dart-in from all directions. These are sharks that could take a bite out of him if they wanted to.
“I’m just giving them a little bit of food,” Jordan explained, “Not too much. I don’t want to get them too excited, too much of a frenzy.”
There is no cage for Jordan, no escape plan and yes—there have been a few close calls.
“We had a tiger shark one time kinda take me by the arm and dragged me over to the food crate because I wasn’t paying her enough attending. I wasn’t feeding her quick enough. The thing that’s interesting is it didn’t break my arm or skin. It kind of surprised me,” he said.
Jordan’s reality is that there is no predictability, and he never knows what is going to happen on one of his adventures—which Sutta saw firsthand.
For $90, Jordan takes tourists on a series of dives off Jupiter. The rules alone would scare most away. “Don’t stand up. Try not to get excited. Try not to scare sharks,” Jordan said the words he’s said over and over again. He adds, “What they have taught me is they just want the food so you really have to make sure that food is not on you or stuck to you or wrapped on you.”
Within seconds of jumping in the water they were surrounded by sharks. For the average person, swimming with sharks is crazy. But even for a diver, seeing bull sharks is a whole other ball game. Bull sharks are the most dangerous sharks on the planet. They have the most testosterone of any animal. Sutta lost count but said there for at least five, maybe six swimming around them. Great Whites, made notorious by the movie Jaws, would be a more welcome sight. Jordan, however, is not concerned.
“I know what they are only interested in, food opportunities. That’s all they do. That’s what they are out there for. It’s not a social event,” Jordan said.
As Jordan speared a fish, the bull sharks go after it. When Sutta asked why the sharks are not biting Jordan he replied, “The sharks don’t bite us because we are simply not on the menu. It’s just not part of what they do. We are bigger and tougher.”
Operation Bite Me
Things would get even more intense as the dive wore on. Jordan’s operation has been good for business. People come from all over the world to dive with him. Last year, though, the State of Florida took notice. “It was a witch hunt really, so the people that don’t like what I’m doing petitioned the FWC to make the case and they made this huge operation called ‘Operation Bite Me.’ They spend a whole bunch of money. There were seven agencies involved, they had Homeland Security, radar—it was insane,” Jordan said. The concern was over whether Jordan was putting divers at risk: if sharks associate divers with food it could be a deadly mix and a PR disaster for tourism. “They don’t associate the divers with food. They don’t say, ‘oh there is a diver, let’s rush up and see what he’s got.’ It just doesn’t happen that way,” Jordan said.
Florida feels different about it. Since 2002 the law has banned the feeding of sharks, fish, anything while diving in state waters. In a sting operation, undercover officers recorded Jordan’s operation. Using GPS data, radar, a series of boats they determined was feeding the sharks 2.75 miles off shore. Jordan didn’t stand chance at trial. “I was fined almost $3,000. I had to pay court costs and I’m on probation for a year,” Jordan said.
Back on the Water
The next day after his conviction, though, Jordan was back at it. “The sharks don’t really care if I’m a football fields’ length inside or outside. I just moved out,” Jordan said. He moved out of state waters and has discovered spots three to four miles offshore in federal waters where shark feeding is legal—and he’s upped his game. During the underwater dive, Sutta asked Jordan why he’s actually touching the sharks, rubbing their faces. “It tends to slow them down a little bit and relax,” Jordan said. As Jordan feeds and pets, these sharks swim inches from your face. Sutta, who has been around sharks before, had never seen anything like that before—the sharks coming in from all directions, Sutta described as exhilarating and almost like a circus act. Multiple shark experts declined to talk on camera about Jordan’s gig for multiple reasons. From a tourism aspect it’s big money. Any negative publicity on shark feeding could be bad for eco-tourism business. Stephen Kijuira, a professor at Florida Atlantic University explained there is cause for concern…maybe. . “Sharks can not only learn. But they can remember. So not only can you train them to certain task but literally months later you can present them with that task and they’ll do it.” Kijuira said. However studies over the last decade have been split on whether shark feeding can lead shark bites. Essentially there are studies to support those for shark feeding, and those against.
Controversial or just fine?
Based on the studies though it’s highly likely the sharks Jordan is feeding are being conditioned to associate divers, or at least Jordan, with food. It’s good because it gives people an opportunity to see nature up-close. However the more this behavior is learned, the more divers could be put at risk. Kajiura explained, “You’ve got the potential for someone to get hurt. And that’s a risk they take. But it’s always bad when a person gets bitten by a shark because it’s often very much taken out of context.” What does Jordan say when asked that he is conditioning these animals to come to humans for food? “I think, I must say I disagree. The sharks are just here for the opportunity. When the feeding is over they go back to their routines. Regular business. They migrate. They leave,” he said. In general, sharks do migrate thousands of miles over a lifetime. Some, however, do adopt certain areas.
As the group headed to the surface, most of the sharks did move on—but one stuck around. Whether the shark was unsatisfied or just curious, either way the behavior was not normal as the feeding had stopped. The shark moved from diver to diver investigating—a shark’s natural behavior of fear seemed to have vanished and it wasn’t greed anymore either because the food was gone.
*We should note shark feeding has been legal for decades in the Bahamas. That’s just 50 miles off our coastline and sharks are known to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles. For the most part the Bahamas shark feeding operations have been considered safe. However in recent years divers have been bitten during feedings. And some have been killed. However some argue the divers were not killed by sharks initially. Jordan is undeterred though. He believes his operation is educating people about sharks. Opponents argue he’s likely not teaching anyone anything new. The divers on his trips are usually more advanced divers who are already passionate about sharks.