With “Shark Week” on cable TV in full swing, generating record ratings, shark tourism draws record interest.

Shark Sightings

Florida Air Tours owner ears a consistent request for shark sightings

As owner of Florida Air Tours, Mark Grainger hears a consistent request to take tourists to see live sharks.

The problem is, the Florida beaches on the east coast don’t easily accommodate the request. Grainger, who takes tourists in biplane or helicopter rides over the Space Coast, says despite popular myths, shark sightings are rare.  In four years of operating air tours over the area – where he guarantees patrons to see wildlife.

“We advertise that we show wildlife on our tours,” Grainger was quoted as saying in a report. “But I don’t advertise sharks, only because it’s something I can’t absolutely guarantee someone can see. I can guarantee they’re going to see a manatee or dolphin.”

Florida’s tourist officials not eager to promote shark sightings

Florida’s tourist officials are not too eager to promote shark tourism in an area dependent on the beaches for a livelihood. Brevard County’s 72 mile coast generates $2.8 billion in economic activity every year from tourists who swim in the waters and relax in the warm weather.

The real dangers in the water are not from shark bites but rather rip tides, which can lead to drowning issues.  But officials note a consistent string of shark bite stories going viral around the global would have a negative impact on tourism.

“It could have an impact not only if there’s a lot of them at once, but especially if the incidents repeat and increase in frequency over time,” Abraham Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management and author of “Tourism, Security, and Safety,” said in the report. “That would have a serious impact.  However, so long as shark bites are rare and they do not cause a series of serious injuries, they are unlikely to have much impact.”

In some areas shark tourism is embraced.

The Great White shark sightings

As Great White sharks were sighted off Cape Cod, MA, this summer, tourists flocked to see them and local merchants benefited. Store owners sold Great White merchandise along side warnings that the Chatham-area, where seals are known to frolic, could be a particularly dangerous place to swim.

“We’ve grown about 500 percent in terms of the sale of our shark apparel,” said entrepreneur Justin Labdon, owner of the Cape Cod Beach Chair Company, who started selling “Chatham Whites” T-shirts after customers who were renting paddle boards and kayaks began asking whether it was safe to go to sea.

Back in Florida, Captain Rob Modys of SoulMate Charters’ fishing trips out of Fish Tale Marina, Fort Myers Beach, has found a burgeoning niche in shark fishing. “When you take somebody out, and they catch a couple of big sharks, they tell everybody,” Modys said. “I’ve got repeat customers who want to do shark fishing now.”