IT’S not exactly something many would attempt to do – reach out and pat a deadly tiger shark in the middle of a feeding frenzy.
However, conservationist Leon Deschamps couldn’t resist the temptation.
Photos show him stroking the heads of tiger sharks feeding on the carcass of a dead whale in Western Australia.
Amazingly, he was sitting on the whale while patting the sharks.
Mr Deschamps hopes the images will dispel “myths” that tiger sharks are blood-thirsty, man-eating monsters.
Scientists discovered the group of sharks feasting on the carcass of a dead whale during a field trip to collect genetic samples as part of the Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project, 853km north of Perth, in August.
The sharks appear nonchalant despite the close attention from Mr Deschamps and other conservationists perched on their feast. “Tiger sharks are not aggressive and I thought the most effective way to demonstrate that would be by throwing ourselves into the middle of a feeding frenzy,” Mr Deschamps said.
“They were so sedate in their movements and were far from aggressive despite it being a time when they are supposed to be at their most ferocious.
“I think they enjoyed the experience.”
But a Department of Environment and Conservation spokesman warned that touching whales is illegal and people are encouraged not to interfere with sharks because of the risk of attack.
“This is highly irresponsible and dangerous behaviour and puts peoples lives at risk,” the spokesman said.
Mr Deschamps has been working with sharks for most of his 32-year life.
He reiterated the department’s warning to leave them alone, especially during feeding.
“The water out there is so shallow that sharks can be better seen from a 4WD than in a boat,” he said.
To aid conservation efforts, Mr Deschamps is campaigning to place acoustic monitoring devices along a 1000km stretch of Shark Bay coastline.
He hopes the data will reveal the sharks migratory routes and feeding patterns, which are relatively unknown.
He is also working to establish a database of images using the animal’s distinctive dorsal fins so individual animals can be recognised.
There are over 100 species of sharks in WA waters and only a few can hurt humans.