There's a restaurant in Mexico that let's tourists pay money to go swimming with sharks. Seems innocent enough, right?
That is until you find out that it's not just swimming with sharks...it's suffocating them, too.
Playa Tiburon, located on an island off the coast of Cancun, allows tourists to lift sharks out of the water and pose with them for photos.
While that may not seem like a huge deal, the program director at the Florida Program for Shark Research, George Burgess, says it's actually harmful to the sharks.
"Sharks are aquatic animals — they're not made to be out of the water, anymore than we're made to be living under the water," Burgess said. "Taking them out of their natural habitat is not good for them. They have to breathe through the inhalation of water into their gills, so if you take them out of the water, you're starting the process of suffocation."
Wildlife veterinarian Heather Rally agrees with Burgess.
"Sharks cannot breathe out of the water and, on top of that, their blood doesn't carry oxygen that well," Rally said. "So that means they could easily suffocate if they're removed from the water for any period of time, especially if it's repeatedly. They actually have muscles that run water over their gills all the time, and that's how they extract oxygen from the water. So they can't actually physically do that from the air."
It's not only suffocation that you're risking, either. Lifting sharks out of the water can actually hurt their bodies as well.
"Their organs, their musculature, their skin — everything is susceptible to damage under the force of gravity, and with manipulation from human hands, especially untrained hands like members of the public who are manipulating them for photo ops," Rally said.
Playa Tiburon charges about $20 for a photograph with these sharks, with hundreds of people visiting every day.
"Sharks have highly specialized sensory systems that allow them to detect tiny vibrations in the water, electrical impulses and even odors from quite a great distance away," Rally said. "These sensory systems aren't just on their noses and their heads — they're all along the shark's entire body. So you can imagine how that would be a great advantage to a shark out in the ocean, but a disadvantage in a tank, especially when being manipulated and chased by tourists. Swimming with tourists, being removed from the water for photo ops, would be a literal nightmare for these sharks."
George Burgess notes that nurse sharks are very docile creatures, but that's not to say they won't finally snap one day.
"If it gets pissed off enough to bite you, it is very bulldog-like, and won't let go … and then there will be a big headline about a shark attack in Cancun."
If you would like to help end this tourist attraction, you can sign the Change.org petition here. There are currently over 6,800 signatures.