'Shark Diving 101'
A beginner's guide to Diving with Sharks
First published in
Asian Diver September 2011
divers dream about the day that they will see their first shark. Fish are
beautiful and octopuses are fascinating, but nothing captures a diver’s
attention like the sight of a large predatory shark materializing out of the
depths, propelled purposefully forward by its powerful tail, its unblinking
eye scanning the ocean for its next meal.
Understandably, some divers are apprehensive about seeing sharks underwater
but times have changed since the ‘Jaws’ era. With the realization that
sharks pose very little threat to us while on scuba, divers now go out of
their way to find places where diving with healthy shark populations is
still possible and many attend organized shark feeds where they can get even
closer to the lords of the sea.
There are some fantastic locations in the Asia Pacific region where shark
diving is virtually guaranteed.
One of the best natural encounters is the drift dive at Rangiroa Atoll where
hundreds of grey reef sharks hunt in the ripping currents during the tidal
For a really dynamic shark feed, there are few places better than Beqa
Lagoon in Fiji where enormous bull sharks are fed in front of awed guests
and seven different shark species can be encountered on the same dive.
If that sounds exciting and you think that you’re ready for your first big
shark diving adventure, there are a number of things that you might want to
consider before leaping into shark-infested waters:
Dress the part. There is an expression in the shark diving world called ‘yum
yum yellow’. Although there is no solid evidence that sharks are attracted
to one color over another, it’s a good idea to tone down your attire so that
you don’t look like a confused school of fish. In addition, wear dark
gloves, remove shiny objects and cover up any areas of bare skin.
Stay calm and move slowly. Sharks respond to electromagnetic stimuli. Your
racing heart is unlikely to elicit an attack but it might make the sharks
more agitated. Streamlining and good buoyancy will also help. Thrashing
around with your hands and finning erratically says ‘I’m wounded’.
Look but don’t touch. But it’s so tempting! You’re kneeling on the bottom
while an experienced shark feeder holds up fish after fish. Sometimes they
even manhandle the animals to put them into a trancelike state called ‘tonic
immobility’. Reaching out to a passing shark may seem innocent enough but
that shark may think that you are offering them food.
Stay out of harm’s way. Sharks are cautious creatures. In a natural setting,
passing sharks are very unlikely to closely approach divers. During a shark
feed, they must overcome their inhibitions in order to get close to the
food. Swimming next to or downwind of the chum will put you in their path as
they swim up the scent trail. It will also make you smell like chum which
could be counterproductive.
Read the sharks. When sharks feel threatened they sometimes change their
posture to warn other animals to back off. If you see any shark swimming
with it pectoral fins pointed downwards and its back slightly arched or if
the sharks around you have started to speed up and are making closer passes
at the divers, it’s a good idea to slowly increase your distance. Sharks
rarely take it to the next level as long as you give them enough space.
Finally, be a good ambassador. Shark diving can be a rewarding and highly
addictive aspect of our sport. Unfortunately, there are not as many sharks
around as there used to be. Please tell the world about your amazing
encounters but not about how you ‘cheated death with the man eating
If you want to help rebuild shark populations for generations of divers to
come, sharks need an image makeover.
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