Being someone who never shies away from an adventure with a touch of danger thrown in, I didn't hesitate to go diving with sharks a few years ago in the warm waters of the Maldives.
I do realize that many people do not share my enthusiasm for this form of extreme water sport but for those travelers who are looking for something to put in their travel brag book, an excuse to buy that super expensive underwater camera, or just an opportunity to face their fears, I strongly recommend a dip with the beasts of the deep.
First a quick Shark 101 lesson for the uninitiated and the scared. Sharks swim in almost all of the world's oceans and with about 450 known species, there's a good chance you may have already swam with a shark and not even known. Sharks vary greatly in size from a mere 10 inches to over 50 feet in length. Although most sharks are predators, the majority feed on other fish, whereas large sharks, such as the Great White and Tiger Shark, prey on large marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, turtles and sea birds. Several species of shark are known to be dangerous to humans including the Great White, Tiger shark and Bull shark. It is important to be aware that sharks do not target humans as prey, rather the majority of shark attacks can be attributed to the shark confusing humans with its normal prey. Having said that, all companies that offer shark diving tours are extremely careful in the way they conduct the dives and all necessary precautions will be taken to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
If you're not quite ready for the open sea, why not start at Scotland's Deep Sea World (tel.+44/1383 411 880; www.deepseaworld.com/DeepSeaWorld/HomePage.htm) located in Fife, where you can take a shark dive in their 1.2 million gallon underwater safari tank, home to one of Europe's largest collections of Sand Tiger sharks, as well as 2,000 other fish including rays and conger eels. No qualifications or experience are required to experience this adrenaline rush so it's open to just about everyone. Full training is given on the day and all necessary equipment is provided. The cost is $222 per person but also includes two spectators. Also located in Scotland (Cheshire), the Blue Planet Aquarium (tel.+44/151 357 8805; www.blueplanetaquarium.com) does similar shark dives for $311 or for PADI qualified divers (who have logged a dive within the last six months) $178 will buy you a dive session with the sharks using you own equipment (or you can hire it from them), a safety briefing and discounted admission prices for spectators.
To get up more close and personal with the largest, the gigantic Whale shark, in the warm waters of the Caribbean, Placencia in Belize is your destination. Spring is the prime migration time in the waters off the coast of this laid-back fishing village located in the south of the country. May and June are the best months to spot these mammoth creatures but the diving season lasts from March to October. Seahorse Dive Shop (tel. 800/991-1969; www.belizescuba.com) has Whale-shark dives for $150 per person which includes two tanks, weights and weight belt, tax and lunch. Other equipment rental is available for a reasonably low cost, i.e. regulator for $7.50. Please note that this dive is recommended for advanced divers or divers with 25 dives or more.
Off the coast of the small island of San Pedro, Belize, is the Shark Ray Alley of Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a Marine National Park that boasts large schools of Grey Nurse sharks and Southern Stingrays. Inexpensive boat tours are available from San Pedro for day trips to this excellent diving and swimming spot. Boat rides (without scuba equipment) are priced from $30 per person through Green Dragon Belize (www.greendragonbelize.com/tropicalislandvacation.html). They can also arrange the short 15-minute flight to San Pedro from the mainland and accommodation on the island.
The sharks are swimming and ready for company in the Bahamas. In particular, Caribbean Reef sharks and Bull sharks are quite prominent in this tropical paradise and a number of Bahamian dive operations offer shark dives including UNEXSO Nassau Scuba Center (tel. 800/992-DIVE;www.unexso.com)and Xanadu Undersea Adventures (tel. 800/327-8150; www.xanadudive.com)in Freeport, Stuart Cove's Dive South Ocean (tel. 800/879-9832; www.stuartcove.com) on New Providence Island and Walker 's Cay (tel. 800/925-5377; www.walkerscay.com) on Abaco Island. Prices vary but most shark dives are under $100 per person for experienced divers only. For further information about diving in general in the Bahamas, visit the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism website at www.bahamas.com.
For perhaps the most intense and extreme shark experience, it's hard to surpass Responsible Travel's (www.responsibletravel.com/Trip/Trip100889.htm) "Diving With Great White Sharks" expedition. For the serious diving and shark enthusiast, this unique trip starting in Cape Town, South Africa features 13 dives in total with full diving equipment included in the price. At Cape Town there are three shore dives, two boat dives, one night dive, a dive with sharks in the Two Oceans aquarium with the highlight being the Great White shark cage dive in the Gansbaai region to the east of Cape Town. After transfer to Durban there are five further dives on the world famous Aliwal Shoal, where you can free dive with Ragged Tooth, Bull, Hammerhead, Tiger and several other shark species without cages. The trip is led by Andre Hartman, a 30 year commercial diving veteran, who has worked with National Geographic on the Great White sharks in the region. Ten-night accommodations, internal flights, lunches, snacks and drinks on board daily dive boats are all included. Cameras and specialist photographic equipment can be hired. This highly specialized tour is priced at $1895 per person. International airfare to South Africa is additional.
If that tour is a little too much diving for your taste, but your dream for swimming with a Great White needs to be realized White Shark Ecoventures (tel. +27/21-689-5904; www.white-shark-diving.com) in Gansbaai, South Africa can fulfill your greatest wish. You don't even need scuba certification to be able to cage dive, making this adventure accessible to anyone with the courage to take the plunge. Their two-day tours, which include round-trip transfers from Cape Town, overnight accommodations at a Bed and Breakfast and a full day tour with cage dive cost $403 per person. Longer tours with additional cage dives are also available. Although the tours are run throughout the year, the peak-viewing season with a 90 to 99% success rate is April to November.
The oceans surrounding the continent of Australia are breeding and playgrounds for a multitude of shark species, including the protected Great White. There are also a plethora of dive companies that run shark diving tours and cage dives. If you can swim and snorkel, you too can safely experience the excitement and wonder of swimming with the world's largest fish, Whale sharks on Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef with Exmouth Diving School (www.exmouthdiving.com.au). These tours in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean operate daily from late March to July and cost $278 for a Single Reef Dive with all equipment or $247 for snorkeling only including all equipment: These prices include an unforgettable day on board the well-equipped vessel, morning tea, full buffet lunch, afternoon tea and refreshments throughout the day as well as a light aircraft that flies overhead throughout the day to spot sharks and guide the boat to the spot. The staff is fully qualified and experienced. In the unlikely event no Whale shark is sighted on your Whale Shark Adventure, you will receive a free tour the following day. Exmouth is located approximately 800 miles north of Perth and is accessible by Kookaburra Air (www.kookaburra.iinet.net.au).
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