What makes this one of the cool scuba jobs?
Being a guide means you spend your days at sea with great white sharks. You’ll get to know their individual personalities and behaviors intimately. There is something incredible about waking up in the pre-dawn light and knowing you’ll be spending your day with a species of shark that has existed for over 11 million years. There is also the opportunity to spend time with other marine life. Blue and mako sharks, various species of dolphin, whales and also pelagic bird species are frequent visitors. I’ll never forget the day a humpback whale spy-hopped right next to our boat and then played with a piece of kelp as we watched.
Working as a shark guide also allows you to travel to exotic destinations around the world. These include South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Guadalupe, all hotspots for great whites. With that, there are opportunities for more travel during your time off. How about a day of wine tasting or scuba diving the local coastline with cow sharks? Easily done if South Africa is your destination of choice.
Aside from your interaction with animals, the people you meet are another great job benefit. I’ve guided people who don’t know how to swim, who have never been in the ocean, and who have a chronic fear of sharks. It’s incredibly satisfying to help those people overcome their fears, and their stories are often inspirational. Working as a guide allows you to change peoples’ perceptions of sharks and spread the word about marine conservation. You have a captive audience each day and can truly be a voice for sharks.
So how do you become a great white shark guide?
The traditional route would be to study marine biology or a similar subject to a degree or post-graduate level. Then you’d qualify as a divemaster or instructor, and apply for every opportunity available. There are many people in the business with those qualifications, however. The thing that will help you stand out is experience. The best way to get that experience as a novice is by volunteering as a wildlife guide closer to home and leading groups of divers through voluntary opportunities at your local dive center. Combining that experience with some savings for travel and internship costs is a great start.
The key to success is mostly attitude. Being persistent and contacting anyone and everyone to find opportunities is vital, and it’s often who we know that gets us places in the world, so make sure to tell everyone that you’re looking, and make connections whenever and wherever you can. Many people find paid employment having earned their stripes as interns. Are you less academic and more practical in your skills? That’s great. Companies are not just looking for qualifications; they are also interested in other skills such as boat handling, maintenance or physical strength for hoisting cages. There are many routes to becoming a guide and academia is just one of them.
What constitutes responsible cage diving?
There are a number of operators across the globe and some are more responsible than others, but finding the good ones can be daunting. A responsible operator is one that doesn’t chum the water with excessive amounts of blood or oil and avoids feeding the sharks whenever possible, to keep them from forming an association between the presence of the boat and humans with food. It is possible to prevent conditioning the sharks with best-practice techniques. Good bait handlers will keep bait lines long and loose to encourage relaxed shark behavior and to prevent the sharks from accidentally bumping into the cage and harming themselves. Bait lines should not be dragged over the cage or moved swiftly to “play” the shark. It is not a circus and the sharks should be treated with respect.
How do you find such a reputable business? By doing your research online and contacting the company to ask questions about their operational practices and their general attitude toward sharks. Take the time to explore the company’s marketing. Are they selling you an “adrenaline experience” with “monsters of the deep”? If so, move on. Look for an operator that is selling a wildlife safari. This offers an opportunity for not only an experience with sharks, but also other local wildlife. You will get far more out of a trip with an operation that focuses on education, awareness and your comfort onboard than with one trying to sell you an adrenaline rush.