Beyond the Great Barrier Reef off the northeastern coast of Australia, is the Coral Sea. This region of plunging depths and seamounts rising steeply 6,560 feet (2,000 m) from the sea floor is the kind of terrain pelagics love. Every week, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions runs liveaboard expeditions to the Coral Sea where you can dive with scores of sharks.
Divers travel 138 miles (222 km) offshore to remote reefs, doing up to 14 dives over four days. Of these dives, three are dedicated shark experiences. The action begins with a shark-observation dive at Admiralty, part of Osprey Reef. A small bait bin draws in around a dozen sharks. Most visitors are grey reef sharks, though occasionally silvertips and other species come by. With the sharks cruising in a relaxed manner, it’s a great opportunity to view them at length.
A shark feed ramps up the excitement, taking place in the aptly named Amphitheatre. A natural scoop into the side of a wall creates a cozy viewing area. Here, divers can sit on rocks and ledges to watch up to 40 sharks buzz the area. It’s a closely controlled operation, wherein the Shark Divemaster drags a bait bin filled with tuna heads on a pulley system around the arena. This attracts the sharks to within arms-length of the divers. At this kind of range, you can really appreciate the beauty of these creatures, from the shimmering silver of their sandpaper skin to the ampullae on their snouts.
It’s a genuine thrill to eyeball a shark this close. When the divemaster finally releases the lid of the bait bin and the sharks go into feeding mode, the adrenaline really starts to flow. The feeding only lasts a few minutes, but the sense of awe lasts much longer.
For serious photographers, there is one more opportunity – the private shark shoot. Bait once more draws the sharks in, but this time there is no release of food. Instead, the goal is to capture the perfect shark image. The dress code for this dive is all black, including hood and gloves, ensuring nothing distracts or interests the sharks at such close range. With a group size limited to six, getting that good, clean shot is suddenly a whole lot easier.
Diving in the Coral Sea is about so much more than just sharks though — there’s the 100- to 130-foot visibility (30 to 40 m). Brightly colored soft corals and fans festoon the sheer walls and coral bommies teem with reef fish. But if you like big fish, up close, this is an experience like no other.
Mike Ball Dive Expeditions Spoilsport is a stable, twin-hull catamaran, purpose-built for diving with a spacious dive deck and full facilities for photographers. Expeditions depart every Thursday evening. Visit www.mikeball.com for more details.