Sharks still suffer from media misinformation, often characterized as dangerous eating machines. In reality, they are reserved and cautious about approaching divers. The risk of harm from a shark encounter is incredibly low and you can minimize it even further with sensible diving practices. Here are our top shark diving tips for safe and enjoyable interactions.
Seek safety in numbers
Many shark species are ambush predators and, when investigating novel objects, prefer not to be seen in order to maintain their own safety and advantage. If they know they’re being watched, it can deter them from coming too close unexpectedly. Diving in a group is a great way to ensure there are always pairs of eyes not only looking for sharks but also monitoring the sharks’ and divers’ behavior.
Time your dive
It is best practice to avoid diving at dawn and dusk, as that’s prime hunting time for many types of sharks. Likewise, avoid murky water at all times. If the shark cannot see a diver clearly and vice versa, there is an increased risk that the shark will mistake a diver for food, or of the diver surprising the shark and causing it to react defensively.
Avoid marine mammal colonies
Avoiding marine mammal colonies is especially important when hoping to see larger shark species, such as great whites, which feed on those mammals. When a shark is hunting, there is a possibility it could mistake a diver for a seal or view that diver as competition for the food source. It is never sensible to be near any wild animal when it is feeding or hunting. Respect their territory and dive in another location.
Choose a responsible dive operator and buddy
Choosing a reputable and environmentally-focused dive operator is a key consideration with shark diving. Many operators adhere to strict codes of best practice to ensure both the animals’ and divers’ safety, and that the divers enjoy the experience. It is also important to choose an operator and/or dive buddy you can rely upon to not mistreat or aggravate sharks with inappropriate behavior.
Learn shark behavior
Before diving with sharks, get to know their behaviors. Sharks are intelligent animals that will display warning signals if they feel threatened by a diver’s presence. These subtle signs are a diver’s cue to move away from the shark, and include mouth gaping, an arched back, the pectoral fins being dropped and overall exaggerated body movements.
Know the environment
Understand the dive environment before you enter the water. This is important not only when it comes to safety, but also for finding sharks in the first place if you’re diving with just a buddy. Note the best spots to find sharks, the topography, currents and depths prior to diving to maximize the opportunity for an enjoyable encounter.
Keep your breathing steady
Seeing a shark underwater for the first time is hugely exciting. It often involves a rush of adrenaline, a mad dash for the camera, kicking of fins and alerting dive buddies. You may also be trying to breathe and maintain proper depth. Take a moment to slow your breathing and check your dive gauges so as to avoid any unexpected depth changes. Do not rapidly ascend or plummet in pursuit of the shark. Stay calm, breathe and enjoy the encounter.
Wear the right gear
It is best practice to choose dark and neutral colors for shark dives. Avoid shiny cameras and jewelry, as they can mimic the appearance of fish underwater and attract a shark’s attention. Hold cameras close to the body and consider whether or not strobes are necessary. The noise and light of the flashes can entice sharks to take an investigatory bite on expensive equipment.
Follow safety procedures
Whether diving as a buddy pair without a guide or diving with an operator, pay attention to safety procedures. Dive buddies should plan what to do if they see a shark and unexpectedly feel uncomfortable. Common sense is to descend to the reef floor (or equivalent) if possible until the shark has passed, or to slowly retreat with eyes on the shark and exit the water. Always remember the ocean is the sharks’ environment and treat them with respect. If you’re on a guided dive, listen to the safety briefing. Follow instructions while underwater. If it’s a baited shark dive, stay where you’re told during the encounter. This will ensure that it’s safe and enjoyable for everyone.
While shark diving does require extra safety considerations, the risk of an accident occurring is very low. People return to shark-diving hotspots year after year because, put simply, it’s so much fun. So if you’re planning your first shark dive or your next, make sure to relax and enjoy the encounter.