Ridlon (Sharkman) has been writing a number of fantastic articles on shark diving and some of the best shark dives in the world. People who love shark diving love the posts and those that are deathly afraid of sharks, get some weird rush of impending doom when they armchair quarterback them.
But….what I have been wondering is: what if you have never before done a shark dive and want to?…..do these posts scare you into or out of it?
My First Shark Dive
I sat down today to write the shark diving page for our website and realized that I have been leading or participating in shark dives for 16 years and so my level of comfort is different (some would say abnormal!) than a first timer. So I thought back to my first shark dive and I remember it quite well. It was in Tahiti and we were just a small group of paying divers going out to swim on the reef and feed some sharks. At this point in my career I had been an instructor for 6 years and had literally thousands of dives but I was nervous as hell. And I felt stupid about that. I didn’t sleep well the night before. I could see the newspaper headlines now, “Honeymooners die in shark attack”. Everyone would sigh and say, “oh, and they were just starting their new life together, how tragic.”
We got in the water (probably me last, I don’t remember) and during the dive I bet I looked more like a whirling dervish than a diver. I kept spinning around waiting for the attack that, of course, never came. I just knew those man (and woman) eating great white look alikes (read…..4 foot black tip reef shark puppy dogs) where going to catch me from behind. I tried to stay in the middle of the “pack” and look like one of strong and young, rather than the old, sick and helpless waiting to be picked off.
I try to think about this when I take people shark diving for the first time in order to empathize with their fears and help alleviate them. Here are twelve honest realities and thoughts for the newbie about diving with one of the greatest marine apex predators on the planet.
Twelve Tips for First Time Shark Divers
1. In 16 years of shark diving and many of those doing the feeding myself, I have only seen two attacks. One was a shark who took the opportunity to snag an unsuspecting snapper (meaning the fish not a photographer) and the other…oh well…never mind. No, seriously, it is so extremely rare that a shark attacks on a shark feeding dive that I would feel safer spending a lifetime in the company of sharks than spending two weeks driving the 405 freeway in Los Angeles.
2. If you want to be attacked by a shark, take a bunch of bait, get in the water and then NOT give it to them, you know, like being a spear fisherman…no thanks!
3. It does NOT matter which side of the boat you get in on. We used to run our shark dives from 17’ inflatable boats. When divers would see a shark on one side of the boat, they would make their entry on the other side, three feet away. Makes you laugh now, but it really happens….a lot!
4. If you are nervous…it’s normal. You will hear a great deal of joking around on a shark dive, don’t listen to it. It’s just people who are MORE nervous than you trying to purge their anxiety.
5. Here’s a reality check. You’re not at the top of the food chain anymore… BUT REMEMBER, you are not on a shark’s normal diet either. There are definitely tastier things in the ocean than soggy white meat covered in a neoprene sponge cake!
6. If it’s your first shark dive and you are unsure, situate yourself in the middle of the group. You’ll feel safety in numbers being surrounded by your own species. Sharks tend to me more assertive if you are alone with them.
7. Don’t go out on a shark dive if the visibility sucks. Clear water allows you to see the sharks and not be so scared. Having one materialize out of the murk in front of you can be unnerving. And most shark bites are cases of mistaken identity, so murky water can be a factor in that.
8. Tell the dive leader it’s your first shark dive. They will (should!) give you more attention, re-assure you during the dive and keep you close to them. Of course, if they are the one feeding you’ll be closer to the bait and the sharks!
9. If you plan to shark dive on your next vacation, read about it but DON’T read every horror story you can get your hands on, that’s just plain DUMB. Inform yourself.
10. Start Small. Don’t make your first shark dive with 15 foot Tiger and Bull sharks. Even the names evoke visions of fear. Dive with small sharks like black tip or white tip reef sharks. Then work your way up.
11.Some divers feel safer with a camera in front of them like a barrier. BUT don’t get in the habit of pushing sharks away with it unless absolutely necessary. We give a conflicting message if we bait the water for attraction then push them away and say, “no, bad shark”.
12. Dive with someone you trust but also be realistic. I will go to great lengths to be sure the shark dive is as safe as it can be but I cannot “save” you from a shark . If you want 100% safe, stay in the boat.
Want to see where we are shark diving next? Check it out at www.live-adventurously.com.
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