The BEST Shark Dives in the World, Part Deux
I’d heard a lot about this particular Shark Dive in Fiji over the past couple of years – and I couldn’t wait to come check it out. As I mentioned in Part One, I’ve been intrigued by sharks for a long, long time …. Thus the handle – Sharkman. I celebrate sharks, think their cool as hell but never forget they are wild, wild, wild and generally sit at the top of the Ocean realm. As Mantagirl is fond of saying, when we go back into the Ocean, we reenter the food chain and not necessarily at the top. In other words, when we go back to the Ocean, we’re on their turf and we better not forget it. I believe when practiced properly, Shark Dives are fantastic; they’re a wild rush for everyone involved and great positive publicity for sharks … again, when done right. We’ll get into what it means to be done right later but for now, let’s talk about what this bad ass experience was really like.
Shark Dives in Fiji
I’ve done Shark Dives before when you pull up at the site, tie off at the mooring and not only can see the sharks swirling below the dive boat but can even catch a dorsal fin or two cutting the surface. On one particular shark dive I was leading in Tahiti, I grinned ear to ear behind my Smiths as the husband of a young Mexican honeymoon couple made his new bride get in the water first. Que es muy mas macho? Here in Fiji, it wasn’t like that.
We pulled up to the dive site and the water was calm and relatively clear with 50 foot visibility. I looked down in anticipation and there were no sharks in sight. The dive staff gave us a thorough briefing and explained the procedures for the feed. Incidentally, if you haven’t heard the definition yet, Shark Dives are usually a situation where some kind of bait is introduced into the water to attract sharks in some way; it’s a feed. Divers get positioned in some way to watch the action, the divemasters bring down the bait, the action begins and things clear out amazingly fast once all the bait is gone. There is some controversy around this and we’ll talk about it in Part Tres. It was interesting to note the reactions to the shark dives by other divers …. But we’ll cover that later. Back to the dive.
The dive site is called The Bistro and that cracked me up. It’s just the kind of humor that I love. I’m not big into making large splashes in the water on my entry at Shark Dives I haven’t done. So I slowly eased myself off the stern platform of the dive boat and immediately looked down to spot for any sharks that I was sure would be present and there were – none. Unusual for most shark dives I’ve done but I later talked with one of the divemasters and found out that since this feed is done deeper than most, at about 85 feet, the sharks stay down there. They don’t bother to come up shallower because they don’t get fed there nor is the bait out in the open as it comes down from the surface. The bait is put into large plastic trash cans that are tied shut and transported down and not opened until they are at the specific site where the feed takes place.
So What’s It Really Like on Shark Dives?
All the divers descend together and head down to the site. The feed takes place at the base of a pinnacle which has some benefits. There’s a rope that’s about 60’ long that’s anchored to the bottom at its ends. The divers are aligned along the line and can grab it if they want. It’s not like it magically keeps the sharks on one side and the divers on the other but it’s actually an important piece of organization. It keeps divers from drifting into the action which takes place 15’ in front of them and also creates an arrangement that the sharks understand and follow from dive to dive. This line of divers creates a wall of bubbles that most sharks aren’t keen on swimming through. So the sharks form a swirl out in front of the divers as they come in to take some bait, then roll off and sweep back around for more. The pinnacle in back of the divers keeps sharks from swimming back behind the divers which in this particular case is important because there are some sharks that you don’t want behind you.
I’d heard that there were a number of species at this shark site, but as I descended and came over the pinnacle, I was blown away. Immediately, I made out Pacific nurse sharks swimming 50’ below and there were A LOT of them, and man were they big – in the 7’ range. In the end, I counted 8 different species of sharks which was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. I noticed a number of other different shapes and sizes but my attention was quickly fixed on a few massive shadows down deeper. Those were bull sharks and while I’ve seen bulls before, they seemed particularly big. As I got closer, and they got closer, I found out they weren’t big, they were frickin’ HUGE. They were massive and moved through the masses of fish and other sharks with an authority that was easy to see. Nothing else except other bulls would swim near them. Later, one of the divemasters would share with me that he had seen a bull shark snap a giant trevally into two pieces on another dive. I’ve never even heard of that before.
On a bit of a side note, it was fascinating which species of sharks were NOT involved in coming into the feed but stayed way out on the periphery. Normally, white tip reef sharks are like feral dogs and just swarm a feed. Gray reef sharks are like a pack of wolves at a feed and are usually involved in large numbers. In this case, both were noticeably absent at the dinner table. And I am certain it was because of the abundant bulls that would have grabbed a white tip or even a gray and made a hasty meal. White tip reef sharks are slow and apparently know it. Even the silver tips weren’t interested in getting involved and those are pretty big sharks. The only sharks that actually came in on the bait were the abundant Pacific nurse sharks, the bulls and the large lemon sharks. All the other sharks got the hell out of the way.
Once all the divers are arranged along the line, the divemasters bring down the bait. Its organized chaos on a shark dive and not just because of the sharks. There is inevitably a massive cloud of fish on a shark dive but this was different. There was a STORM of fish. I’ve never seen a larger collection of greater trevally in my life – they are the biggest members of the jack family and large, awesome predators in their own right. Here they showed up en masse with thousands of other fish. They created a literal cloud around the bait that was difficult to see through …. You would look at this swirling mass of fish with sharks entering into it and coming out. Once the bait is opened that’s the kind of instant action that you see. These fish and sharks know what’s coming and it’s a massive pile on. It’s kind of like in college when the free taco bar opened.
Keeping Your Head (and fingers and toes) on Shark Dives
It’s important to be level headed on a dive like this whether you just want to check out some sharks or are looking to produce imagery of a lifetime. There’s so much going on, you need to be aware of what’s happening all around you. Typically, you’ll be kneeling down and just checking out the action. If you’re producing imagery – still or video – you’ll want to understand the flow of the sharks so you can position yourself in the best spot to catch the action you want to capture. Have in mind some of the images you want to capture before you hit the water and let serendipity help you produce the rest
The action was intense. I spent the dive watching and anticipating the action, framing shots and keeping an eye out. I also had a divemaster next to me on both dives looking out which was a good thing. Twice, I had bulls swim up on me from the side and I didn’t see them until the last minute. One narrowly turned just before slamming into my camera. But did I get a heck of a shot.
End of a Shark Dive
At the Shark Dive in Fiji, they feed by hand which I’m not at all crazy about. Once the bait is gone, it’s amazing to see how quickly the action fades. It’s like a plug is yanked from the wall and all the power goes out. Wild. You begin to ascend along the pinnacle to the top at 20’ where you do a long safety stop. As you look down into the blue, occasionally you can see the shape of a silver tip or lemon shark passing below. When you consider that if you saw even that on a typical dive it would be a big deal, the shark dive in Fiji quickly frames itself as something wicked good.
More on shark dives to come ….