TIPS TO GO SCUBA DIVING WITH SHARKS
In the recent years, the diving industry has been able to change the perception of sharks from bad to good. Most scuba divers currently have the opportunity to go scuba diving, enjoying occasional encounters or organized encounters with sharks.
Shark tourism has proven to be a great financial resource for those countries rich in sharks and poor in other resources. Palau was the first country to create a shark sanctuary and protected all of its sharks from fishing, import and export. It was soon followed by many more, including the Bahamas, the country I have come to call home.
We are not here to discuss the merits and demerits of shark diving or how operators should or could conduct their dives; we will leave this for another time. We will discuss what measures and precautions a diver should take before embarking on a shark diving adventure or trip. We are here to review some of the questions the diver should ask himself or herself in the first place, and some to address to the operator as well. Shark diving is here to stay, for now. It is a thriving business and one that allows sharks to earn their living no pun intended.
Considering there are over 500 species of sharks, it would be hard to address every single concern related to each encounter organized in the world and with each species, so here comes my first recommendation. Learn about the sharks you are about to encounter.
Research about the locations in the world you will be able to find them in and about the seasons they are present. Many divers fail to check on the sharks’ seasonal presence and find themselves disappointed when during an offseason trip they can’t find the animals they were looking for.
Which brings us to the next point.
They are wild animals and even in the best of conditions they might decide not to show up. This is not a National Geographic special, where only the best footage will unravel under our sight. This is reality, and reality is, wild animals behave as they wish and sometimes fail to show up even in the most favorable conditions. Give yourself several days to be able to increase your chances of encounters and to beat the odds against possible bad weather. Shark diving is like visiting Paris; you can’t do it in one day to really understand and appreciate the city.
Once you have decided on the shark that you want to scuba dive with, first make sure your scuba diving techniques are up to the challenge requested.
If you have not been diving for quite some time, make sure you refresh your skills before your trip. The test is with yourself; you need to be honest with your own comfort level and skills; nobody else can decide that for you.
One of the key factors in scuba diving is our breathing. We often read about and even more often hear about it but sometimes in the middle of everything else that goes on around us on a busy trip we fail to reconnect with the concepts in our mind. To remember about the breath, just try to remember to exhale. If at any point before, during or after the dive you feel something is out of balance, remember the good old refrain we learned as open water divers: stop, breathe, think and act. Concentrating on a gentle exhalation allows us to inhale in the same gentle manner, allowing the regulator to complete the work it is designed to do, to deliver an easy breath.
On that point, make sure you check your gear, you have it serviced and ready for the trip and test it with an easy dive or even with a jump in the pool. You don’t need a complex dive to verify all your gear is working. Monitor your computer, and anything else battery powered and make sure they are charged and ready to go. If need be, plan ahead enough and send them back to the manufacturer or authorized dealer for service.
Here are some additional considerations you may want to make; I am going to throw them at you in the form of questions.
- Is it a deep dive, in the 33 meters (100ft) plus range?
- Have you ever dived that deep? Is it on a wall?
- Is it a drift dive?
- Are there any strong currents present?
- Are you stationary or are you swimming with/against these currents?
- Can you keep up with the guide and group in those conditions?
- Is it cold?
- How’s the average visibility?
- How familiar are you with all the different conditions?
The more new factors we put into the experience, and that could include the new species of sharks we are about to interact with, the more we need to prepare ahead of time to allow us to have a safe and comfortable trip.
A personal suggestion is that if you are planning on taking anything new, make sure it’s not.
If you are about to go diving with a species of sharks that requires fast descents, it won’t be a good idea to try the new thick wetsuit on the first dive. Let’s go ahead and use said wetsuit prior to the trip. This will allow you to know also how much weight will be needed on the days of the encounters.
This concept applies to anything new, from the mask to the fins, to the camera you are taking on this amazing trip. Scuba diving, running after sharks, controlling diving and settings, paying attention to the dive computer and staying with the group and buddy, is not the place to learn how to operate the 20+ buttons on your new housing and strobes. You don’t want to invest so much money and time only to find yourself stranded on the boat because you are not comfortable with all the components of your gear.
Assess your capabilities, your concerns and fears if you have some, follow a checklist and decide what you have under control and what requires your attention.
If you need to add additional training, make sure you organize that ahead of the trip and practice your new skills.
Call the operator and ask about details, suggestions and considerations for the trip. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to compile a list of what sounds familiar and what doesn’t.
Check the weather and temperatures outside the water. Travel prepared for heat or cold, strong winds or rain. If you realize any of the aspects of a transfer during a trip will affect you, leave home prepared.
The list can be pretty long but it can also be specific for each trip. Going to be in a tropical climate and heat? Prepare with hat, sunglasses and sunblock (of the reef safe kind, please). Are you going to be in cooler climates? Rain jacket, warm change, hats and other items will make your surface before and after the dives more comfortable. The more prepared you are, the easier the trip will be, the safer the interaction and ultimately the better experience you will have.
Once you arrive the second part that will make your trip and encounter a success is to listen to your dive operator carefully. Listen to the briefing the professionals will give you, do not wander with your mind and become distracted by those details you should have prepared at home. Try to absorb all the detailed instructions given.
Work with the operator and its rules and not against it. If you find that your mindset and opinions clash with the instructions given, abort the dive and if need be abort the operator. Entering the water and behaving against the instructions is disrespectful, dangerous towards yourself and your dive buddies, your operator and ultimately against the sharks.