'' The sharks were all over the place, like snowflakes in a blizzard.'' Tahiti has two noteworthy treasures in the sea: black pearls and sharks. The former is harvested from pearl oysters and made into some of the world's most beautiful jewelry. The latter lives and thrives in the sea, while attracting visitors from the around the globe. When most people think of Tahiti, many images come to mind: lush tropical islands, friendly, smiling people; fast beat Tahitian dance music; sparkling blue seas; powder white beaches; black pearls and coral reefs teaming with bright colored reef fish. It is paradise to perfection.
To a diver, Tahiti means sharks - tons of sharks that can be observed and enjoyed by both scuba divers and snorkelers alike. With an estimated population of 240,000 residents, Tahiti (more correctly known as French Polynesia) is literally outnumbered by the sharks that inhabit the surrounding reefs and seas. While no one knows the exact number, the shark population is estimated in the millions. In certain locations, it is not uncommon for a diver to view more than 100 sharks on a single dive. According to Dick Johnson, in his book Sharks of Polynesia, at least 16 shark species have been recorded in French Polynesian waters. I have observed five species in a single day of diving: Gray Reef Sharks, Silvertips, Great Hammerheads, Whitetip Reefs and small Blacktips. Few places on earth offer this kind of variety and abundance for shark divers. Permit me to give you just a taste of Tahiti. We flew from Los Angels to Papeete in approximately 7.5 hours. Since French Polynesia is south of the equator, but with only a two hour difference in time zones, jet lag is minimal. After overnighting in Tahiti, we departed early the next morning for Rangiroa Atoll, 217 miles (350 km) northeast of Papeete. Sparsely populated and seldom visited by the typical tourist, this region is made up of 76 different atolls, part of a string known as the Tuamotu archipelago. It is one of four island groups that comprise French Polynesia. Rangiroa consists of a large circular coral barrier reef, populated by small islets covered with coconut trees and lush foliage. You can dive on the inside of the atoll (the lagoon), the outside of the atoll (the drop-off) or in one of the many passages (channels)that allows the sea to flow in and out of the lagoon during tidal changes. Because of the enormous amount of sea water contained in the lagoon, currents in the passes can sometimes reach seven knots - quite a ride for a drift diver. On the first day of diving, our French guide chose Tiputa Pass, a deep water channel just a few minutes' boat ride from the hotel dock. Some call it Tahiti's undersea capital of shark diving. We rolled off the boat and descended into a blue void of incredibly clear water. Visibility must have been 150 to 200 feet. I could see a few sharks below me. But wait a minute, I could also see sharks to the left, to the right, in front of me and behind me. They were all over the place like snowflakes in a blizzard. Our guide led us to a small coral cave tucked away in the side of the pass at 110 feet. Once inside, I surveyed the most remarkable vision imaginable. It was an eye popper! Cruising just outside the cave was a parade of more than 150 sharks (I stopped counting after 100). As far as the eye could see, there were sharks lined up in formation, slowly swimming to and fro. They were waiting for the feed. Our guide uncapped his bucket of chopped fish and the scene turned electric. Now the sharks were darting in erratic flight, often bumping into each other as they competed for the food. At one point, the guide lost his bucket and it rolled down a coral slope. At that point, the feed turned into a frenzy, as sharks rolled and wrestled for the food. It was over in a minute, but that minute seemed like hours. I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins. The experience left no doubt in mind. Tahiti's sharks are indeed a priceless treasure. And while the black pearls are awesome, I much prefer the sharks.
RANGIROA DIVE CENTERS:Members of GIE PLONGEE dive centers association. RAI MANTA CLUBAvatoru, Rangiroa, FRENCH POLYNESIATel: (689) 96 84 80Fax: (689) 96 85 60E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgManager: Ives Lefevre BLUE DOLPHINS DIVING CENTERHotel Kia Ora Rangiroa, RANGIROATel. (689) 96. 03. 01 / 96. 03. 84 poste 392Fax. (689) 96. 03. 01E-mail : email@example.comManagers: Junko Kida & Pascal Jogut RANGIROA PARADIVEPointe Ohutu c/o Pension Chez Glorine, RANGIROATel. (689) 96. 05. 55 / 96 . 02. 69 Fax. (689) 96. 05. 50 E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.orgWEB: www.chez.com/paradiveManager: Bernard Blanc THE SIX PASSENGERSBaie d'Ohutu, RANGIROATel. (689) 96. 02. 60 / 96. 03. 05Fax. (689) 96. 02. 60 E-mail: email@example.comWEB: www.the6passengers.comManager: Nanou Chapuisat