Scuba Diving With Sharks: Top 10 Shark Dives | Sport Diver

Scuba Diving With Sharks: Top 10 Shark Dives

From whale sharks to great whites, it doesn't get much more intense than scuba diving with sharks. Check out these top 10 shark dives.

From Shark Week to Sharknado, there's no doubt we're obsessed with sharks. Scuba diving with sharks involves getting up-close and personal with tiger sharks, great white sharks and more. We've ranked them from easiest to hardest, so go ahead — dive in and take your pick.


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They’re fish that can’t help but conjure strong visceral reactions. For the uninitiated, the emotional response to seeing a shark is often a gut-heavy fear. For the well-trod diver, the sight of a pointy dorsal fin can send waves of heart-thumping excitement. Andy Dehart, lead expert for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, suggests divers build confidence by working their way up to shark species perceived as more dangerous. Click next to see our top 10 shark diving experiences, from easiest to most challenging.


Whale Sharks

Dave Caravias

whale shark

Season: June through September; July is prime time
Operator: Pro Dive Mexico has been leading whale-shark snorkel safaris for eight years. Diving with the animals is prohibited.
Cost: A full-day safari with a maximum of 10 swimmers costs $209 per person

Twenty miles off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, two girls in the water can’t stop screaming. A 40-foot-long whale shark with a grin stretching four feet wide is approaching, and it’s hungry. On the menu is the same item as the day prior — clouds of all-you-can-eat tuna eggs — but the girls don’t realize that, or have forgotten. "It boggles my mind that any- one still fears these filter-feeders,” says underwater photographer Chris Guglielmo. In the moment, Guglielmo shushed the pair, reminding them not to spook the wild animal. If upset, the shark will flick its tail and cruise the opposite direction. At which point, the best tactic is to simply stay put until another approaches. These animals regularly circle this nutrient hot spot. As for safety, Guglielmo says there is little to fear. “The worst-case scenario is that you swallow a little salt water.” The payoff: a bucket-list encounter you’ve got to hustle for. For Guglielmo, the biggest surprise was trying to keep pace with these 3-mile-per-hour swimmers — whale sharks are much faster than they seem. Guglielmo’s best efforts have resulted in 20-second encounters; the afterglow is much more lasting. Hopefully, it generates a buzz loud enough to extinguish lingering fear among the general public — ensuring that future encounters are quieter.

Sean Havas

Nurse Sharks | Ambergris Caye, Belize

nurse shark

Season: Year-round
Operator: Amigos Del Mar has led tours to Shark Ray Alley for 25 years
Cost: A two-and-a-half-hour tour is offered twice daily and costs $40

Shark Ray Alley is an iconic underwater landmark. At this snorkel-only 15-foot-deep site, packs of nurse sharks appear with the rev of an engine. Operators ply the water with fish, feeding the sharks and allowing other boats to simply show up. “The lack of danger allows you to have a clearer, freer mind about composition, and really the encounter in general,” says photographer Keri Wilk. Plus, the subjects stay on the bottom and don’t move too much. “Anything could still happen. What if some of the juice [from the fish feed] adhered to my hair and some of the sharks scalped me?” Although Wilk is kidding — mostly — he acknowledges that the species is largely underrated. Which only adds to the legendary status of the site.

Brandon Cole

Sand Tiger Sharks | North Carolina

sand tiger shark

Season: June through September
Operator: Morehead City-based Olympus Dive Center, offering scuba tours since 1976, can’t promise which wreck they will visit on a given day due to ever-changing conditions. That said, guests see sand tigers at 90 percent of the sites.
Cost: A two-dive charter costs $130; tanks are extra

Author and explorer Bernie Chowdhury has been diving off the coast of North Carolina for nearly 30 years, and in that time he’s witnessed a dramatic transformation in the behavior of sand tiger sharks. “In the ‘80s, they kept their distance,” he says. “Now, they swim right up to you; they have no fear of people.” So much so that Chowdhury advises visitors to the Papoose and U.S.C.G.C. Spar wrecks remain composed when in corridors and enclosed areas. Once, years ago Chowdhury was forced to wear a helmet due to an ear injury, and the reflection off the faceplate sparked the curiosity of a passing sand tiger. Chowdhury responded by sticking to his usual game plan: He swam slowly and casually, even as he realized he was playing a game of chicken. The standoff ended when the shark veered off ever so slightly to the left. When not squaring off with sand tigers, Chowdhury likes to stay still and simply admire their musculature. “This thing doesn’t waste movement,” he says. His other tip: Scour the top deck to take advantage of one shark behavior that remains unchanged. Sand tigers regularly bite the wrecks to shed old teeth, which make cheap souvenirs.

Brandon Cole

Caribbean Reef Sharks | Grand Bahama, Bahamas

Caribbean reef shark

Season: Year-round
Operator: UNEXSO offers shark feeds at Shark Junction, a 48-foot-deep site
Cost: The 45-minute shark dive costs $109

For 20 years running, PADI IDC UNEXSO has offered shark feeds at least three times a week off Grand Bahama — in 2012 alone, it introduced 1,200 divers to local Caribbean sharks. If you find these numbers reassuring, you’re not alone. says Jeff Currer, owner of D.C.-based Patriot Scuba, “They wouldn’t be doing this routinely if it were super dangerous.” After experiencing the feed himself, Currer brought two groups to the Grand Bahama dive center. The highlight of introducing first-timers, he says, is “watching them start with saucer-pan-size eyes, rigid bodies and lots of bubbles coming out of the regulator,” then quickly relax — thanks in large part to UNEXSO’s orderly system that puts minds at ease.

Eddy Raphael

Hammerhead Sharks | Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

hammerhead shark

Season: Year-round
Operator: Caradonna Dive Adventures
Cost: Check for latest pricing

“The way they stick together reminds me of biker gangs,” says course director Andy Phillips, of scalloped hammerhead sharks. For safety, this shy animal travels in packs. Off Wolf and Darwin islands in the Galapagos Islands, the groups swell to 100 to 250 strong. Divers hoping to witness the phenomenon typically find a fixed position along the rocks rather than fight currents. Then they wait. Because, unlike bikers, these sharks don’t simply cruise by. As they pass, one typically breaks away at the last minute. “They keep coming back and buzzing you. Why they’re curious and approaching divers, I don’t know,” he says. After two trips on open-circuit scuba, Phillips wanted even-closer encounters and switched to closed-circuit. The difference, he says, “is like that between watching a movie in 2-D and 3-D.” Of his past two trips on rebreather, he says that the sharks circled directly overhead. Because their heads are a bundle of pulse sensors, he speculates that they are especially drawn to the closed-circuit unit’s electronics. The good news is, every encounter has exceeded expectations. The bad news is, if you’re anything like Phillips, a visit to the Galapagos won’t become an item crossed off the bucket-list, but rather, the start of a new addiction.

Phillip Colla

Gray Reef Sharks | Great Barrier Reef, Australia

gray reef sharks

Season: Year-round
Operator: Mike Ball operates the 100-foot-long Spoilsport out of Cairns, Australia
Cost: Seven-night Coral Sea safaris start at $3,416

“It’s like chocolate to us,” says photographer Steffen Binke, of the fish smell that lures sharks to Osprey Reef, a coral sea atoll rising from a 3,000-foot abyss. Binke worked aboard the Mike Ball vessel Spoilsport, logging around 30 dives with as many as 60 to 70 gray reef sharks. Fast currents tend to rip through the area, dictating that guides follow protocol other than hand-feeding. It starts in the galley, where the first mate whips up a tuna-head Popsicle, served in a hole-studded bucket. This is lowered into the water, and then attached to a suspended chain. For those who like a fast, action-packed show, this is the real deal. Despite — or perhaps because of — that adrenaline rush, Binke attends the shark feeds as often as possible. “It’s far more dangerous to drive a car. Besides, where else can you be surrounded by predators that show no interest in you?”

David Fleetham

Bull Sharks | Beqa, Fiji

bull shark

Season: Year-round
Operator: Beqa Adventure Divers offers the shark dive almost daily
Cost: A one-tank dive costs $115

“Nothing — seeing pictures, watching videos, hearing stories — prepares you for what it’s like to sit on the bottom and look up at 50 bull sharks,” says Jillian Morris Brake, a marine biologist and videographer with countless shark dives to her credit. “It’s remarkable how much bigger they are over there,” she says, comparing the bulls of Beqa, Fiji, to those in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. The experience she’s talking about is led by Beqa Adventure Divers. The operation has established a ledge at 100 feet and another at 60 feet for viewing during two subsequent dives. several safety divers support the group in case a guest elects to stop early. Everyone wears a black wetsuit and dark fins so as not to be confused with the light-colored bait. Most important, the divers sit and remain in one spot on the bottom. This consistency is designed to encourage sharks to adhere to a regular pattern. “The bull sharks don’t break above a certain depth,” Brake says. “Beqa has worked very hard to create interaction levels. The sharks learn very quickly that if they go up too high, there’s no food. When divers move, they don’t follow.” Brake had entered the water with a “nervous excitement” and a hunch that there would be “fighting and muscling” between sharks. Instead, she was surprised at how orderly the feeds were. The attraction lures in eight shark species, including sicklefin lemons, silvertips and gray reefs, and ultimately delivers harmony among all. In Brake’s words: “It’s a gentle ballet, just with big sharks.”

Brandon Cole

Tiger Sharks | Tiger Beach, Grand Bahama, Bahamas

tiger shark

Season: Year-round
Operator: Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas organizes trips to Tiger Beach from Old Bahama Bay Resort, Grand Bahama
Cost: Price is determined by the number of divers committed to each trip; the Tiger Beach supplement starts at $166 per person

You’ve seen the YouTube clips of tiger sharks again and again attempting to swallow cameras. Should we fear that electronics soon won't be enough to satisfy? Those people want sharks to eat the cameras,” says marine biologist Jillian Morris Brake, who has logged 100-plus dives at Tiger Beach. “Tigers will bump — you have to hold your ground and say, ‘This is my space,’ but, no, you don’t have to worry that as soon as you jump in that sharks will start chewing [your camera].” Brake says she favors this species because “tigers actually look at you. They are fish, but think about all the other fish you encounter and don’t have a special moment with.” Andy Dehart, leading expert for Discovery Channel’s shark Week, cites the same draw: charisma.Hands down, my favorite place on earth is Tiger Beach; one, I love tiger sharks, and two, I have been there so many times, seeing the same individuals come back.” One individual who gets the most press, in part for sticking around for many years and starring in several YouTube-hyped camera grabs, is Emma. “During my first Shark Week,” says Dehart, “she came right up and let us take a hook out of her mouth. That’s contrary to most people’s perceptions of tigers. She’s a rock star.”

Sean Havas

Great White Sharks | Kleinbaai, South Africa

great white shark

Season: Year-round
Operator: Marine Dynamics
Cost: $154 per person

“I don’t think it fools them,” says Oliver Jewell, marine biologist, of the seal-shaped decoy used to attract great white sharks. A member of the Marine Dynamics team that leads cage trips off Kleinbaai, Jewell says a slick of fish oil sent overboard creates a scent trail leading to the in-water cage. Once the sharks’ curiosity is sparked, the team uses a line baited with a fish head to repeatedly lure them closer to the cage. Guests behind bars are treated to repeated predator swim-bys. And while sensationalistic movies and media want you to believe that great whites dart through the water, Jewell says they move much more slowly. As for the cage itself, photographer Michael Blitch observed before climbing in: “I saw the cage was sturdy and could hold up to chomping pressure. I had no fear.” But it was an experience Blitch knew he wanted, regardless of the cost. “It’s one of the rawest experiences in nature, and those are just so rare.”

Dave Caravias

Oceanic Whitetips | Cat Island, Bahamas

oceanic whitetip shark

Season: April and May
Operator: Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas arranges trips April and May through Hawk’s Nest Resort and Marina on Cat Island
Cost: Prices were not available

Don’t underestimate eye contact when it comes to this intelligent pelagic species. “They will watch to see if you keep eye contact,” says Dustin Hurlbut, digital forensic examiner and amateur photographer who has traveled to Cat Island twice just to dive with this open-water shark. “They will be particularly sneaky; they swim past you in a leisurely arc, then flip a 180 and tuck behind you to see if you notice. If you weren’t familiar with them, it would be extremely intimidating.” This might sound unnerving, but Hurlbut says otherwise. “It’s no different than how we constantly scope things out. We look at people, sizing them up to see if they’re a threat.” If a shark deems you dangerous, it will take off. The shark knows that an injury makes it a target. That said, “as long as they think they might get a handout, the oceanics stick around all day,” says Hurlbut, who was logging around four to five hours with about 10 to 20 in the water each day of his most recent trip in April. Fishermen hate oceanic whitetips for the same reason that it’s so easy to arrange a swim with them. While someone in a boat lures in a marlin, wahoo or other catch, this shark waits patiently just off the stern. Hurlbut loves this. “I like to be the first one in the water, looking three of them right in the eyes.”

Amanda Cotton

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