The biggest shark in the world, the Whale Shark, is completely harmless unless plankton or krill is your species. No teeth! This 10m (30ft) beauty was photographed in the Maldives by Arturo de Frias Marques.
Diving with sharks
Half a million people dive with sharks every year, some in cages, some in chain mail, some in nothing at all. The #1 spot for shark diving is South Africa (especially to see Great Whites), though Australia’s Barrier Reef or the Ningaloo Reef (especially good for massive Whale Sharks) on Australia’s west coast are also excellent.
There is some concern among local people and conservationists generally that sharks are associating the bait used to attract the big fish with the humans that hang around in the vicinity. In other words sharks are being trained to recognise this equation: easy food = humans.
Regular scuba diving
Among the pelagics (ocean-going fish) there is nothing quite like diving with sharks, known as sea dogs up to the 16th century. They are marvellous creatures – graceful, powerful, a little menacing and with great variety both physically and behaviourally. A loose aggregation of spotted eagle rays or a school of manta rays make spectacular company but don’t give the same tingly buzz as a cluster of man-eating sharks.
Sadly, as a result of over fishing it is becoming less common to encounter sharks in the normal course of diving. If you wish to seek them out the classic places are Galapagos, Cocos, South Africa, and parts of Asia like Layang-Layang.
However, it is also possible to enjoy the company of these majestic animals, up close in the west Atlantic and the Caribbean.
General tips on scuba with sharks:
First, if you’re on a guided shark dive, do listen carefully to whoever gives the briefing and watch him/her closely under water for any signals. They know what they’re doing (well, you hope they do !) and have local knowledge of both the environment and the creatures you are going to see.
Second, make sure you are comfortable with your equipment, weighting etc. because you don’t want to be fiddling about on an interactive shark dive. In this respect, avoid wearing or showing things that might attract undue shark attention (Shiny/sparkly stuff and blonde hair caught the eye of one tiger shark on a dive I made. If in doubt wear a hood).
Third, don’t wave limbs, hands or fingers around. Threshing about is not good for your diving and could send the wrong signals to the sharks whereas the odd digit may look like a tasty morsel to a passing predator.
Fourth, you could read up on the various shark species and their different behaviours beforehand.