Just a few years ago only adrenaline junkies or daring visionaries would have thought of jumping in the water to dive near sharks. Today, it is a whole different story. Many divers and snorkelers hope to see sharks of all sizes, some of which were once considered man-eaters. These often greatly misunderstood creatures are now attracting divers who simply want to observe them and get a glimpse of their universe. As with any wildlife encounter it’s important to be responsible when diving near sharks. Use only well known dive operators that will teach you how to safely and respectfully interact with sharks and other ocean life.
While sharks have long been perceived by many as voracious killers, for me they have become a fascination. I have traveled around the globe for the pleasure of diving with them. I have been in places like Cocos Island in Costa Rica and the remote islands of Wolfe and Darwin in the Galapagos.
These are expensive destinations but I and many other divers think it’s worth it. The reason is simple: they remain two of the best places in the world to dive with scalloped hammerhead sharks who congregate there by the thousands. There are so many other examples of how shark diving is making a positive contribution to our tourist economies:
- On a shark diving trip to the Maldives, a small island nation located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I was thrilled to see a billboard advertising shark ecotourism, but not in the usual way. The ad showed various parts of a shark that can be sold – each with a price tag. But there was another price tag showing that this same shark could generate far more in shark tourism if left alive than the shark parts would ever bring in.
- In New England, in places like Maine and Rhode Island, operators offer day trips to snorkel or dive with blue and mako sharks. Anyone can participate – if you’re not a certified diver, you can still snorkel. Blue sharks used to be one of the most abundant species on the planet. Sadly, they have dramatically suffered from finning, overfishing and bycatch.
- Massachusetts has great white sharks in its waters. They are present in sufficient numbers to be studied. I think that it’s just a matter of time before someone starts offering observation trips, similar to what is done in Mexico, South Africa or Australia. Basking sharks can also be seen off the northeast coast of the US.
- Going north of Maine, in Quebec (Canada), you can dive with a prehistoric looking animal: the Greenland shark (below). I have dived with this animal on several occasions and it is always a very unique experience. This shark moves slowly to conserve its energy and if you are lucky enough, it will let you swim by while it remains nearly motionless. Blue sharks and porbeagle sharks can be seen in Quebec as well.
Interacting with sharks is an incredible experience, and it makes you realize that they are very different from how they are portrayed in the movies. It is so humbling to look at the graceful movement of a shark passing by. Shark conservationists and scientists have played an important role in changing the way we look at sharks and the Jaws aura surrounding sharks is slowly fading. Fear of sharks is being transformed into respect and curiosity, and an increasing number of people are coming down with what ails me: shark fever!
Today’s guest post is by our friend Michel Labrecque. Michel is a published underwater photographer and contributor for various underwater medias. He is also a PADI Master Instructor, IANTD Trimix Instructor, a DAN and EFR Instructor Trainer and an HSA Instructor. He co-owns Plongée XL, a PADI 5 Star IDC Dive Center located in Victoriaville, Canada with Julie Ouimet who signs most of their articles.