Top 10 Things You Should Know About Swimming with Sharks

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1. It Is Amazing

Swimming with sharks is an amazing, life-changing experience that will challenge their reputation as evil man-eaters. You will get a chance to observe these magnificent apex predators in their own environment and realize that they are not at all the mindless eating machines shown in movies and on Shark Week.

In fact, shark bites are not all that common and generally only occur in murky water when a shark isn’t sure what exactly they are about to bite. If you’re swimming in clear, open ocean water, a shark is not very likely at all to want to take a chomp out of you because we humans don’t actually taste all that good. We are not actually what a shark is looking to eat when they’re hungry. That’s why when you do hear about a shark bite, it is usually one bit and done. They quickly realize we are not the delicious fish or seal they were hoping for.

2. Avoid Sudden Movements

When we visit the sharks’ environment, we must be conscious to behave properly. Sudden movements may startle the sharks, and they could flee or launch into a defensive strike. Enter and leave the water quietly and efficiently.

3. Sharks are Curious

Although some sharks are shy, other species like the bull shark, the tiger shark, and the great white shark are known to be curious in certain situations. If divers are well-behaved and the sharks don’t feel threatened they will approach them, often coming quite close before swimming past.

This happened several times when I was swimming with them. They would swim directly at us, getting within ten feet, them abruptly about face and swim away. It was a super interesting behavior to watch.

4. Maintain a Low Profile and Stick to your Diving Group

Keeping a low profile in the water helps to avoid startling the sharks and it encourages them to come closer. Sticking to your diving group is important because sharks tend to view a group of divers as a single, large organism. It is safer for the humans because it prevents the sharks from singling out individual divers.

5. Avoid Contrasting Colors

When diving with sharks, it is generally advised to avoid contrasting colors. This is because sharks can see contrast very well. Some experts have said that high contrast, or shiny objects like jewelry, may be confused with light flashing off fish scales.

In fact, when we went we were given dark gloves to wear over our hands because the palms of most peoples hand are quite a bit lighter than the rest of their skin and our guides didn’t want our hands to be confused for fish either.

In any case, avoiding contrasting colors helps you blend in and not draw attention to yourself.

6. Know When to Get Out of the Water

Always be aware of the sharks swimming around you, and learn to identify aggressive behavior. The shark’s movement should be fluid, with its pectoral fins horizontal and its body relaxed.

An arching back, downward facing pectoral fins and jerky movements indicate an agitated shark. If the visibility is poor, or sharks are displaying such potentially aggressive behavior, end the dive and calmly get out of the water.

7. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

While scuba diving or swimming in the ocean, it is easy to get distracted with our gear, the current, and the beautiful creatures swimming around us. However, especially when swimming with sharks, or in waters known to be inhabited by sharks, being aware of your surroundings is crucial.

This is also quite tricky. While on land, we really only have to be aware of what is on the same level with us or sometimes what could be above us. In the water, especially if you’re diving, you have to be aware of everything. You could have something swimming above you, below you, in front of you, behind you, or to any of your side. It can feel like a lot to keep track of, especially to new divers and swimmers.

This is why sticking to a group is a good idea. With several swimmers around, you’re more likely to know when a shark decides to stop by for a visit. Another trick, is to stick to surface level scuba diving when you’re new to exploring the ocean. When you’re on the surface, you don’t have to worry about what could be above you so the amount of area you have to keep track of is much smaller.

While sharks aren’t usually much of a threat, it is still a good idea to keep track of the sharks swimming around us. In fact, maintaining eye contact has been described as a golden rule for avoiding accidents by the experts. This tells the shark that we acknowledge its presence, and eliminates the chance of a surprise attack.

Although scuba diving with sharks is an amazing experience, it may not for the best idea for beginners. Swimming with sharks safely requires you to be aware of your environment and be capable of swimming calmly and efficiently. It is not the time to be learning to control your buoyancy or improve your finning. This is why diving shops offering shark dives typically require advanced diving licenses.

8. Do Not Bother, Chase, or Otherwise Harass Sharks

Even though sharks may peacefully tolerate our presence in their underwater world, they can and will defend themselves against real or perceived threats. Never chase, block, or otherwise harass sharks. Let them approach you, and not the other way around.

This is really a good rule of thumb when interacting with any form of wildlife.

9. A Shark Diving Cage May Agitate the Sharks

When we went on our shark diving excursion, the ship we were on had the open to free swim with the sharks or they had a cage we could get in. However, they explained that the cage wasn’t actually as great of an option as it sounded because it:

  • Created a lot of noise in the water that would agitate and/or scare off many of the sharks.
  • The cage had a limited capacity so we would have to take turns and would therefore only get around 15 minutes in the water with the sharks instead of over an hour with free swimming.
  • The sharks were not actually much of a threat to us if we understood their behavior and followed the advice of our guides.

So, the entire group quickly decided to go with free swimming and we didn’t regret it one bit. If we had gone with the cage, I believe that we would have quickly regretted it.

Of course, ultimately it is always best to stick with your comfort level.

10. Sharks Are Not Out to Eat You

We touched on this a little bit earlier, but many people are convinced that sharks are out to eat humans—or anything else that moves—if they can. Regardless of how popular movies portray sharks, the truth is that humans are not a natural prey for sharks.

When my husband and I did our shark swimming excursion, the guides first baited the water by dumping in fish blood and guts and dropping in a crate of fish parts to lure the sharks in. According to television, any amount of blood in the water would drive the sharks into a mindless killing mode.

Well, clearly that is not true as we are both still here with no bites taken out of us. All of our sharks were super calm and curious while swimming with us. Sharks may be incredible at smelling blood, but that doesn’t mean that they lose all of their senses and start attacking everything in sight. They can still tell the difference between dead fish parts and giant humans.

And, since I’m sure some of you will try to say that we were just lucky because our sharks must not have been hungry, I’d like to just say that after everyone was out of the water, we spent around half an hour feeding the sharks. They were definitely very eager to eat the fish we were offering.

So, did this provide you with some insight into shark diving? Would you be interested in giving it a try now? Let me know in the comments below.