It's "Shark Week" again on the Discovery Channel! I can't say I watch all the shows. With titles like "Jaws of the Deep", "Air Jaws: Night Stalker", "Shark Bait" and "Deadliest Sharks", not sure how well I'd sleep after watching one of these episodes. But the intrigue is certainly there.
I do watch some, though, because I am fascinated by these creatures. Someday I'll check off that bucket list item of swimming with them. I got this idea in my head while in Tahiti a few years ago. The islands offer some fantastic opportunities to dive with sharks - black tipped reef sharks, lemon sharks - the "friendly" ones, mind you. Not like the big guy above.
I was sailing on the most wonderful Paul Gauguin. Listening to the dive master and passengers who went on the various dives, I was inspired to some day get scuba certified and explore the beautiful wonders of the seas. I love to snorkel, but that only takes one so far.
From extreme adventures to more benign experiences, "Shark Week" reminds me of the numerous opportunities around the world to swim with sharks, whether its scuba diving or snorkeling, from a cruise ship or a day trip.
FOR THE ADRENALINE JUNKIE
Photo courtesy of Australia.com Tourism Board
For the adrenaline junkie, cage diving for the chance to come face to face with one of the ocean's fiercest predators is the ultimate experience. South Africa and Australia have long been known for their great white shark dive adventures. South Africa is the only place where cage diving is available year round, with peak times between June and September. Many tours start in or near Cape Town, and take you down to False Bay out to Seal Island. Gansbaai, on the Western Cape, located about 2.5 hours from Cape Town, is considered to the great white shark capital of the world. This area, along with Seal Island, are teeming with Cape fur seals, penguins and cormorants - a favorite food source, and thus a big draw for the sharks.
In Australia, the Neptune Islands are the most well known venue in the region for great white sharks. Located about 40 miles off the coast from Port Lincoln in South Australia, the marine reserve is home to over 50% of the areas great white population. The best time to visit is either during the Australian summer (end of November through February) when the fur seal pups are being born or in the winter (May through October) when one has the best chance to see the big females - some over 20 feet long!
Closer to home, Guadalupe Island, Mexico and the Farallon Islands, California, offer exceptional experiences as well. Guadalupe Island, a volcanic outcrop, is located 160 miles off the coast of Baja. In fact, some say this area offers some of the best, if not the best viewing in the world due to its crystal clear waters. Peak season is summer to late fall (August through October). Note - most trips are overnight excursions, not day trips, due to the distance. The Farallon Islands are located 28 miles off the coast from San Francisco (and are still considered to be within city limits). These barren islands are not inhabited and are a national wildlife refuge. Peak time is between September and November when the elephant seals are at their greatest numbers.
THE MORE "FRIENDLY" SPECIES
There are a great number of places around the world to dive with sharks - too many to outline here. This year, though, the islands of Tahiti played host to Shark Week's "Shark After Dark". Some of the segments were shot at Rangiroa, the second largest atoll in the world and home to several shark species. With 118 islands and atolls, Tahiti offers some of the best diving in the world.
As stated early, I fell in love with the idea of diving while on a Paul Gauguin cruise. The diving excursions are designed for all levels of experience, and one can even get PADI certified while on board. What an inspirational place to learn!
THE GENTLE GIANTS
Images courtesy of Australia.com (left: Anson Smart)(right: Luxury Lodges of Australia)
Snorkeling with the gentle giants of the sea is on many a bucket list, mine included. The thought of swimming with a fish as long as 40 feet is mind boggling. Opportunities to swim with the whale sharks are found in tropical and warm oceans. Top locations and peak times include:
"Shark Week" focuses primarily on the more aggressive species. Of course - it makes for great TV! But these shows are much more than just entertainment. We get to appreciate these beautiful creatures from a safe distance and learn just how important they are to the eco-system. I'm not sure if these shows encourage more people to swim with the sharks, but I know I'm looking forward to a personal experience swimming with the friendlier side of the species. .
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder