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Shark Diving - Tips and Advice
Diving with sharks in tropical waters is not usually a dangerous activity and may provide the highlight of a dive. However, divers should be aware of potential dangers and know how to deal with certain situations should they arise. Below are some helpful tips and advice about how to dive and snorkel in the presence of sharks.
- The species of shark typically encountered on coral reefs during the day are usually not dangerous unless provoked.
- Potentially dangerous species - such as Tiger Sharks and Oceanic Whitetip Sharks - can occasionally be encountered on coral reefs but often ignore divers completely. We recommend familiarising yourself with the different species of shark you may encounter on your dive, so that you're better able to evaluate any potential danger.
- Avoid diving at dawn or dusk on reefs where sharks are expected. Normally disinterested species of reef shark can become aggressive, while more potentially dangerous open water species - such as Tiger Sharks - may visit reefs to feed.
- In more remote areas, divers may find that sharks make initial close approaches simply out of curiosity.
- Sharks that have been regularly hand-fed - such as those at various sites in the Caribbean - are also likely to make close approaches in expectation of diver handouts. Some reports suggest that they may become aggressive if disappointed.
- When diving in waters where sharks are expected, swim quickly and purposefully down to the reef; don't linger on the surface.
- Sharks tend to be encountered on the current-swept areas of the reef, so avoid swimming in these areas, especially if you cannot easily then return to the reef. Reef sharks encountered beyond the reef may become aggressive in open water, while larger and more dangerous species, such as Oceanic Whitetips and Silky Sharks, may suddenly appear.
- If you're swept off a reef by a current, surface as soon as possible and attract attention so that your boat can rapidly collect you. If sharks appear, do not thrash around. Stay calm. If a shark nudges you, prod, kick, or thump it (but not with your bare skin).
- Never spearfish in the presence of sharks or in an attempt to feed them. Spear fishermen should never tether speared fish to themselves.
- If attending a shark feed, stay away from (and NOT down current of) any bait offered to the sharks.
- An underwater flashgun that emits a loud whine when it recycles may be bumped or bitten by an inquisitive shark.
- Brightly coloured fins and dive gear may interest sharks – dull-coloured gear is therefore recommended.
- Never pursue any shark. Certain species can attack (in self-defence) when being followed.
- Never photograph or follow a shark that seems to be swimming in an unusual way - for example with its back hunched and pectoral fins pointed downwards. Such exaggerated, stiff and hunched swimming postures are known as ‘agonistic’ displays and are well-documented - for example in the grey reef shark. These displays have been followed by injurious attacks on nearby divers.
- Potentially dangerous species of shark can hunt or accompany marine mammals. These include Tiger, Bull, Oceanic Whitetip, Galapagos, Silky, Dusky, Shortfin Makos and White Sharks. An increasing number of divers and snorkelers enjoy swimming with dolphins and other marine mammals, however there is considerable risk in doing so because sharks may be attracted by the excited reaction of the marine mammals and consequently investigate, or even attack, humans in close proximity to them.
- If you must swim with marine mammals in any area where sharks could appear, wear fins, a mask and snorkel, so that you can swim smoothly. A wetsuit is also advised as an investigating shark could bump you. Furthermore, only enter the water once you are certain that your boat cover can rapidly collect you. Continually scan, in all directions, for sharks – if they appear, do not thrash around. Finally, observe the behaviour of marine mammals, which may provide a warning - for example, if seals or sea lions suddenly depart, leave the water immediately as this may indicate the presence of a large shark.
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