It’s pretty hard to describe the feeling that comes over you when you’re face to face with a 4m Tiger Shark. No cage… no chainmail… no spear gun…. “Awesome” is really the only word I can think of!
This was our second time doing a shark dive. The first was a year and a half earlier in Roatan, Honduras, however it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. The main difference? The sharks! In Roatan, the sharks are all Caribbean Reef Sharks, averaging about 2m in length — in Fiji, there are up to 8 different species of sharks, including Bulls and Tigers, which can get up to 3-4m long.
Aqua-Trek pioneered shark diving in Fiji over 20 years ago, and have been running Shark-feed dives in conjunction with the Fijian government since 1999. Their weekly shark dives run like a well oiled machine, safety being top priority. The 20 minute boat ride consists of a very thorough safety briefing, where the plan for the morning’s two dives is explained in great detail.
Adrenaline is on high as we jump off the boat and descend to 25m. Immediately you can see some of the smaller reef sharks circling below along with hundreds of other fish such as jacks, snappers and groupers. As we reach the bottom we all spread out taking our places behind a small rock wall facing a large sandy area known as “the Arena”.
Hours before we arrived the staff of Aqua-Trek had lowered large bins of fish guts down to the dive site, and allowed the scent to permeate the water, attracting sharks over the last few hours. Once we’re all set up behind the wall they open the bin, and the feeding begins.
It’s all a bit chaotic and frenzied as fish of all sizes dart in for their taste of the goods. The smaller reef sharks start circling the arena and the staff (wearing chainmail gloves) start to hand feed them. After about 10 minutes the first Bull Shark arrives. He does a couple of circles checking things out before he goes in for the fish. In the mean time a couple more Bulls arrive along with some Lemons, and a Slivertip. Visibility is starting to get a little poor at this point. All the action is causing a lot of sand to get kicked up and at times it can be hard to see the sharks until they are right there, 2 feet in front of you. A few minutes later a bit of a frenzy happens and a large cloud of sand blankets us. Just as it starts to settle we hear the signal to end the dive and reluctantly start the slow assent to the surface. Luckily this is only the first dive… and the best is yet to come.
After an hour long surface interval we gear up for the next dive. I’ve been told that because of my large camera I’ll be able to come out in front of the group this time, for an even closer look. The only rule is that I must keep my camera between myself and the sharks at all times, and if necessary, use it to push them away. We jump in the water and descend to a different site at 18m, and once again we line up behind a small wall. This time one of the instructors pulls me out front, and basically stays glued to my side for the remainder of the dive.
There are several Bulls already circling by the time we get down and set up. The visibility is much better on this second dive, and there are way more sharks. A couple minutes into the dive we hear the clanging of metal on tanks signalling that a Tiger has arrived. She is huge…. 4m in length, with the telltale stripes on her side clearly identifying her as a Tiger. She’s cautious at first, slowly circling, and checking things out. The staff hold out fish heads for her, trying to entice her in closer. Eventually she gets braver and comes in for a snack. It’s amazing being so close seeing her jaws open, as she almost gently takes the fish head from one of the instructors. After that first taste she seems more confident and circles closer and closer till there she is passing over me by what seems like barely a foot. So close in fact that one of the guides gently nudges her away.
There is so much activity going on it’s hard to know where to look. The instructor glued to my side keeps one hand on my arm directing me, and pointing out sharks. At one point things get a little too chaotic and he has to drag me back, away from the feeding frenzy. Once things settle a bit we return to our spot, perched on the edge of a rock. It’s a little awkward to take pictures, and there is just so much happening I don’t know where to shoot, and end up just randomly clicking off shots.
Needless to say my pictures are less then spectacular. But with the adrenaline coursing through me, all I can do is take in the sight, committing it to memory, rather than pictures. I can definitely see it would take a few dives to get over the sheer awe of the experience and be able to actually focus on taking pictures.
It’s hard to convey how amazing the experience was. One I would have loved to have done again, if only we’d had more time. If ever in Fiji, I definitely recommend you check out Aqua-Trek’s shark dive, for an unforgettable experience.
In the mean time, here’s Mike’s video of our experience:
Posted by: Kelly