We’ve always had a thing for sharks. So too has David Diley – shark expert, Fiji-lover and maker of the inspiring shark flick, Of Shark & Man, in which David discovers the finned residents at Fiji’s famous Shark Reef. We went underwater with David for five minutes in order to get his top 10 tips on how to swim with one of the ocean’s most misunderstood inhabitants.
1 First of all, remember that sharks are not out to get you. Simply being in the water with sharks present does not mean they automatically want to eat you. You may be nervous, perhaps even a little afraid, but remember: sharks are wild animals that deserve respect and, at times, caution. This is their world, not yours.
2 Make sure your diving is up to scratch. If you have only just passed your Open Water or equivalent beginner certification, spend time in the water getting used to, and enjoying diving, without sharks. Don’t run before you can walk, so to speak. If you rush into a dive with sharks before you can barely even dive, your chances of enjoying the experience and taking it all in are greatly reduced. You want to be able to relax and live the experience, instead of spending the whole dive desperately trying to control your buoyancy.
3 Listen to the experts. No, not the guy sitting next to you who did a cage dive on holiday last year or the girl with the expensive camera – they may sound like they kind of know what they’re talking about, but really, they probably don’t know much – if any – more than you do. Listen to the divemaster and take in everything they say during the briefing. If you have questions, ask them; if you don’t understand the answer, ask for clarification. Don’t feel embarrassed about doing so – you will actually endear yourself to the crew and you will have a much better experience if you follow their guidance.
4 Keep your eyes peeled. As you approach and arrive at the dive site, take in your surroundings and watch the behaviour of the sharks and all the other marine life. Relax, but always make sure to look all around you. Don’t just stare off into the distance – there could be things going on that you’re missing out on. This is a safety protocol too; unless your back is covered by a reef or wall, you may have a curious shark sneak up behind you. It happens.
5 Don’t panic. Relax, get comfortable and keep your hands and arms close to your body. Wear gloves: this not only makes your hands less attractive to a passing shark, it also helps protect against the scrapes and cuts that are so easy to acquire in an underwater environment. Don’t wave your arms around – you could risk being bitten but, more likely, you risk spooking the sharks and missing out on those real close-up moments.
6 Don’t use your camera right away. I get it, I know the feeling: you want to start snapping away as soon as you hit the water. However, avoid the temptation and spend the first five or 10 minutes taking in your surroundings and actually experiencing the dive. If you’re able to have a better idea of what the sharks are doing from simply observing for a while, you’ll ultimately get better shots in the long run.
7 Don’t touch! We’ve all seen the images of people stroking, hugging and, even worse, riding sharks, but this isn’t advisable. Firstly, you could find your hand at the business end of a large shark; they move a lot quicker than you do and you might just lose it. Secondly, you don’t have to touch to enjoy the experience – keep your hands to yourself and respect a majestic animal in an appropriate manner.
8 Don’t get overconfident. You’re having a great time, you’re relaxed, the sharks are behaving, so you can move around a bit, maybe swim along with the sharks, do your own thing – right? Wrong. Not only do you increase the risk of ruining everyone else’s experience on the dive, you also put the safety team under greater pressure. Their focus will be solely on you and that increases the risk of something going wrong for someone else who is following the rules. Just stay put; let the sharks come to you.
9 Remember, stay cool. So, a particularly big and confident shark is heading right at you and he’s not stopping – everything was plain sailing but now you’re not so sure… Do not attempt to strike out at the shark and do not turn your back and think about escape. Simply stand your ground, maintain eye contact and don’t move. In situations like this, you appearing confident and secure (even if inside you’re petrified) gives you the edge; the shark will almost certainly back off long before he comes close enough for him to do anything.
10 Enjoy it. Seeing a live shark underwater is a huge privilege – admire the beauty of the animal, understand you’re a guest and one they have tolerated in their space. That is a great honour. Also, be proud of yourself, you’re doing something many others would never have the guts to do. Use that experience to teach others what an amazing animal sharks are.
Featured image via Getty Images/Wildestanimal