Some of our favorite places to have epic interactions with the stars of Shark Week – dive certification not always required!
We’ve been all around the world diving with sharks from the smallest shy shark to the giant whale shark. Here’s some of the best places in the world to swim, snorkel and dive with the iconic and most popular stars of Shark Week – including Whites, Bulls, Tigers, Great Hammerheads, and Mako Sharks – while shifting your perspective at the same time!
Great White Sharks – Guadalupe Island, Mexico
PADI Diving Certification required: None
Other Shark Species You’ll encounter: None (they don’t want to end up on the White Shark’s menu!)
Want to have the same experience people like PADI Diver Andy Casagrande film for Discovery’s Shark Week? Head to a remote archipelago off the coast of Baja.
Guadalupe Island is off the coast of Mexico and is absolutely epic for experiencing white sharks doing what they do best. This small volcanic island is located 150 miles off the west coast of Mexico and is home to approximately 170 great white sharks from July to November.
The water is crystal clear, topside conditions are usually great – and the action is incredible, and highly reliable. While we are dealing with wild animals that make their own itineraries, it isn’t unusual to see 20 – 30 different animals on a trip!
The island’s shores are havens for Guadalupe Fur Seals, Californian Sea Lions and Northern Elephant Seals. It also brings in incredible amounts of pelagic fish species like tuna. It’s a 24-hour diner filled with white sharks’ favorite food from late July through the end of each year.
Some of the biggest sharks in the world have been tagged in Guadalupe including “Deep Blue”. The action at the surface can be busy with the huge females hunting large elephant seals and from the in-water cages, it’s incredible to witness the social structures and the interaction between sharks.
Many operators serving Guadalupe Island offer the unique experience of liveaboard diving with great whites. While it may not be the easiest place to reach, thanks to the large population of migrating sharks and clarity of the water, this is a great choice for a great white shark encounter.
And you don’t need to be a certified diver! You’ll have surface supplied air and plenty of time in cages built for your – and the sharks’ safety.
Other White Shark Hotspots:
- Port Lincoln – Australia
- Gansbaii + False Bay, South Africa
- Farrallon Islands, California
- South Island, New Zealand
Tiger Sharks – “Tiger Beach”, Bahamas
PADI Diving Certification required: Open Water Diver or Freediver
Other Shark Species You’ll Encounter: lemon sharks, reef sharks, nurse sharks and the occasional great hammerhead
Named because of their unique stripes and impressive hunting style, tiger sharks can be found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the globe. These beautiful marine animals can reach up to 5 meters/16 feet in length and can weigh up to 635 kg/1,400 lb.
Tiger sharks have gotten a bad reputation on Shark Week as being indiscriminate eaters (yes, it’s true a suit of armor and an unexploded grenade have been found in the stomachs of this species) – and dangerous sharks. However, swimming with one – whether snorkeling, freediving or diving is a life-changing experience. You’ll quickly realize that you are having an adventure of a lifetime as the fear melts away. And there is really no place on earth like this place off the coast of the Bahamas – that exists only below the surface.
About an hour by boat from the West End of Grand Bahama, Tiger Beach is famous and aptly named for its resident tiger sharks. Two to seventeen of these gorgeous animals reliably appear nearly every day of the year. Tiger Beach offers the chance to take part in some of the greatest shark diving in the world. You’ll get up-close encounters with not only tiger sharks but lemon sharks, the occasional hammerhead and plenty of whitetip reef sharks in the crystal-clear azure waters that only an aquarium can top in terms of visibility.
The best time to dive Tiger Beach is between October and January when the sharks use the area as a breeding ground. Shark Week has featured some of the residents being tagged or even giving birth – and hopefully you’ll even meet Emma, the world’s most famous Tiger Shark.
From Bimini or Grand Bahamas, you can head to the most spectacular tiger shark gatherings in the world by a day boat – or you can take a trip on a liveaboard departing from Southern Florida or the Bahamas. The easy surface conditions, 20-foot depth and gorgeous light make Tiger Beach accessible for freedivers and scuba divers alike.
Other Tiger Shark Hotspots:
Bull Sharks – Shark Reef, Fiji
PADI Diving Certification required: Advanced Open Water Diver
Other Shark Species You’ll Encounter: tiger sharks, gray reef sharks, nurse sharks, black tip reef sharks, silvertip sharks
Part of many different Shark Week episodes, bull sharks are well known sharks for many reasons – including a reputation for brutish behavior (which earns them their name) as well as the fact they are one of the most adaptable species of all sharks. They can survive in both salt and fresh water and can be found in most coastlines throughout the world. Although they’re portrayed as one of the more aggressive sharks on shark week, they are incredible creatures to see underwater and shouldn’t be missed. And there’s literally no better place to dive with bull sharks than Fiji – where you’ll find the biggest bull sharks in large numbers.
With the establishment of the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, Beqa Lagoon has become a premier shark diving area the world over. Bull sharks are the stars of the show here, but divers can encounter up to 7 other species as well. These include sickle lemons, gray reefs, nurse, blacktip reefs, whitetip reefs, silvertips and tiger sharks. With more than 20 dive sites in the lagoon, divers can fill a week or more with fantastic shark sightings. Although you will see sharks during any month of the year, July to September offer the best diving conditions in terms of visibility, water temperature and other large marine life.
As an added bonus, any diving done in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve finances shark research and compensates local fishermen for lost income due to the creation of no-take zones. It’s a win-win-win for sharks, divers and the local population!
A recent study in Fiji found that bull sharks form friendships with each other! Researchers studied data collected over 3,000 shark dives in Fiji’s Shark Reef Marine Reserve (SRMR), one of the world’s most sought-after diving destinations. SRMR is located in the Beqa Channel, off the southern coast of Viti Levu, and is a striking example of collaboration for conservation.
The shark is revered by local Fijians and legend has it that Dakuwaqa, the ancient shark god, provides protection for the people when at sea. So not only will you be exploring Fiji’s underwater world with your dive buddy, but you will likely encounter a pair of bull shark BFFs on your dive too!
Other Bull Shark Hotspots:
- Bimini, Bahamas
- Playa del Carmem, Mexico
- West Palm Beach and Jupiter,Florida
- Protea Banks, South Africa
Great Hammerhead Sharks – Bimini, Bahamas
PADI Diving Certification required: Open Water Diver or Freediver
Other Shark Species You’ll Encounter: bull sharks, lemon sharks, reef sharks, nurse sharks and don’t forget the shark’s close cousin… the eagle ray
Bahamas makes it on our list twice thanks to the incredible conditions underwater (there’s actually a color named Bimini Blue), and the fact the Bahamas plays hosts to some of the most spectacular mega-fauna in the world – including the Great Hammerhead Shark.
There’s no mystery as to how the hammerhead shark got its name! That massive hammer – known as a cephalfoil – makes them one of the most distinctive animals on the planet. And that hammer isn’t just for show… It gives this shark superpowers which means the great hammerheads have seven finely attuned senses plus 360-degree vision (without turning their head!) to be able to avoid divers. Seeing a great hammerhead is rare as they tend to be quite skittish underwater, so finding a place you can reliably experience them is a rarity.
Every winter from December to March, great hammerhead Sharks gather around Bimini in large numbers. Naturally shy and reserved, these huge sharks with their odd faces become curious in this location, closely approaching divers. Shark diving is closely controlled due to the area’s marine park status. Although Bimini Island is a part of the Bahamas, it is located just 50 miles from Miami in the United States, making it possible to visit by boat in just three hours from the American city.
The waters of Bimini are warm, clear and typically protected. The shark dives occur in less than 20 feet of water allowing divers and freedivers to enjoy incredible encounters.
Plan a trip to Bimini to see the “hammers” and you’ll likely catch up with bull sharks, friendly dolphin pods, and graceful schools of eagle rays. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time to an island still not heavily commercially developed and traversed by golf carts. Bimini can be explored by divers and snorkelers alike – and is absolutely stunning above and below the surface. Head to nearby Honeymoon Beach to swim with the local group of rays as well – after all, rays are really just flat sharks!
Other Great Hammerhead Hotspots:
- Southern Florida, USA
- Rangiroa, French Polynesia
- Solomon Islands
Shortfin Mako Sharks – Rhode Island, USA
PADI Diving Certification required: None
Other Shark Species You’ll Encounter: blue sharks
Mako sharks get nearly as much airtime on Shark Week as white sharks, thanks to their incredible biology, although the fact they are in the same shark family as whites (mackerel) probably doesn’t hurt!
Shortfin mako sharks are sometimes described as miniature great whites on amphetamines. These toothy sharks look like a shrunken-down version of the ocean’s top predators, but they act totally differently. While great white sharks slice slow, graceful circles around a diver, watching with an inquisitive eye, makos are twitchy sharks, hopped up on adrenaline, that speed past you.
Thought to be the fastest sharks in the ocean, makos have an estimated top speed burst of about 45 mph. They can achieve these speeds thanks, in part, to their ability to thermoregulate – meaning they can warm their body temperatures. Incredible acrobats, like great whites, makos are known to jump out of the water, sometimes up to 20 feet in the air, using their perfectly shaped fins as wings and rudders.
Equally impressive, they have the largest brain to body mass of any study shark as well. So they have it all – beauty, brains and braun.
Makos are pelagic sharks that live throughout the world’s oceans, but there are only a handful of places where you can have reliable encounters with these incredible creatures. Our favorite, most reliable place? Rhode Island. Plus, you don’t even have to be a diver!
Most people don’t think of Rhode Island as a shark-diving hot spot, but during the summer months, when the Gulf Stream moves close to shore, this stretch of New England coastline becomes a haven for makos and other sharks, as game fish move closer to shore. You can even join PADI divers, PADI AWARE supporters and Shark Week celebrities Joe and Lauren Romiero as they film and study the local mako population on their dive charter.
Even if you miss the stars, the equally charismatic blue sharks steal the show.
Other Mako Hotspots:
- Baja Sur, Mexico
- Cape Point, South Africa
- San Diego, California
Header Image Credit: Andy Casagrande @ABC4EXPLORE
Creature Feature: Oceanic Manta Ray
In this series, the Shark Trust will be sharing amazing facts about different species of sharks and what you can do to help protect them.
This month our Creature Feature is from guest writer – Yolanda Evans. 17-year old Yolanda has been passionate about sharks all her life, and this month she explores the world of the Oceanic Manta Ray…
The graceful Oceanic Manta Ray dances their way through the blue waters with a wingspan of 7 metres which can reach a maximum of 9 metres, making them the biggest ray in the world. These manta’s have a circumglobal distribution and are found in temperate, tropical, and subtropical. They have a deep black dorsal side with a white T marking on their back and the ventral side is white with black freckles. However, they can be easily confused with Reef Manta’s, but the two main differentiating features (despite their size) is that the white markings on the Reef Manata make a Y shape and there are no freckles on their underside.
Recognisable by the two mouth parts known as the cephalic lobes: extensions of their massive pectoral fins that are used for feeding, helping the ray scoop mouthfuls of plankton. They must eat 20-30 kg of plankton a day, which is only about 2% of their total body weight.
Oceanic Manta’s can have up to 4000 tiny teeth but they don’t use these for feeding, they use them for when they are mating as the males have to hold themselves onto the females! The cephalic lobes can either be flexed out-seen when they are feeding, or curled up for spiral swimming and doing underwater flips!
Having the largest brain to body ratio of any cold-blooded fish, it is thought that they are able to pass the mirror test, showing that they have self-awareness! They are also capable of creating mental maps using smells and environmental barings, helping on their migrations.
Gatherings of these manta’s are rare, but when they come together it is an elegant marine ballet! A group of manta’s, known as a squadron, typically gather for two main reasons: mating and feeding. Manta’s will do somersaults in areas rich in prey to maximise their intake of prey. They will also participate in chain-feeding, this is when each manta follows the other in a circle to create a whirlpool which traps their prey inside!
Cleaning and maintenance is very important to these fish as they will undergo special migrations to coral reefs where Cleaner fish come and groom off parasites and dead skin. These cleaning stations are so important to these rays that they will go back to the same spot for many years!
Out of all elasmobranchs the Giant Manta has one of the slowest reproduction rates, only producing one pup every two to three years and can be pregnant for 12-13 months! However, due to commercial fishing and bycatch, they cannot keep up with the extortionate rate that their populations are decreasing by. This has led to the Oceanic Manta Ray to be listed as endangered by the IUCN. Manta’s are targeted for their gill rakers by traditional medicines that can reach up to $400 USD per kg.
Not only are Oceanic Manta’s threatened by fishing, but also by pollution in the oceans. Microplastics and heavy metals accumulate in their tissues. This can unfortunately lead to serious illnesses like cancers.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mobula birostris
MAXIMUM WINGSPAN: 8.8m
DIET: Filter feeds for plankton, but also consumes deep water fish
DISTRIBUTION: Widespread distribution in tropical and temperate waters worldwide
HABITAT: Ocean-going. Surface to deep waters – 1,000m.
Images: Frogfish Photography
For more amazing facts about sharks and what you can do to help the Shark Trust protect them visit the Shark Trust website by clicking here.
Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)
The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.
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