Diving with Sharks: My First-Hand Encounters and Why They’re Not as Dangerous as You Think

Many people worry about sharks being dangerous, especially before going into the ocean for a swim. Read on to hear about my first-hand experience diving with thousands of sharks.

Are Sharks Dangerous? Is it Dangerous to Scuba Dive with Sharks?

I’m an avid scuba diver, and early on I discovered a surprising thing: I realized that for most divers, seeing a shark on a dive (especially a rare shark) is like seeing a celebrity on the street or spotting a shooting star on a clear night. It’s an exhilarating thing! But not terrifying.

Now, I know for many people this would be difficult to believe. But for whatever reason, swimming alongside one of natures most suave apex predators is awesome and much less intimidating than you’d imagine. And believe me, this isn’t just an adrenalin junkie thing. Divers of all ages, from all over the globe, can all agree that seeing a shark on a dive is a real treat.

If you love scuba diving and want to learn about some of the best places to dive, and how to do it on a budget, read my other articles:


Recollecting Memorable Shark Dives with “Dangerous Sharks”

Many divers like myself keep a dive log, basically a little passport where you take notes from each dive and collect stamps from each dive shop, certifying your diving activities. This is partially a safety measure for proving your skill level as a diver, but for me after hundreds of dives, my dive log is now mostly a place to take note of the cool critters I spot underwater, a place to sketch aquatic animals I spot, and a resource to look back on when reminiscing or giving advice to other divers. Below are a few memorable times I’ve encountered sharks on a scuba dive.

1. Diving with Bull Sharks in Yasawa Islands, Fiji

My first encounter with a truly predatory shark was in the the remote Yasawa islands in Fiji. I had previously encountered many white tip and black tip reef sharks, and even dove in the open blue every day for a month with schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks in Fiji (Read my article about backpacking to Savusavu, Fiji’s best hidden gem!), but bulls sharks are really something else. There are incredibly few fatal shark attacks against humans- usually only about ten per year – but those attacks frequently involve a bull shark.

Interesting side note, according to The Australian Institute of Marine Science: In the 30 years in the USA, 12 people died from shark attacks, compared to 1,500 people that died from lighting strikes in coastal regions.”

Anyway, bull sharks are feisty and fearless, and hunt larger fish, turtles, and rays, which can be confused with the body shape of surfers.

On this dive in Fiji, they don’t chum the water during the dive, but the shop does occasionally go to the site to leave an offering to keep the bull sharks in the area and entice them to the sound of the boat. This dive was my first ever back-roll entry (in all of the scuba destinations I’d been in the past, entry had always been by giant stride, jumping front first into the water off a ledge), and there was something unnerving about flinging myself backwards and blind into bull shark territory.

I swallowed my fear and flipped backwards into the water, then quickly righted myself and peered carefully down into the blue. There were no sharks to be seen, and I was slightly relieved. We descended onto a rock ledge overlooking fathomless water and sat, waiting.

Not too long after setting ourselves down, a huge ten-foot-long and very beefy bull shark made a pass. Its beady glare followed us as it cruised by. The whites of its eyes bordering the slightly cat-pointed black of its pupils were eerily human-like. I was excited and probably flying through my air more than usual!

A few more bull sharks joined in, and as we left the lease to explore the colorful pinnacles, the shadows of the sharks patrolling were always close behind. At one point, a large bull shark began making closer passes, and the group settled in close to the reef for a defensive position. My buddy, Amanda, and I were about ten feet from the rest of the group, and I felt a bit vulnerable. The shark circled back, and bee lined directly towards Amanda and I. Its body looked just like a slow-motion torpedo advancing on us from head on. Amanda’s hand went to the knife on her calf, and, unarmed, I shamelessly hid behind her like a human shield and tried to aim my camera at the shark without taking my eyes off it. At the last moment and only a few feet away, the shark did a quick dodge and headed into the fading blue of the distance.

I have dove with many, many sharks since the , but this was the only time I have ever felt truly intimidated by a shark. Maybe it’s because it was my first big shark dive, and it could sense my fear? Maybe it’s because the legacy of chumming in the area and the feistiness of bull sharks? All I know is a shark has never, since then, given me anything close to such a fright.

2. Diving with Hundreds of Hammerheads in Darwin, Galapagos

Scalloped hammerheads are one of the most exciting sharks to dive with, not only because of their unique shape, but also because of their schooling lifestyle. When you see a scalloped hammerhead, you’re most likely to see at least a few together.

My boyfriend and my best friend are all avid scuba divers, and in 2019 the three of us embarked on the scuba trip of a lifetime: to the remote and practically untouched islands of Wolfe and Darwin, where some of the last huge schools of hammerhead live protected in the Pacific Ocean.

We boarded the liveaboard, a 16-passenger yacht called the Humboldt Explorer (which we booked on a great discount, I wrote an article about finding discount liveaboards to Wolfe and Darwin here!). We were greeted by 13 other passengers, who were divers from all over the world, including Mexico, Hawaii, China, and Canada. We braved the 21-hour sailing in our small vessel out into the open ocean toward the indicernable specks on the globe in the middle of earth’s most vast ocean. When we awoke we were rewarded with an incredible view of the towering cliffs of Darwin Island, topped with thousands of swarming frigates and sea birds.

Galapagos has relatively cold water at 23-25 degrees celcius in March, and the currents are so strong they can knock the air regulator out of your mouth. But this is what brings huge colonies of squid and fish to the area, and the sharks that feed on them.

On the most memorable dive at Darwin Island, we entered the water in the early morning, quickly descending to the volcanic rocky ledge covered in barnacles and the odd patch of coral. As the current was rushing us along, our group of 9 divers and local dive master took our reef hooks and fastened ourselves to the rock and slightly inflated our BCDS, allowing our bodies to float over the reef like balloons. The current was so strong that fish were easily blown by, their strong fins unable to fight the force of the water.

Directly in front of us was an underwater cliff, plunging to incredible depths. Looking down all you could see where the inky green-blue depths, and dark colored reef fish being blown around in the passing current. The roar of the water wasn’t the only sound thirty meters below the surface: the water was full of cheerful twinkling melodies, almost like tropical birds calling after a rainfall in the jungle. I looked up at the blinding blue surface above me, and found a huge pot of bottlenose dolphins weaving in and out of the waves.

And then, like ghosts rising from darkness, the hammerheads ascended toward us with sunlight glinting off their backs. Hammerheads have the ability to control how light reflects on their body, and they sometimes use this to signal to each other or better camouflage in the darkness. Their strong bodies glided effortlessly through the water without and perceptive movement of fins or tail.

Spaced evenly, there must have been dozens or even hundreds of hammerhead sharks, but with the water full of plankton and barnacle moults and other debris, the visibility dropped substantially over thirty or forty feet and, there’s no way to know for sure how many sharks were hovering before us.

One hammerhead ventured closer than the rest to Shandon beside me, and when his bubbles rose and advanced toward the shark, it shivered and bolted into the blur of ocean ahead of us.

Later, when we were pulling ourselves along a sandy plateaued bottom scattered with chocolate chip starfish, we met with a handful of hammerheads being cleaned by brightly colored butterfly fish only ten feet in front of us. The fish swarmed along their backs, between their gills, and even ventured in to clean their sparkling jaws. To our right, a small school of big-eyed jacks circled in a tornado, watching the scene.

Though these sharks undoubtedly weigh twice as much as me, and are frighteningly fast when they want to be, their presence doesn’t give me anything but a sense of wonder, awe, and respect for the beautiful animals. I had dove with perhaps tens of thousands of sharks, and none have ever caused me harm.

3. Diving with Sandbar Sharks in Kona, Hawaii

Hawaii is one of the most bountiful safe havens on earth for large aquatic species, including whales, mantas, dolphins, and SHARKS! According to the state of hawaii, there are 40 different species of shark making these Pacific islands their home, making it the perfect destination to dive in and see some sharks!

Once, when resting on the beach after diving at one of our favourite sites on Kona, my dive buddies and I got to talking with a couple of divers who had just exited the water. We exchanged the usual how was your dives, and then we asked what their favourite dive was in Hawaii. They mentioned a few, but our ears perked up when he mentioned sandbar sharks.

He told us that if you entered the water a bit before sunset, went to about 20 meters depth in the sand, and crinkled an empty water bottle, you would have a sandbar shark in front of you faster than you would believe. He repeated that sentiment many times, like “you WONT BELIEVE how fast a sandbar shark will be there”. We were very intrigued because we still hadn’t seen a sandbar shark after diving many times in the area.

The next evening we got geared up, fastened an empty water bottle onto one of our BCDs, and hiked along the rugged lava path to the shore dive site. The sun was getting near the horizon, the sky was dimming to a pastel purple, and the swaying palm trees threw long shadows.

Once we arrived to our sandy little patch at the prescribed depth, we settled into the bottom and looked at each other in excitement. One of us clawed at the water bottle, making a barely perceivable *crunch-squeek*.

INSTANTLY we were faced with an 8 foot long sandbar shark only an arm’s reach away. Even with the enthusiastic warnings, I couldn’t believe it. On our knees we went into a triangle formation with out tanks clanking together loudly in the center, and the shark circled us with questioning eyes.

As I craned my neck to watch the sleek, dagger shaped shark circled us, I pondered in wonder that there must be a sandbar shark at all times just outside of vision, given how quickly it reacted to the water bottle trick. What a thrilling thought.

Pretty quickly the shark realized the water bottle wasn’t a tantalizing crunched crustacean or any other edible treat, and it retreated to the peripherals. We did our usual rounds of the dive site, surveying the coral for critters and looking around for other interesting animals, but the sandbar shark patrolled nearby like a shadow for the duration of the dive.

If you’re interested on experiencing Hawaii on a major budget, consider comping in Hawaii! We gave it a try and loved waking up in our cozy tent and opening it in the morning to reveal the bright blue water and white sand at our beachfront campsite (which we paid $2 a night for!). I wrote all of our camping in Hawaii tips and tricks here.

Or if you want to go full-out extra on your accommodations, you have to check out this unreal VRBO: The #1 Most Exclusive Luxury Rental in Hawaii; Now Anyone Can Stay!


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