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Oh My Shark!

By Naziah Ali Posted 22 Jan 2014

I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “Sharks are my best friends.” I also read somewhere that, statistically, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than bitten by a shark. I was also told that shark-skin feels like sand paper.

Dive

I’m not sure if any of the above is supposed to encourage you about swimming with the ocean’s most feared predators (no thanks to Steven Spielberg and Jaws), but it’s true that shark-skin does feel like sand paper. This I found out after I eventually mustered the courage to touch one, two, three, four, then I lost count of the number of sharks I dared to touch, hold, grab, and pose next to during the dive at Beqa, off Pacific Harbour on the Viti Levu East Coast.

The Ultimate Shark Dive with Aqua Trek

Imagine a large aquarium with all your usual tropical sea residents AND including more shark species than you could count. I’m talking bull sharks, white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks and tiger sharks, all in one place. Only this time, there’s no thick layer of protective glass. A dazzling hash of heads, fins, tails and fish feed - that’s what it looks and feels like 25 meters down at “the Bistro” in Beqa. Once you’re over your trepidation and push Bruce out of your mind, you kind of open up to a world unlike anything you may have seen before in regular dives.

The beautiful clear water at Beqa allows for good visibility, and you see sharks circling around you and just below them hundreds of fish species like jacks, snappers, and groupers. Another fascinating aspect of the dive is that no one is in a cage. After descending to the feeding area called “the arena”, you experience the shark feed first-hand. So once everyone reached the landing, which was about 25 meters down, the Aqua-Trek team started the feed. The feeding spot is almost a world of its own. While divers lined up outside of the feeding spot, the feeders would pick tuna heads (the shark favorite, apparently) and hold them out towards the sharks. Nurse sharks came first, cruising in and even bumping into their feeders every now and then, like a high stakes tease. The lemon sharks came along next, almost in a single file. The silver tips and black tips came in as they please.

Ten minutes into the feeding, I feel a gentle tug from Brandon, the man behind this Pacific Harbour-based operation. I knew it was time. The first sharks introduced to me were the nurse sharks. Brandon had told me earlier that the nurse sharks were like puppies. That, I thought to myself, must be Brandon’s way of making me feel at ease. I reluctantly stretched my arms, closed my eyes, and touched one. In my head I was half expecting it to turn around and bite my fingers off. Instead, I felt something familiar. Yes, it felt like sand paper. As I drew in closer, I felt another shark brushing past, almost pushing me off balance. Cheeky bugger.

It all felt unreal. What I imagined to be a daring near-death experience turned out to be most enjoyable. It was like a movie that you could touch and feel too. The nurse sharks are a playful lot. I managed to hold on to some but they didn’t stay long enough to say cheese for the camera. All this while, I forgot how dangerous sharks were meant to be to humans. I found myself trying to reach out to them, only to be pushed back by Brandon because, unlike me, he could see the next one I was reaching out for was a bull shark. More bull sharks came later. You could see them opening their giant jaws as they swooped the tuna heads off the hands of their feeder. Not the friendliest of the lot, I was told.

It was curious to watch how the different species moved around at their own pace; there seemed to be an order that they all had, and a sense of space they all respected. It went quiet for a while down there, and then
there was a sort of big entry. There was a bit of a commotion which I didn’t understand. I was told later that it was a tiger shark that had made an appearance. I didn’t recognise it then, perhaps for the better.
People have labelled shark diving as many things – daring, exhilarating, even death-defying. What I’ve found, at its purest and simplest, that when you come face to face with a shark, you forget your fears. All you’ve got is that moment (that might be all the contact you have with the shark since they don’t exactly follow a schedule), and you learn to make the most of it.

My experience has me ‘hooked’ (bad choice of word, perhaps?) for a lifetime. For that split second the shark looked directly at me, I was awestruck - by the structure of its face, jaws, and body and also its behavior. There was a shark, in its natural habitat, and it wasn’t the least bit interested in me.

But I felt a connection that I can’t explain – a connection that made me feel like I needed to help maintain this beautiful underwater world where all its inhabitants, including the sharks, lived. After this experience, I find myself looking for excuses to go swimming with my new ‘friends’ again. Next time, I would like to feed the sharks. And why not! That’s one more tick on my bucket list.

Naziah Ali is the Publisher of Mai Life Magazine

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