Fiji: Diving With Sharks Without A Cage

18th August 2014 – Pacific Harbour, Fiji

Electric blue writing, on a brilliant black background, the words ‘Sharks For Backpackers’ on a leaflet caught my attention, I thought ‘Backpackers For Sharks’ is more like it.

I was in Nadi Town, a city on the island of Viti Levu in Fiji. The thought of diving with sharks without a cage terrified me, but I was certainly intrigued. I did some research and found that it is one of the most unique shark dives in the world, and after a positive review from a travelling friend I had in town, I was sold. I decided to plan my trip to include a spare day in Pacific Harbour, in order to scuba dive with sharks, without a cage.

The shark dives are done in a wild area where sharks are protected, and research is done to learn more and help their long-term survival. Upto 8 different species of shark can be seen on each dive: Bull Sharks, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Grey Reef Sharks, Silvertip Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks, Sicklefin Lemon Sharks, and the mighty Tiger Shark. Bull Sharks have a reputation to be a regular attacker of humans, and Tiger Sharks even more so.

I arrived in Pacific Harbour with the Feejee Experience tour group that I had been travelling with, and parted ways with them. That day I went to book the shark diving through my hotel. Both of the companies that do it, Beqa Diving and Aqua-Trek were both full for the following day. I was hugely disappointed, with a small percentage of relief. The receptionist was great, as she called numerous times throughout the day to see if there had been any cancellations. Beqa Diving would not put me on a waiting list, but Aqua-Trek did, and I would find out in the morning.

Having breakfast, the same receptionist came walking up to me and gave me the thumbs up. I could feel my face go pale white with fear, which the guys I were having breakfast with had pointed out. I had very little time to think about it anymore, I had to get my gear ready and leave almost immediately.

I had signed my life away on the disclaimer, got my scuba diving equipment organised, and had the wetsuit on, and the boat was shortly on its way to my deep blue grave. I had a photo taken of myself on the boat trip, a last photo taken of myself was my primary thought, but I still felt pale. Discussing the scuba diving with other customers, most of them were excited, but a couple shared my fear and concern.

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The boat stopped, and promptly we were being given the instructions for the dive, and preparing to enter. I had always heard that sharks go for surfers because they are on the surface, and are assumed to be dead animals floating there, whereas scuba divers are underwater and appear as large animals compared to other smaller targets that they can aim for. With this in mind, I wasn’t too eager to be one of the first in the sea, and have to float there while waiting for everybody else. I was one of the last few in, and was told I could enter negatively buoyant. This meant that I could jump in and go straight underwater.

I jumped in, went under the surface, and followed everybody else down the rope to the floor of the sea. This made the diving aspect easy, and helped the fear as we were all together in a group. Once we got to the bottom, we had our backs to a natural rock wall, and a rope to hold on too. There was a wheelie bin in front of us chained up, and the staff unlocked it. Soon the sharks came, and in huge numbers. Dozens of reef sharks appeared first, before the chubbier and bigger bull sharks made their appearance. With the safety of the wall behind me, I only had to look forward. The fear completely left me, adrenaline kicked in, it was truly amazing. I really wanted a selfie taken with the sharks, but we were warned not to stick our arms out. I took a mental note of every single warning given to us, but I couldn’t resist trying for a photo, but the sharks were not very enthusiastic to appear when I had the nerve to try to take a photo. The dive instructors are clearly incredibly brave to put on this show, and feed countless sharks with their hands. They are also very friendly and helpful in taking our underwater cameras and taking photos of us, and of the sharks for us.

After the end of the show, we had a small our around the nearby reefs, and headed slowly towards to the surface. The group had soon split up, and as I headed up I was alone and up ahead of the majority of the group. At this time, a silver tip shark was swimming in my general direction, the fear quickly crept back. It was a breath-taking moment as this majestic beast swam over and above me.

At the very end of the dive, we were holding the rope to make our safety stop. The wheelie bin was being pulled to the surface, with stray sharks still surrounding it while I just held the rope now tighter than before.

Back on the boat, we had some surface time while we moved to the next dive site. The owner of the diving company gave us a lot of interesting information about the sharks that we saw, and why sharks won’t attack. Simply, they are opportunistic animals, therefore they would attack a surfer, like I said before, because they would assume it is dead. In the unlikely event of a shark trying to attack a scuba diver, any sort of resistance or fighting back should scare the shark away, as they do not want the hassle of the fight.

The staff at the dive company were very helpful, and did the changing of our air tanks, between dives, and did all of our equipment preparation for us, leaving us just to double check everything for safety.

The second dive came around, and this time I was more comfortable with the scuba diving with sharks phenomenon. After the new instructions, we entered the sea again, and once again followed the rope down to the bottom. On this dive, we knelt down behind a short wall, and had the open ocean behind us. A similar show happened, this time with more bull sharks. The sharks came in really close, but now all I felt was excitement. A few times I felt transfixed by the whole experience, it felt like I was watching a documentary TV show. I often forgot where I was, and then had to give myself a reality check and check the open ocean behind me for sharks. I enjoyed the second dive a lot more as I was more relaxed. The diving staff putting on another fantastic show, attracting the sharks and enticing them in so close. Just mesmerising.

There was an elderly lady on the dive trip, and I just had to ask her how old she is. She is 86 years old, and does the shark diving at least once per week, often up to three times per week. Speaking to my driver, he said that she has been diving with them for as long as he worked there, since 1996, and every morning see her swimming in the shark infested ocean. Wow. She’d be up there with the most inspiring that I have met while travelling.

Here is a video from the dive:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_HVrACQckk

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