Respect Lost, Respect Gained – Diving with Sharks

Respect Lost, Respect Gained – Diving with Sharks

It all started out within my first month of diving in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

One of my first ever shark encounters on a reef called Tortugas (turtles in Spanish) this just so happened to be a bull shark. I wasn’t actually guiding the dive but following to learn the dive site.

This beautiful female surprised us after about 30 minutes, she came round to have a look and disappeared again. At that moment my heart started pounding double speed and for the rest of the dive I was watching my back in a rather paranoid manner. I may have forgotten to mention that I, like many people, grew up with a phobia of sharks.

Guiding shark Dives

Bull shark in Playa del Carmen

Lily Wolfe

That afternoon I was told by my manager that I would be guiding the twice weekly bull shark dive that we had just started doing as of the next day. I was told a few pointers and what to mention in my dive briefing.

The next morning I arrived at work a bit of a wreck, my stomach was doing strange things and I could hardly eat. I was trembling during my briefing which was ironic as I was telling everyone that there was no need to be frightened as they weren’t aggressive and they’re completely safe etc.

We arrived at the dive site and finally I had to take the backward roll plunge into “Jardines Deep”, from the surface I could not see any sharks, but as we made our descent I finally made out these dark shapes circling below. We reached the bottom at 25m, all knelt down in the sand and let the show commence.

After the first few minutes I didn’t even notice the sharks anymore although they were coming in closer and closer. Sometimes just a couple of meters away before turning, but I was too busy checking my guests were ok to notice.

Respect lost

After that the shark dives got easier and easierand I was more and more comfortable, unto the point of becoming a bit cocky. I started swimming around with them and on other reef dives trying to attract them by making vibrations with a plastic water bottle.

Basically, I started to lose respect for them.

Bull shark


They made sure that didn’t last too long, when a few months later I told my two guests that I would take them to see some bull sharks on Tortugas reef. I guaranteed at least one, knowing I could attract them with the vibrations.

We descended and straight away I started scrunching the water bottle, which I continued to do constantly until about 20 min into the dive, when the first shark decided to make an appearance. We all celebrated underwater grinning through our regulators and high fiving!

Shortly after another two came around and circled for a bit before disappearing, again the “ok’s” and high fives followed.

Why you should always respect sharks

Suddenly we had more and more bull sharks arriving circling and staying and surrounding us a total of about 7-8. Then out of nowhere three came round in front and came towards us in an army formation the one in the middle looking right at me, grin on his face.

Swimming right at me, I hovered in a stretched out position as close to the reef as possible without touching anything, my right hand was holding my alternate air sources with purge button ready and my left hand was hovering above my divers knife, although I knew I would never use it.

My heart was beating so fast it hurt, he then swam fast towards me and shot up above my head and disappeared. The other two went off around the side and up… at that moment I realized we weren’t supposed to be there.

I turned to my divers and gave them the thumbs up to end the dive, keeping constant vigilance whilst ascending.

During the safety stop I noticed they had gone for good, at that moment, I started to laugh hysterically from relief.

Respect Gained

We got to the surface and all shouted for joy, although for me it was more relief.  I later learnt from my divers that they weren’t scared for one minute as they trusted me completely… whilst I definitely learnt a lesson and the sharks gained back their respect.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love these amazing creatures, but now I will always respect them for what they are, powerful wild animals.

Have you ever had a close shark experience? Or another reason why we should always respect natures powers? Tell it in a comment below!

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  1. Jane

    I was in Tortugas some years ago. Some time into the the bull shark Dive and there it was, a really big bull shark. Our guide said it was at least 3 meters female.
    This is something that will get the heart pumping. She was gone as quickly as she came in, but still an amazing experience.

  2. Heler Jackson Ress

    It’s is aslways importatn too have respect. I would really hope everyone would learn form this, and respect sharks as a predetor and not as a pet.
    You don’t feed a predator you watch and leave without interacting.
    Would you ever jump out to wild lions and start playing around? I guess not!
    Respect the wild animals and lets keep them as wild animals!



    I have been going to Tiger Beach every year to swim with the Tiger Sharks. You get confident that you can push them away with your camera. You almost feel invincible because you have a camera between you and the shark. I got too complacent and with 5 Tigers in the water with us, among countless Lemons and Reef sharks, and was busy taking pictures but not paying attention to the other 4. This particulary aggressive Tiger slammed into the back of me and then started doing the circling and closed nictitating membranes and came in to bite, but I hit her on the nose and she took off. She was about 12 feet! I found out later that she did not just slam into me, she actually bit my tank! Fortunately I survived that attack. I have now gained much more respect for them and will watch at all times, you never know what is going to come up behind you, especially with that many sharks! After all, they are wild animals and the top predator in the ocean. DON’T ever let your guard down!

    • kim otto

      Where is Tiger Beach?

  4. Carol Schoelch

    it’s about 90 miles north of Grand Bahama, or so I was told. It’s not beach, but a shallow, sandy part of the ocean that is known to have lots of Tiger Sharks show up there. We also see lots of Lemons, reef sharks when we do nearby Tiger Reef and have seen Bulls and even Great Hammerheads there. It’s the epic place to go for shark diving as there are always LOTS of sharks there. Great for night diving as well! :-)

    • kim otto

      I have added Tiger Beach, Grand Bahama to my “to do” dive list. Thanks.

  5. Carol Schoelch

    You are welcome. Maybe I will see you out there sometime! I am going this year, 9-28, for the 7th time! I just love this place! But you do have to keep your eyes on the Tigers, and with all the other sharks swimming around, they can sneak up on you. Everyone watches out for each other though. And at 20 feet, it’s all day diving! No deco limits! :-)

    • kim otto

      Tell me please, are the sharks there all year round? My vacation time is in the summer.

  6. Carol Schoelch

    I believe they do it year round. The boat I have always gone on is the Dolphin Dream. I do know they take time off from shark diving to go out with the dolphins, which is also pretty incredible. They usually have tour guides reserve the boat for Tiger Beach, but if you check with them on their website, you could probably hook up with a tour guide who has reserved the boat. They are always willing to sell out another spot. I would say it is very “do-able” Good Luck!

  7. Bruce Campbell

    I’ve done that dive as a client and I came away with a great respect for bull sharks. They were very curious about us, but not aggressive. Now I did not take any bait down in my pocket, but I could imagine they could get more excited about investigating us if we had food.

    • Torben Lonne

      I could imagine bringing bait would be a problem. Is it normal to bring bait for a “normal” shark dive in the area? I wold hope it was only for a planed shark feeding dive where everything is sorted and the food are brought in small plastic containers.

    • Lily Wolfe

      I’ve never know for people to take bait with them on their bodies, I think that would be a bit too dangerous and silly, obviously there are planned shark dives where they feed the sharks, which I can’t say I agree with either, but at least then people are prepared.

  8. Carol Schoelch

    They have an entire chest freezer filled with bait and chum. They do 2-3 feeds a day, the rest of the time you are just swimming around with the Lemons and Reef sharks. The Tigers usually do not come in unless there is food there. They have a habit of circling around a couple times, then swimming right through the group to the person with the bait and then back to circling. The others stick around all day………

  9. Tristan Paylado

    The first thing that we should remember is that we are ONLY VISITORS in the underwater world. As a visitor, you should pay your respect, just like what we are doing when we visit other peoples house.

    On the aspect of shark feeding: let us all remember that majority of the sharks are on the top of the food chain and an effective apex predator.

    Further, let us reminisce our science subject and remember Charles Darwin’s Theory on the Survival of the Fittest.

    So if this is the case, the sharks that we are seeing in our dive sites can survive without supplemental feeding from divers.

    Feeding sharks can be treated as an added attraction for divers. However, if we continue feeding the sharks, they may become dependent on our presence which will definitely disrupt the sharks natural system. And mind you, this is already happening in some areas.

    If we want to continue promoting shark diving, let us think of sustainable ways that will not disrupt the natural system of sharks.

    • Carol Schoelcj

      That would be awesome if we lived in a time when sharks were plentiful in the oceans and you could see them on a regular dive. We have wiped out so much of the population, that the only way we can see them is to feed/chum.
      It is not ideal, I will agree, but if you want to have shark encounters, you really need to draw them to you.
      People save what they know and love, and if more people would go on shark dives, they would want to protect them and we might someday be able to do shark dives without having to chum for the minimal numbers that remain

  10. kim otto

    With all due respect Carol, feeding sharks disrupts their normal behavior, and an argument has been put forth that if divers should show up without feed, the sharks may become aggressive, frightening the divers and leading to a bad outcome. Second, the argument you make also applies to aquariums — they are just providing a means for people to see sharks and other creatures. Third, I have seen many, many sharks (of many types and up close) without there having been a feeding.


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