They come every year. From the end of November until March Playa del Carmen in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, becomes home to the Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus Leucas). They love warm shallow waters so they make their home fairly close to the shores of the town beach of Playa del Carmen. This time of the year the water temperature is few degrees cooler than during summer.
Bull Sharks can live in both salt water and fresh water and are known for their aggressive nature. They are, however, beautiful and fascinating creatures.
I am currently freelancing as underwater photographer and I have now been able to film them a number of times. A real pleasure to dive with these fantastic animals and a truly unforgettable experience.
In general Bull Sharks are very large and stout. Females are larger than males they can grow on average to 2.5 meters. Quite large animals with a bite force of up to 600 kilograms.
They are found worldwide in warm oceans, rivers and lakes. They are among the most aggressive kind of sharks. They feed of fish, turtles, dolphins and other bull sharks.
They are apex predator so they rarely get attacked by other animals. Humans are the biggest danger to them.
The business side of diving with bull sharks
There are countless dive centres in Playa del Carmen. When the Bull Sharks arrive they all offer the service of this spectacular dive. Prices are very competitive, not one shop charges the same as the next one. This can make it difficult choosing the right dive operator.
The dive site, Jardines Deep is literally less than 5 minutes boat ride from the shore. However dive shops charge a considerable amount of money for the experience. Most of them offer two dives. And people are willing to pay for it. For most of them is a once in a lifetime dive.
Once upon a time, only one dive shop was feeding the sharks during the dive. Nowadays most of them do. They add spice to the dive. I do not personally agree with that. Fortunately the dive shop I had been working for is one of the few that do not feed.
The dive with bull sharks
After a short boat ride we got to the dive site. All the divers are geared up and ready to back roll in the water. There is a lot of excitement around and few concerned looks. I am following the group as the photographer or Paparazzi as often the divers call me. It is not my first time diving with the Bull Sharks but in this occasion it is the first time I did it as a photographer.
Once everyone is in the water, we all descend at once. Looking below us we can already see two bull sharks swimming in circles beneath us.
Once we reach the bottom, all the divers knee down in the sand and wait. We all look around, excited. Then...they start coming. One, two, three at the time. They are very intimidating, especially when they look at you straight and come very close. During the dive the divers stand all the time, they do not swim around. But the photographer does.
My heart is racing and I have to remind myself that I am supposed to film and take photos.
I start moving around, following the sharks and taking as many shots as I can from every angle. At times I feel like my heart is stopping and I wander if one of them is going to open its mouth at me or get annoyed.
During the entire dive the sharks come and go and swim around the group. They come very close, they are not intimidated. It is an intense but short dive since most of the time is spent at around 25 meters.
At the end of the dive we start swimming away from the shark area and slowly ascend to the surface.
Everyone is exstatic, what a wonderful experience!
I personally love these animals. I feel privileged to be able to see them so up close and personal. It is an indescribable feeling to be underwater with them. It is a mix of excitement and buzz but at the same time uneasiness too. They can be a little intimidating, after all they are sharks and they have all my respect.
Diving with the Bull Sharks is definitely a must do for anyone that gets a chance.