Swimming with Sharks: A Family Affair
When I mention swimming with sharks on purpose, I often get asked if I have a death wish.
As a shark conservationist and professional videographer, I spend a lot of time in the water with these amazing animals and feel excitement every time I get to slip into the ocean. For me, a chance at swimming with sharks is truly a gift.
For many people though, the word “shark,” alone is enough to bring images of gigantic monsters to mind and even keep them from going in the ocean at all.
Read the real Truth About Sharks.
From my travels I have learned that sharing sharks with people, providing them with a personal experience, is the best tool in combating preconceived ideas about these truly majestic creatures. I am not saying you should jump in the ocean right now and hug a shark, but there are safe and incredible encounters that can be had by the whole family.
The Bahamas is the place for shark diving
I am based on a tiny island in The Bahamas called Bimini, made world famous and infamous by rumrunners, Ernest Hemmingway and the renowned Bimini Biological Field Station – Sharklab.
The Bahamas is a shark sanctuary, meaning it is illegal to catch and kill sharks and is home to some of the best shark diving in the world.
We regularly encounter lemon sharks, nurse sharks, tiger sharks, blacktips, Caribbean reef sharks, bull sharks and seasonally are able to swim with great hammerheads. Bimini is a very special place and an ideal spot to share sharks with just about everyone.
Sharks for Non-Divers
There are some beautiful shallow areas where juvenile lemon sharks and nurse sharks can be spotted and provide a great opportunity for non-swimmers and young kids.
The Sharklab also offers tours where you can learn about their research and visit their pens out back. They keep juvenile nurse and lemon sharks in the ocean pens for educational purposes and each shark is kept for 30 days or less.
It’s not quite like swimming with sharks, more like petting them!
It is a great way to learn more about these animals and seeing a baby shark will definitely make you think differently about these animals. I had the pleasure of taking some friends and their parents to visit the lab a few weeks ago and their moms were both very nervous. After a brief lesson about nurse sharks and quick feel of the skin, everyone wanted to hold the little shark and commented on just how cute they really are. The chance to see a shark up close is very powerful and creates a change of thought in a matter of minutes.
Sharks and Rays for the Snorkelers
For those who want to get their feet wet, literally, the Sharklab also offers a Research Experience. For 5 days you get to live at the lab and get true hands on experience, snorkeling, tagging and taking part in real research. There is no age limit and it is open to the public.
If you are even slightly curious about sharks or how we study them, I cannot recommend this enough. My husband and I are both Sharklab alums and still collaborate with them as often as possible.
Bimini Sands Resort offers ecotourism snorkeling trips that include shark and stingray encounters for the whole family. Knowledgeable biologists who will be happy to answer all your shark questions lead the trips.
Sharks for Scuba Divers
Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center offers regular Caribbean reef sharks dives at a couple of locations as well as nurse sharks. During the winter months the great hammerheads draw divers from around the world and can be seen along with nurse sharks and bull sharks. It is rare and amazing opportunity to see this endangered species of shark in crystal clear and shallow water. This is a must for your diving Bucket List.
Swimming with sharks is an enlightening experience. In reality, sharks are not man-eating monsters, patrolling the oceans of the world looking for people as the lunch. In my opinion, the scariest thing about sharks is that humans are killing approximately 100 million each year. They are killed primarily for their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup.
They are also killed as bycatch, meaning they are not the targeted species sought after by fishermen, but get caught on lines or in nets anyway. Their jaws, teeth and even fetuses are sold as souvenirs, while the oil (sqaulene) from their liver is used to make lotions and makeup.
I use Bimini as an example for shark encounters because it is one of my favorite places on the planet, but there are places all over the world that offer these options and more. Next time you book a vacation find out if there is a research station or what ecotourism trips they offer.
Sharks are close to extinction
A new assessment by fish experts at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released in January reported that one-quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.
Do your part! Dive in and see sharks!
Share your story because the more people that see these animals and replace fear with facts and respect, the better their chance of survival.