By Sarah Sekula; Published in USA TODAY
TAMPA — When eyeball to beady eyeball with a 10-foot-long sand tiger shark, I have two thoughts: This is not smart, and this is the coolest thing ever. As it glides by, just feet away, I’m treated to an extreme close-up of its snaggleteeth, shaped like long medieval daggers.
Thanks to its wily grin, it is, hands down, one of the most sinister-looking types of sharks around. But here I am, dive gear on, regulator in mouth, and I’m making a heart shape with my hands. The safety diver next to me, holding a “shark wand” for my protection, agrees with a nod.
As I flipper-kick my way through the 500,000-gallon tank at the Florida Aquarium (Dive with the Sharks program, $175 per person), I am in awe. A moray eel passes by, followed by a graceful sea turtle and a Goliath grouper named Gill.
I fully appreciate every facet around me. Especially the sharks. That said, if you’re anything like me, every year you look forward to Shark Week on the Discovery Channel (starting Sunday).
With that in mind, we asked a few Shark Week experts to reveal their favorite shark-infested waters. Just remember: “Don’t shark dive in murky water, don’t shark dive alone, and don’t act like prey, or they will treat you like prey,” says Shark Week cinematographer Andy Casagrande IV.
Gansbaai and False Bay, South Africa
“Not only can you jump into the bountiful Cape waters (cage strongly recommended) with dozens of smiling great white sharks at the same time, you can also watch them go fully airborne in their acrobatic ambush breach attacks on Cape fur seals,” Casagrande says. “There is no other shark on Earth quite like the great white and no other place on the planet like South Africa for diving with them.”
If you’re not up for being in the shark-infested water, visit during the annual sardine run, when millions of the tiny fish migrate northward and great whites, copper sharks and dolphins are in hot pursuit. You can watch by land or boat, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot humpback whales, too.
Tiger Beach, Bahamas
“Tiger sharks are the star attraction at this dive spot,” says Eli Martinez, a Shark Week professional shark diver and founder of Shark Diver magazine. “I have had upwards of 12 tiger sharks on one dive come in to visit us. The divers have become quite familiar with some of the resident tigers that have been visiting this site for years, such as Hook, Princess and the world-famous Emma. She has her own Facebook page.”
Gansbaai and False Bay, South Africa: “Not only can you jump into the bountiful Cape waters (cage strongly recommended) with dozens of smiling great white sharks at the same time, you can also watch them go fully airborne in their acrobatic ambush breach attacks on Cape fur seals,” says Shark Week cinematographer Andy Casagrande IV.
Cat Island, Bahamas
“The sleepy Caribbean paradise of Cat Island is the world’s best hot spot for the stunningly beautiful and infamous oceanic whitetip shark,” Casagrande says. “These incredible sharks look as if they have been paint-splattered by Salvador Dalí, with a striking, mottled graffiti contrast of dark gray and white. They are peaceful and curious; it’s not uncommon for them to share the same liquid space as blue marlin and mahi-mahi.”
“The great hammerhead shark has to be one of the weirdest and coolest sharks on Earth to dive with,” Casagrande says. “And the best place to find them is just off the beaches of the small island of Bimini in the Bahamas. Only 50 miles from Florida, Bimini is now considered the great hammerhead capital of the world, where you can encounter up to a dozen different great hammerhead sharks. Mingled among these alien-looking sharks are bull sharks, nurse sharks and stingrays.”
Beqa Lagoon, Fiji
“Fiji is home to dozens of shark species, but for some of the best bull-shark action on the planet, Beqa Lagoon is king,” Casagrande says. “This dive has more colorful fish than any other dive I’ve ever seen. The massive bull sharks come in droves to be hand-fed by the local Fijians, and it’s quite an impressive site to see these supposedly super-aggressive sharks being gently hand-fed like puppy dogs. Along with bull sharks, you can see tigers, hammerheads and various other shark species.”
The Cove, La Jolla, Calif.
“The diving here is accessible via a beach entry, so no boats are required,” Martinez says. “A short swim away, it is possible to find sevengill sharks during the summer months. During the fall season, it is possible to find huge schools of leopard sharks, tope sharks and the occasional angel shark and horn shark.” For the truly adventurous, go about 10 miles offshore to hang out with blue and mako sharks — the latter are the fastest sharks in the ocean.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
“The biggest shark in the ocean is the whale shark, and the best place to dive with these gentle giants is Isla Mujeres,” Casagrande says. “Hundreds of whale sharks migrate here every year to feed and socialize, and it’s the ultimate location to jump in and swim with the magnificent and mesmerizing sharks. You can get so close that sometimes you feel like they might accidentally swallow you. And it’s a great place to take a whale-shark selfie.”
“Through the summer and fall, blue sharks and mako sharks can be found traveling the Gulf Stream waters past the shores of New England,” says Joe Romeiro, a Shark Week cinematographer. “This is one of the few locations worldwide where they can regularly be encountered.”
“If you are a beginner to shark diving, then the perfect place to start is in Nassau with the Caribbean reef sharks,” Casagrande says. “For decades, Nassau has been the go-to location for shark enthusiasts and Shark Week film crews. These magnificent creatures swim among eerie shipwrecks and swarm to the ‘shark arena’ daily to be hand-fed by professional shark wranglers, who look like medieval knights dressed in full chain mail.”
North Shore, Hawaii
“Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches and big waves, but it’s also known for its amazing shark-diving action with Galapagos sharks,” Casagrande says. “These feisty sharks congregate in the deep blue waters off the North Shore of Oahu and can be found mixing it up with sandbar sharks and tiger sharks. Tourists can view these awesome sharks from the safety of a shark cage and watch as they glide past.”