Freediving into open water provides a unique perspective of the ocean, but with this comes various safety concerns. Aside from the obvious factors, such as holding your breath for a prolonged period, you must also consider marine life. From starfish to whales, it is essential to remember the ocean is their home.
In particular, shark freediving has sparked a lot of curiosity among divers. As shark numbers throughout the world have declined, diving with them has become an exciting and rewarding experience. Freedivers love the thrill of exploring the underwater world, but when coupled with the possibility of a shark encounter, it becomes an even more exhilarating experience. Freediving with sharks is certainly thrilling – but it comes with a lot of factors to consider.
So the question remains: Is freediving with sharks possible? Is it dangerous? Let’s take a look at some factors to consider before going freediving with sharks.
Many people dream of swimming with dolphins, and if they were to reveal this information, others would likely understand. But if someone was to say they wanted to go freediving with sharks – the reaction may not be so positive! After all, sharks are often portrayed as things of nightmares, thanks to their representation in the media.
However, many people do enjoy shark freediving. Seeing these majestic creatures up close in all their glory is an experience like no other. Freediving with sharks can be a peaceful, tranquil, and beautiful activity – but it is not without risk.
When shark freediving, it’s crucial to have the proper safety precautions and knowledge in place. Just like you wouldn’t freedive without practicing your breath hold technique, you should never partake in shark freediving without prep work. If you freedive in an environment with the potential to see sharks – you must understand their behavior and how you should act around them.
An alternative to freediving with sharks is snorkeling or skin diving – you may be surprised how many sharks can be seen from the surface.
While shark freediving may be a crazy idea to some, diving with sharks is not a new concept. For example, shark cage diving is an experience that may be sought after by shark lovers. This involves getting into a metal cage, which is then submerged in the water.
Although it may seem like a reasonably harmless venture, shark cage diving is not looked upon favorably by many in the diving community. Sharks are often baited with food or chum, which can cause them to become aggressive. In turn, this may make the experience more dangerous than enjoyable.
There is also evidence of sharks becoming entangled in the cages or injuring themselves on the bars. Not to mention, feeding sharks can cause them to associate humans with food – which is not ideal. While this activity first emerged in the 1950s, it is now not widely recommended.
Moving forwards to 1992, the first ever noted cageless shark dive occurred at Dyer Island, South Africa. This expedition happened while the documentary ‘Blue Wilderness’ was being filmed. Surrounded by great white sharks, two filmmakers donned some scuba gear and intentionally entered the water without a shark cage.
We must note that while this was the first recorded cageless dive with sharks, many spearfishers have reported shark interactions prior to this date.
One of the most famous shark freedivers is spearfisher Andre Hartman. The original ‘shark wrangler’ – he first encountered a white shark in 1977 and has since worked to show the world how beautiful shark interactions can be. Hartman has appeared in numerous shark-based documentaries and is often seen freediving with the species he loves.
Nowadays, shark freediving has become more popular than ever before. With shark freediving, you don’t just get to observe the shark – you can also interact with them in their natural environment. So, while we know diving with sharks has been happening for many years, is shark freediving actually safe?
The truth is shark freediving is risky. Sharks are apex predators, which means they are at the top of the food chain. When we humans enter their territory, this puts us in a vulnerable spot. There is every chance for shark interactions to go wrong – but there are certain things we can do to help minimize the risks involved.
We must always remember shark freediving has elements of danger, even with the right amount of knowledge and experience. Things can always go wrong – and shark bites do happen, even though they are rare. In 2021, a total of 137 shark bite cases were reported.
Of these 137, 72 bites were unprovoked (the human did not directly interact with the shark), and 39 were provoked. The provoked bites included instances where people had purposely touched the shark or had been spearfishing. When you compare these shark statistics to the number of freediving incidents, there have been very few shark bites reported. This is likely a result of people following the necessary safety protocols when shark freediving.
We should also note that the safety of shark freediving depends on the shark species you dive with. Tiger, bull, and great white sharks are of course more aggressive than nurse and hammerhead sharks.
So, is diving with sharks dangerous? When asking yourself this question, consider this: you’re intentionally putting yourself in an environment where you are not on top of the food chain.
Within the water, sharks have the upper hand. They are quick, strong, and unreliable – but humans are not naturally shark food. As long as shark freedivers follow the necessary safety protocols and adhere to shark etiquette, shark diving can be an incredible experience with minimized risks.
The shark freediving experience offers an adrenaline rush like no other. But if you’re still wondering why people would want to put themselves in potential danger, shark freediving offers more than just thrills.
There are so many reasons why people go freediving, and when you add the potential to see sharks in their natural environment, the shark freediving experience amplifies.
Freedivers can explore shark-filled waters for various reasons, which can include:
Shark freediving is ideal for shark enthusiasts, photographers, and videographers. When you freedive with sharks, it gives you a unique and unobstructed view of shark behavior. Experienced freedivers can grab their underwater cameras and capture images in a way you can’t elsewhere. If you’re interested in underwater photography and marine life, shark freediving is the perfect mix of both.
Freediving shark encounters offer an opportunity to conduct shark population studies and help uncover shark behavior patterns. One of the most famous freediving marine biologists is Ocean Ramsey. Known for freediving with great white sharks, Ramsey has a track record of freediving with around 50 types of shark! Through her research, Ramsey has since founded various conservation and research programs.
Without shark freediving, it is unlikely the information we have about sharks would be as comprehensive as it is today.
Freediving in itself is a huge adventure. You are diving to the deepest depths possible, relying solely on your breath-hold capabilities and physical strength. When freediving with sharks, this sense of adventure is intensified by the presence of these creatures.
Shark freediving is an incredible way to explore shark-filled waters and experience one of nature’s most powerful creations. Many freedivers choose to swim with sharks repeatedly, with most stating they are a severely misunderstood species.
Maybe you’re an experienced freediver, who is worried about shark encounters, or you’re an adrenaline junkie who can’t wait to experience shark freediving. Whichever the case may be, there are several things you must know before freediving with sharks (especially the more aggressive species).
Here are some tips for shark freediving:
1. Make Sure You’re Shark Aware
It is essential to understand shark behavior before engaging in any freediving activities. Sharks can be unpredictable, and what may seem like harmless behavior may be an act of aggression. Different species of shark exhibit different behaviors, so make sure you’re well-informed before entering shark-infested waters.
2. Go With an Experienced Shark Freediver
You should always go freediving with a buddy, as if anything was to go wrong, you’ll have someone there to help you. If you’re new to shark freediving, it is always a good idea to go with someone who has relevant experience. If your shark freediving buddy has abundant experience, this could be beneficial as they will have the knowledge to keep you safe.
3. Look For a Shark Freediving Experience
Many vacation spots now offer shark freediving experiences, so you can take some of the guesswork out of shark freediving! More often, these excursions involve luring the shark with chum and baited hooks, and you will unlikely dive as deep as experienced freedivers. However, shark freediving excursions are one way to experience shark-filled waters more safely.
4. Wear the Right Equipment
Any freediver who dives to serious depths knows they need a good wetsuit. Specialized smooth-skin freediving wetsuits offer an impeccable swimming experience, creating a hydrodynamic layer between you and the water. While a wetsuit will not protect you from a shark bite, it does cover your skin and can help you look less appealing to a shark.
Fins are also important for shark freediving. Fins allow you to glide through the water effortlessly. As you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to yourself, fins will enable you to move quickly and quietly.
5. Always Observe First
When shark freediving, it may be very tempting to jump right in, but it is important to first observe the shark. What are they doing? Are they exuding any aggressive behavior? What type of shark is it? Evaluate the shark before you decide to get any closer. This is where having prior shark knowledge comes in handy.
6. Be on the Lookout
Alongside observing the sharks, always be on the lookout. Sharks can be fast, and if they feel threatened, they will react quickly. Always stay aware of your freediving surroundings, so you don’t unintentionally put yourself in danger. No one wants a shark to sneak up behind them, so being on the lookout is always recommended.
7. Remain Calm and Relaxed
Part of a freedivers training and pre-dive routine is to remain relaxed and calm while underwater. Without a sense of calm, it can be easy to ruin any freedive – let alone a freedive involving sharks. Sharks can sense distress, and if you are on the verge of panicking, it may actually draw them closer. If you’re scared and anxious, the shark can feed off this energy, so it is vital to remain calm and composed during shark freediving.
8. Stay Away From Other Fish
This goes for both dead and alive fish. If you’re close to any fish when freediving, be aware that this is shark food, and it may come in close to feed. Alternatively, if you’re spearfishing, never attach your catch to your body. If the shark smells the fish – which they will – it’s a surefire way to draw attention to yourself.
Similarly, while it is not recommended, some operators use chum to draw the sharks in if you are on a shark diving experience. Always steer clear of the chum, as you don’t want to get between a shark and its snack accidentally!
9. Respect the Shark
Remember: many shark attacks occurred because a shark was provoked. Sharks may be powerful predators, but they are also often misunderstood. Always respect the shark when freediving, and keep your distance from it if you can. While some freedivers do touch sharks, remember that reaching out may seem like an attack – so do this at your own risk.
10. Know What to Do If a Shark Approaches
There’s every chance the shark is just swimming by, but if it displays aggressive behavior, you need to know what to do. If a shark does approach, don’t panic. Remain calm and use caution. Don’t erratically swim away from the shark, as this could make it think you are scared and fleeing.
Sharks are natural swimmers, so you can’t outpace them. Instead, maintain eye contact, which helps assert dominance and slowly back away without thrashing too much.
A shark’s nose and gills are extremely sensitive, so if it does come too close, you can push or tap its nose/gills to signal that it needs to back off. If aiming for the nose, be considerate that right below the nose is the shark’s mouth!
While it may seem scary, you must be ready for this situation when shark freediving. Some divers, especially those who go freediving with great white sharks, may carry a speargun or ‘shark billy’ for protection.
11. Enjoy the Experience
Finally, shark freediving can be a truly fantastic experience. Sharks can reach lengths of up to 20 feet and are one of the wonders of the deep, so take the time to observe them. Very few people in this world get to see a shark up close, so take the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy shark freediving.
Shark freediving is a unique and thrilling experience, but it can be dangerous. Shark freedivers must take the appropriate safety precautions and understand that it is not a risk-free activity.
That said, so long as you follow proper safety guidelines, shark freediving can be enjoyed by most experienced divers. After all, shark freediving gives you a chance to get up close and personal with one of nature’s most impressive creatures!