By Cristina Zenato
It’s time to start thinking about the next scuba diving trip. Sharks are on the list; we have heard about the amazing locations and incredible encounters with the unique and magnificent species we have been dreaming about it for many years, and we are ready for our next step.
Preparing for a shark diving trip is similar to preparing for a regular scuba vacation, but there are a few significant differences we need to pay attention to.
It can become daunting to put together a trip and cover all the aspects. Diving with sharks is beautiful and exciting, but for some might be intimidating.
Some sharks require scuba diving; some species require freediving or snorkelling skills. In this issue’s column, I will go over what to consider for scuba diving trips.
Two things to keep in mind: the center of the preparation should be the star of the show, the shark; and knowing the species will select the destination. Although the budget will play a crucial role in the choice, there are additional considerations to avoid surprises upon arrival. The best way to acquire the correct information is to review the operator’s website thoroughly and, if needed, ask additional questions.
Some sharks are in an area only during a specific time of the year. As we are dealing with wild animals, the encounters can never be guaranteed, but it’s best practice to organize the trip around the highest observation probabilities.
Following season, we need to evaluate both the above and below the water temperatures. Packing for a diving trip requires a lot of luggage, but it would be unfortunate that poor choices to save a few pounds of luggage would prevent enjoyable dives. The correct exposure suit is as fundamental; it could be dry, wet, requiring a hood, or gloves. Temperature is highly personal; the best way to select correctly is to reference experience and compare it with previous temperatures.
It helps to inquire about the structure of the dives. Many shark encounters are stationary, and a diver may feel chilly long before a regular swimming dive.
Some shark species are only found at deeper depths. It would be disappointing to be denied access to the dive for lack of certification. A good practice is to have the certification for the specific dives and additional experience to increase confidence.
The one I am referring to is from shore to the location and back. The length of the trip to arrive and return from the destination and the type of vessel used for the transit is valuable information to pack the correct garments, bring seasick medications, protection from the elements, or even carry a snack.
The next part of the planning involves the diver and the safety related to the activity. Diving with sharks is exciting, but the focus needs to be on the dive and the procedures, not on the basics of how to accomplish specific tasks.
Some shark dives require excellent buoyancy control to avoid descending too deep into the blue; some require the ability to move through the water column at a certain pace; a diver should be comfortable with the basics of clearing a mask and recovering a regulator.
If it has been some time since the last plunge, it is good practice to take a refresher, either in the pool or in a familiar environment. No excuse will override the time and money invested in a diving trip. A quick review of these essential skills will provide a more positive outcome.
A once-a-year service is required for regulators and recommended for BCDs. Taking a few small spare parts might be helpful for remote locations with little to no service available.
It is always good to take the gear for a dive before the trip to verify everything is in working order.
Diving in a new environment with sharks is demanding. Many shark dives are highly dynamic, leaving little time for thinking once in the water. This is not the time to be calculating how much weight is needed for the new wetsuit or learning what all the buttons and dials do on the new camera. If something new is added to the gear, it’s best to use it first in a familiar environment; becoming accustomed to it allows us to eliminate tunnel vision, increased stress, and the risk of missing dives.
While these are usual considerations for regular diving, they become imperative when dealing with sharing the ocean with these beautiful creatures. The attention needs to be on them and the rules by the operator, not on the primary function of gear or personal skills.
Last, but not least, on my preparation list is to verify that paperwork is correct and current. I have received calls from people to cancel the reservation because they arrived at the airport to realize that the passport had expired.
It is essential to have valid documents, proof of certification at the level required for the dives, dive insurance, and travel insurance to deal with unforeseen circumstances. Some locations also require additional medical verifications or vaccines. In light of the current world’s situation, it is crucial to understand the COVID entry requirements for the destination and back to the country of origin.
I leave one last suggestion, acquired through many years in this industry. Even the best and most successful operator cannot guarantee sharks’ presence and behaviour, nor can the best weatherperson provide the exact forecast. These two variables often affect the positive outcome of a carefully planned trip. When possible, I would consider adding a couple of days to the trip; after all the physical and financial effort put into it, it’s better to have spare time than to regret not having that additional day to make up for a lost opportunity.
Cristina Zenato is a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, The Explorers Club, and the Ocean Artists Society. She has been diving with sharks for the last twenty-five years and has been instrumental in pushing forward an image of sharks that shows their real nature. For more on Cristina visit: www.cristinazenato.com
Leave a Comment