Scuba divers have long learned that sharks are not the dangerous man-eating machines media want us to believe. Shark encounters are a wonderful experience. While it might be a bit scary or intimidating at first most divers will love sharks after the first sight.
We know today that sharks are an important part of the ecosystems in the oceans. On top of the food chain they keep the sea healthy. We cannot predict what would happen without sharks and we definitely don’t want to find out. All life on the planet depends on the oceans.
The seas with all the inhabitants produce more oxygen than all the rain forests combined. In other words the oceans are of central importance for the air we need to breath. No one would want to risk this.
Thanks to scuba divers and tourism in general the economic value of sharks keeps growing. Also the awareness how important sharks are for our planet is slowly increasing. This lead to further development of shark sanctuaries in recent years which will hopefully continue.
So go ahead and dive with sharks to support further projects to protect them. Here are some of the best places to dive with sharks:
1. Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Cocos Island is probably the best place in the world to dive with sharks. The island and its surrounding waters were declared Marine National Park in 1978. Only a dozen rangers live on the island and it takes 36 hours by boat to get there.
Massive schools of scalloped hammerheads, galapagos sharks, silky sharks, tiger sharks, silvertip sharks, oceanic black tips and whale sharks make it worth the effort. White tip reef sharks are just everywhere and during night dives it is possible to see them hunting.
2. Galapagos, Ecuador
Only liveaboards are allowed to visit the famous dive sites Wolf and Darwin. These offer breathtaking shark diving. The species mostly observed by divers are Galapagos sharks, scalloped hammerheads, silkies, silver tips, whale sharks and of course white tips.
An unique experience for divers are the marine iguanas feeding underwater. Galapagos is not only famous for the incredible underwater world but for the endemic species on land. Make sure to spend some days above water too.
3. Malpelo, Colombia
Except for a military post the island of Malpelo is uninhabited. The island and six miles around are a Nature Reserve. A special phenomenon which cannot be observed in many other places are massive schools of silky sharks.
There is also schooling hammerheads, Galapagos, whale and reef sharks.
4. The Revillagigedos, Mexico (Socorro)
The Revillagigedo archipelago was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1994. Four volcanic islands make up the region – Socorro, Roca Partida, San Benedicto and Clarión.
While the mantas and dolphins are the main attraction there is also loads of sharks cruising around. These include silky, silver tip, hammerhead, Galapagos, whale and white tip reef sharks. There is even a nursery for white tips at Roca Partida. The juvenile white tips are lying around almost stacked on top of each other.
5. Brother Islands and Daedalus, Egypt
These islands in the middle of the Red Sea can only be visited on a liveaboard trip. At brothers oceanic white tip sharks often hang out right under the boats. We ended up doing three dives just there to see these beautiful creatures.
Around Daedalus sharks are common too. One truly special encounter there is to dive with friendly hammerheads. These swim up and around the divers while in most places they are rather shy. Other sharks common to see are thresher, grey, white tip and black tip reef sharks.
6. Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa
Two marine protected areas in the region of Kwazulu-Natal offer world-class shark diving. Protea Banks lies close to Shelley Beach and Aliwal Shoal to Umkoomas. The types of shark around vary throughout the year. It is possible to see ragged-tooth, oceanic black tip, bronzie (copper), tiger, zambezi (bull), guitar and schooling hammerhead sharks.
The shops do offer baited dives. Yet divers will see loads of sharks during un-baited dives too.
This island nation in Micronesia was declared the first shark sanctuary in the world in 2009. Palau is not only famous for the sharks but also for mantas, schooling fish, friendly napoleon wrasses and a lake full of non-stingy jellyfish.
Most common sharks are grey, black tip and white tip reef sharks as well as leopard sharks. It is possible to see other species like hammerheads or silky sharks.
8. Tofo and Punta do Ouro, Mozambique
The coast of Mozambique is famous for big fish encounters. These include sharks, rays and even mola molas (sunfish). A special feature are year-round whale sharks encounters while in most places the encounters are seasonal (I didn’t see any though).
Other sharks in the region are oceanic black tip, leopard, tiger, bull, hammerhead, guitar, grey and white tip reef shark.
9. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
The marine reserve around the islands of Raja Ampat in West Papua offers the world’s highest biodiversity. This does also include sharks.
Typical sharks are wobbegong, walking (bamboo), whale, black tip, white tip and grey reef sharks.
10. East Coast, Australia
Grey nurse sharks (sand tigers) frequent the waters along the East Coast of Australia. There are many different dive sites all the way from the tip of the Great Barrier Reef down to Sydney.
Other shark species here are wobbegongs, carpet, black tip and white tip reef sharks.
At the Yongala wreck it is not uncommon to see guitar and bull sharks.
The Maldives were declared a shark sanctuary in 2010. Even in shallow waters juvenile white and black tip reef sharks are moving around. These are also the most common sharks seen by divers and snorkelers around the 26 atolls. Further common sights include grey reef and whale sharks.
Less often nurse, leopard, hammerhead and tiger sharks can be encountered.
12. Rangiroa, French Polynesia
Around the island of Rangiroa in French Polynesia the most common shark sightings are white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks.
At some dive sites it is possible to come across silvertips and silky sharks.
13. Marshall Islands
Shark fishing was banned around this island nation in 2011. At that time it was the largest shark sanctuary almost doubling the world-wide area. The sharks scuba divers will see are silver tips, white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks.
14. Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
The area around the Jardines de la Reina in the south of Cuba is little dived. It is only possible to reach the dive sites on a liveaboard and the boats are sold out pretty quick. Common sharks are Caribbean reef sharks and silky sharks. It is also possible to swim with friendly crocodiles.
15. Malapascua, Philippines
The small island Malapascua lies off the north tip of Cebu in the Philippines. One dive site made this island famous among divers. Diving at the cleaning stations along Monad Shoal, a sunken island, are the best early morning activity for shark enthusiasts.
When the sun is just starting to rise the elegant thresher sharks are getting cleaned there. Sighting are almost guaranteed.
16. Cook Islands
A shark sanctuary was created here end of 2012. Still divers don’t seem to find too many sharks during dives yet. Probably the best shark dive sites still have to be discovered. On the known sites divers can expect to see some wobbegongs, white tip and grey reef sharks.
In Scotland it is possible to dive with the second largest fish, the basking shark. They can grow up to 8 m in length. While filter-feeding they open up their mouth real wide and thus might even look a bit scary.
18. Cape Town, South Africa
In the kelp forests around Cape Town some rare shark encounters make it worth to jump into the cold waters. The cow shark or broadnose sevengill shark is one of the most primitive shark species. Ancient sharks that lived over 100 million years ago had seven gills too.
19. Ambergris Caye, Belize
Diving among friendly nurse sharks is possible in Ambergris Caye in Belize. These sharks are not shy at all and swim up close to divers. Nurse sharks belong to the family of carpet sharks and reach a size of 4 m as adults.
20. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Each year a huge number of whale sharks aggregates around Isla Mujeres in Mexico. While sightings are almost guaranteed these are from the surface. It is not allowed to jump in with the whale sharks on scuba gear, but only freediving.
What about the Bahamas, Fiji and so on?
I did not include destinations where sharks can only be seen on baited dives. While these might also help to protect sharks I think it alters their behavior and I prefer to see them in their natural habitat. I know many other divers do too. Read more in my article is it ok to feed sharks.