When I think of sharks I am immediately brought to a level of irrational fear. I know all the facts about how rare an attack is but something about a large predator with row upon row of razor sharp teeth IN the ocean where there are numerous scary critters just scares me, call me crazy but it does.
|The Galapagos Shark|
So what do you do when you have a fear? Well in my world you tackle it head on; book a trip to Hawaii, then book some shark time and go for it! OK, so I wasn't that brave. We were already here, and I decided on a cage dive so these are baby steps, but it's something right?!
I could have done a diving tour amongst sharks out off the coast of Oahu but that seemed a rather drastic step and in all honesty I just do not trust myself to stay calm. I fear I may panic at the site of a shark (sort of like I do even snorkeling with an common needle fish) and try to shoot up to the surface injuring myself.
A happy medium in tackling this fear was a shark cage dive or snorkel. Luckily just off the North Shore here on Oahu is a great company, Hawaii Shark Encounters in Haleiwa, that offer this exact thing. We live only 20 minutes from there at the moment and with my sister in law in town it seemed a great time to try it out and see if I could tackle my fears at least a little bit. Even though I researched and found this to be very safe, fears still lingered
What were my irrational fears? Just to name a few...
- The shark will leap inside the cage!
- My feet will stick out of the cage in an effort to stabilize myself and a shark will bite it!
- I will throw up from motion sickness!
- The boat will capsize leaving us all swimming cage less with the sharks!
- Some other critter would end up in the cage with us.
There are bathrooms so we utilized that while we waited. The boat itself does not hold the cage so don't bother looking for the boat by that parameter. Drive around to the inner circle of the harbor and you'll see their sign.
We loaded the boat and filled out our release forms and paid. They prefer to have payment by credit card as it moves things along more quickly. You can also purchase an underwater camera on the boat for $20, overpriced but well worth it if you have no other options. They do allow you to bring your own camera and also offer a professional photographer sometimes, so inquire when you book the tour.
The ride out is beautiful especially at 6:30 when the sun is rising over the coastline mountains. We lucked out and had a very calm ride out. After a quick 15 minute ride we arrived at the shark cage which is stationed out in the water. On our way out safety procedures were explained and the staff gave a brief overview of what to expect.
As soon as we pulled up the sharks appeared. Apparently, they have become quite accustomed to feeding from local fisherman so as soon as they hear the engines they come. One of the biggest issues people have with shark cage diving is the way the water is chummed to lure them over, changing the way they feed and bringing the sharks closer to shore. Perhaps the best part of this tour was that the sharks come to the engine sound and there was no bait or chum thrown in at all. I mean who wants to swim amongst fish guts anyway? Not sure how that would work but we were thrilled it was a non issue.
|The shoreline that was my saving grace against motion sickness|
We had 14 people on the tour so we did 2 groups of 7 in the cage. I had read it was best to go second as you typically get a little extra time so we waited. As the first group entered the cage, I kept my eyes on the shoreline to help easy the nausea and listened to our tour guide. He was really knowledgeable about Hawaii, Oahu, and sharks in general and seemed thrilled to be there and answer any and all questions. The first group was in the cage for about 15-20 minutes.
|Yes, really, THAT close!|
|Dangling feet yet no bites at all|
The water is cool especially at that hour but you quickly catch your breathe and when you dip down and see all those sharks, you forget the water temperature immediately. There were easily 10-15 sharks swimming right up to the cage checking us out. After reading a lot of reviews it seems that this is quite the norm for the amount of sharks seen on this tour.
Amazing, glorious, mind blowing...that is all I can come up with to summarize how cool an experience this really is! Better yet it is an experience that soothes any fears you may have of the ocean and sharks.
We stayed in the cage for about 20-25 minutes and although I wanted to stay all day watching the sharks it was really rough in the cage and 20 minutes is about all you want to do. Trying to hold on to the metal bars of the cage is tough and we all got banged around a bit in an effort to see all we could and hold on at the same time.
One thing that surprised me was that we never really felt crowded inside the cage. There were 7 of us and the driver said that is the amount they usually have in the cage at any given time, give or take a couple people. As you come out there is a hot water shower on board and believe me it felt amazing! It was a chilly ride back but only took about 15 minutes and the views of the mountains were enough to warm you...almost.
|Dylan and I trying to stay warm on the ride back|
Since I am writing this you know I was not eaten by a shark. All my fears were unfounded, although my legs and arms did stick outside the cage on multiple occasions. The sharks were not aggressive at all, just slowly swimming around exploring us. Most were at least 6 feet long with the largest being over 10 feet long. Galapagos sharks are quite well mannered and we never felt in danger at all. I was not eaten, the sharks did not jump in the cage with us, the boat stayed upright, and although I came close I did not even get sick! Imagine that, ha!
I highly suggest this tour to anyone coming to visit Oahu! If you are afraid of sharks at all I would suggest it even more. It helped me immensely to get past my fear and see them for the gentle creatures most of them are. It was one of the coolest things we have done so far!
Tips for the tour:
- Take Dramamine or a similar motions sickness pill at least 1 hour before the tour starts. In hindsight I should have taken 2 as I am prone to motion sickness. The sea is rough and that is on a calm day. They do cancel the tour if the water is too rough or bad weather is in play.
- You can bring small children 5 years old and up but honestly I don't know if that is a great idea. My son would have loved the sharks but being stable in the cage would be a challenge.
- Bring a towel and a sweatshirt. When you get out of the water the air is chilly and a sweatshirt would have gone a long way to minimize that.
- Bring a waterproof camera. The picture opportunities are too great to pass up.
- Bring your own snorkel and mask if you have one. They provide them for you but having your own would be nicer.