Beqa Lagoon in Fiji is one of the world’s most famous dive sites for one reason — the shark dive. On this dive, you descend to the ocean floor and kneel behind a small coral reef wall dubbed the arena. Fijian dive guides and shark experts feed sharks tuna heads right in front of paying scuba divers.
There is no cage to protect you from the tens (sometimes hundreds) of sharks. Because of the dive operation, the area has been declared a marine protected area where fishing is prohibited so you’re able to see plenty of other thriving reef life while visiting as well.
Once I’d researched the ethics of diving with sharks and felt confident that operations like these do more good than harm for shark conservation, I decided to scuba dive with them myself.
The Shark Dive
On the boat ride out to the dive site, our dive guide gave us our briefing on what to expect during our scuba dive with tens of bull sharks, reef sharks, and potentially tiger sharks. While most dive guides are jovial and welcome side comments and impromptu interruptions from divers, our guide for the shark dive was having none of this. The briefing must be taken seriously or you’re banned from diving – potential TripAdvisor reviews be damned.
Scuba diving with sharks is statistically safe but there are obvious and not-so-obvious risks involved. Some divers — after diving with sharks in a semi-controlled environment — will lose their respect for how dangerous sharks can be. Cue behaving as if you’re among a pod of dolphins and losing vigilance among sharks, even swimming up to them and grabbing their fins for a ride. They are still one of the most advanced predators of the ocean with hunting instincts honed over 140 million years of evolution.
We donned our dive gear and dropped nearly 30 meters to the ocean’s floor. There, we lined up single file and awaited the next instructions. About four dive guides drifted behind the paying divers, holding long metal rods to nudge any too-curious sharks away. In front of us, a dive guide suspended a large trash can full of tuna heads to attract and feed the sharks.
Once we’d set up ourselves, the sharks arrived. Nearly twenty bull sharks arrived at the arena and circled around the trash can. The feeder tugged on a rope that lifted the lid of the trash can, releasing tuna heads one by one. The sharks often bumped and nudged the can, hoping to ease out an extra morsel. Small reef fish of course joined in to get a nibble of any leftovers and quickly swam away to avoid being the main course themselves.
The experience of seeing so many powerful sharks at such a close proximity can only be described as surreal. It is the only time I’ve been able to witness and respect their size, power, and laser-like focus. At times, it felt like I was looking into an aquarium. That is, until I had to dodge a rogue shark tail or pull my camera close so that it wouldn’t get bumped.
It’s easy for those afraid of the ocean to peg sharks as “monsters.” For some reason, likely because of the media, predators like sharks have become an enemy figure of mankind while land predators like lions, tigers, and bears are considered majestic.
Nearly every species of shark is under threat with many on the verge of extinction. Shark finning, overfishing, pollution, and shark culling programs are causing populations to dwindle. Sharks are slow to reproduce and without these apex predators, entire oceanic ecosystems would collapse.
Because of fear, we often hate the things that we don’t understand. With the help of encounter programs like shark dives that have a heavy emphasis on sustainability and conservation, we can change the perception of the public’s attitude towards sharks.
Once you’ve seen a shark up close yourself, you’ll probably still fear them (as you should). But you’ll fear a sea without them even more.
If you go, dive with Beqa Adventure Divers. Prices are about $185 USD for two dives. You must have your open water certification to participate in the dives.