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How I Learnt To Love Sharks 

After I first learnt to dive, my instructor took me down to 30m (100 feet) deep to show me a cave. He was very excited when we discovered there was a large nurse shark resting within it. I was excited in a different way and decided to beat it back to the boat. Alas, when I got to where I expected our diving whaler to be anchored, I found it had sunk. This proved to be a greater problem than any shark. 

During a long diving career that included 25 years as a full-time professional, I got used to seeing sharks while underwater but at first it always proved difficult to get close enough for a good photograph. They proved too elusive – even timid. They didn’t live up to my expectations of a voracious predator. 

It was only when I took a job in the Red Sea on a dive boat that visited the reefs of Sudan that I learnt that to get sharks to come close you needed to offer them at least the promise of some food. They kept well away from noisy air-bubbling scuba divers otherwise. There needed to be something in it for them, even if it was only the scent of some dead fish wafting on the current. 

I later enjoyed close encounters with all species of tropical sharks in French Polynesia, Fiji, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, the Maldives, as well as the Red Sea, but in every case the sharks only came close if they could smell food – and sharks eat fish so offering anything else proved ineffective. There is one exception to this rule – the Oceanic Whitetip, which roams the upper levels of the ocean looking for anything in the way of carrion. These sharks will give you a quick visual investigation and have been responsible for the occasional investigative bite. 

Tiger sharks are the Great Whites of the tropics. They move ponderously but are sneaky and have catholic tastes when it comes to food. I’ve been picked up by one and carried off – twice! But came to no harm. You can read about that and other shark diving experiences I’ve had throughout the tropical world in my book Shark Bytes. It’s many bytes of information gleaned from in-water experiences with many different kinds of sharks.  

Sharks are never boring. There are two types of people with differing attitudes to sharks – those who know them properly and those who don’t know them at all because they have never been close to feeding sharks. 

 

John Bantin, 14th July 2022 

Read more about John’s diving experiences in his books: Shark Bytes and Amazing Diving Stories