[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or many people, the idea of getting in the water with sharks on purpose is a death wish and because I do it so often, I have actually had people say that I have one. Vending machines, mosquitoes and shopping on Black Friday all kill more people than sharks each year, yet society has deep routed fear of these amazing animals. In reality, the scariest thing about sharks would be an ocean without them and at the rate of approximately 100 million being killed each year, we are on a slippery slope headed in that direction. Long story short, healthy oceans need sharks and we need healthy oceans.
I have spent thousands of hours in the water diving and working with sharks around the world and seeing them up close has an unrivaled ability to change the way people perceive them. When a person slips quietly into the sea and watches sharks swimming around them with grace and beauty, the iconic images of jaws agape gnashing and everything and anything disappear. Yes, you can get sharks to come close to the boat and bite at bait (you usually don’t see the bait on TV shows because they want the dramatic effect), but this is not what happens on 99.9% of shark dives.
Just last week I went out with friends to free dive with Caribbean reef sharks and while a few were excited, just as many were nervous. They had never swam with sharks before and asked all sorts of questions. It is perfectly normal to be nervous about doing something for the first time, this is not an exclusive feeling linked to shark diving. We slipped in the water and the sharks swam around us. People that started next to the boat began to venture a bit further out and I could see their eyes start to relax as the nervousness faded away.
I am not suggesting that you throw some bait in the water and jump in with sharks anywhere you are, but I am encouraging you to try it with a responsible operator, so that you and the sharks remain safe. I am also not suggesting that sharks are cuddly animals that need to be hugged or ridden like an underwater scooter. They are wild animals and they deserve respect.
Whether you are a certified diver or not, there are lots of options for encounters with various species throughout the islands of the Bahamas. Some of my favorites include the nurse sharks at Compass Cay (a great intro to shark diving), Caribbean reef sharks in Grand Bahama, and the great hammerheads of Bimini. If the Bahamas is on your travel list this summer, I highly recommend checking out a shark encounter. The more people that get in the water with sharks and understand their true reality, the more people that might speak up and take action in the fight to save these critically important creatures.