There's no denying that the thought of swimming with sharks is terrifying for most. After all, the species has long been painted as ruthless (ahem, Jaws). In reality, you're over 10 times more likely to die from fireworks or a train crash — but even so, a fear of sharks still lingers, and it's part of the reason why they're in rapid decline. People can get behind conservation efforts for whales and dolphins, which are portrayed as friendly and people-loving, but because sharks are thought to be the villain of the ocean, they're often overlooked. As a result, the World Wildlife Fund says products like shark fin soup have led to the death of around 100 million sharks annually.
In an effort to educate people on the true behavior of sharks — often calm and curious, not aggressive — some organizations are offering educational experiences that allow people to see firsthand what swimming with them is really like. The hope is that these experiences — whether done in the open water or in a cage — clear up any misconceptions and inspire people to advocate for the creatures.
To help get you started, we've rounded up some of the best shark experiences in the world. These excursions are not only awe-inspiring, but they're notably some of the most ethical shark experiences in the world, due to the way they interact with the animals and educate their clients.
5-day Great White Shark Cage Dive — Guadalupe Island, Mexico
You don't have to travel far to see giant great white sharks. Off the coast of Baja lies Guadalupe Island, a place known for its high concentration of great whites. By booking a trip with Horizon Charters, which has been operating since 1971 and offering shark cage diving at Guadalupe Island since 2000, you'll be transported from San Diego to Guadalupe Island in a liveaboard shark diving boat for five days. Food and drink will be provided, plus you'll get to drop below the surface of the water and see great white sharks close up from the safety of a specially designed cage system that's built for beginners and non-divers.
Open-water Shark Snorkel — Oahu, Hawaii
On the North Shore of Oahu, you can swim with sharks in the open ocean without worrying about tons of other tourists blocking your view or hampering your experience. One Ocean Diving keeps their dives small (six to eight people, at most) and offers plenty of time to swim alongside sandbar, Galapagos, and tiger sharks. Plus, they take their role as shark educators seriously. You'll learn about the creatures, how to interact with them in the water, and how to help with conservation efforts.
Scuba Diving With Tiger Sharks — Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas
The waters off Tiger Beach on Grand Bahama Island are known for their resident tiger sharks, as well as hammerheads, depending on the season. And when it comes to getting close to these giant beauties, it pays to book a trip with an outfitter that knows what they're doing. Jim Abernethy's Scuba Adventures boasts decades of experience and cage-free dives. To join in on this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you'll need a scuba certification and a little planning. Trips are capped at 10 divers and the liveaboard boats depart from West Palm Beach, Florida.
5-day Scuba Dive in a Shark Sanctuary — Palau
Palau, a smattering of tiny islands off the coast of the Philippines, both loves and protects its sharks. The remote waters are home to the world's first shark sanctuary, Palau Shark Sanctuary, a place where over 135 species — including grey reef, leopard, and whitetip reef sharks — are protected from commercial fishing. If you have your scuba certification, you can dive in these protected waters with Palau Dive Adventures. They'll take you out on a five-day excursion that includes 13 dives alongside just 10 other lucky visitors.
Great White Shark Cage Dive — Simon’s Town, South Africa
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention South Africa on this list, as it's long been heralded as the spot to see great white sharks in their natural habitat. With African Shark Eco-Charters, you can come within inches of these giant creatures from the safety of a cage, while trusting the organization's "first do no harm" approach. Groups are capped at 18, with only four to five people in the cage at a time.
Scuba Diving With 50 Sharks at Once — Pacific Harbour, Fiji
The dives with Beqa Adventure Divers take place in Fiji's Shark Reef Marine Reserve, which was created to study the resident sharks and support conservation efforts. On a scuba trip, you might see up to eight different species, including bull, tiger, sicklefin lemon, and silvertip sharks. What makes this dive special is the sheer quantity of sharks; you can dive with as many as 50 at a time — a prospect that is at once both intimidating and awe-inspiring.
Multiday Dive With Hammerhead Sharks — Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Over 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica lies Cocos Island, a destination known for its hammerhead shark population, in addition to tiger, Galapagos, and silvertip sharks. As you'd imagine, getting to the island is part of the experience, so you'll need to book a spot on a liveaboard boat with an excellent dive crew. Just make sure a stop in Bajo Alcyone, an area that attracts dozens of hammerhead sharks, is on the itinerary.
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