Speak to most freedivers and they will tell you that experiencing a random shark encounter in open water is about as thrilling as this unique sport gets.
Even so, following these 5 tips for freediving near sharks can make an unexpected rendezvous a little less daunting - and a lot more tranquil.
Let's answer the most important question first... 'is it safe to freedive with sharks'?
As a matter of fact, diving with sharks is not dangerous (according to the current scuba diving deaths per year data).
Yes, the large pelagics are powerful creatures. But, the vast majority of the shark species are not aggressive towards humans.
In fact, scuba divers, snorkelers, and free divers are not the preferred prey for sharks. Of course, there are documented cases of large sharks attacking people in the water - but they are rare!
Important: We also have a diving accident database in another section. It contains factual reports, with genuine case studies, that highlight the tragedies of recent incidents with critical insights to help change future outcomes for a safer industry.
One of the safest ways to freedive near sharks in the open water is to join an operator that offers excursions. Even so, check they are familiar with freediving activities and make sure they have an effective support team.
In other words, going with an operator that is knowledgeable about freediving with sharks will have the best safety equipment and logistical know-how to make the experience more enjoyable.
Diving near big sharks is going to have some inherent risks. Almost any encounter with an adult shark can quickly turn into a dangerous situation. It happens most when individuals fail to respect the species.
Could there be large sharks in the vicinity? If so, before you actually get in the water you should already be aware of the following information:
Fact: In the United States, falling out of bed kills more humans than shark attacks each year. Another section has a list of the biggest killers (definitely not sharks). The ocean can be a dangerous environment for freedivers. Thus, always dive within your personal safety limits.
Experienced free divers get a kick out of the initial descent into clear blue water. If there are sharks undulating in the area below, it will be tempting to rush down for a closer look.
Instead, take a moment to observe the sharks before you make the dive. In most cases, interacting with aquatic life is better when divers make slow movements.
From the brief observation, you should be able to determine if the sharks are looping around in a pattern and where they are coming from.
This part is important:
Can you see any other divers down below or at the surface preparing to dive?
If so, how do the sharks react to their movements? Are they turning away? Aggressive? Menacing?
By taking a good look down below, you can learn a lot about sudden shark encounters from the way they interact with other free-divers.
Remember, sharks are wild animals and they will try to defend themselves if they feel intimidated or threatened. So, you should never chase a shark, corner it, or poke it.
Pro Tip: In general, you should stay calm and let the shark approach you if it wants to instigate an encounter. A big fish will often ignore human bodies in the water - unless they start making erratic movements with their arms and legs.
In case this advice needs emphasising, you should NEVER feed or bait a shark during random encounters. Doing so is likely to change their behaviour patterns and result in an aggressive reaction.
Some of the divers who enjoy spearfishing in Thailand carry Shark Shield® for extra confidence. The makers claim the electronic pulse can deter sharks from getting closer than six (6) metres.
If there is an unofficial rule to follow about diving with sharks, it is to never lose sight of them. In other words, you should stay alert after any large confrontational fish has left the area.
After all, the end of one shark encounter does not rule out the likelihood of having another one to deal with a few moments later.
The secret ingredient for shooting shark photos or filming creatures underwater is 'timing'. That's one reason why scuba divers have a big advantage over freedivers. Divers with a breathing apparatus can sit there for a lot longer and wait for the perfect moment to take the shot.
You should never try freediving by yourself or practice holding your breath unless you have a buddy or companion with you.
Furthermore, sharks tend to view a group of divers as a single cluster. As a result, the large entity tends to make them more nervous about initiating an attack.
If you (or your buddy) suffer a shark bite, you should try to get out of the water without any delay. You may be able to use the float line as a tourniquet compression bandage if the injury is severe.
We recommend that anyone who intends to go freediving near sharks should have CPR and First Aid training - as a basic requirement.
Pro Tip: Scuba diving or freediving near any species of shark is an exhilarating experience - try to relax, stay safe, and enjoy the moment.