Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, which kicks off this Sunday, August 12, has become a pop culture obsession in the last few years. As interest in the series (and sharks!), continues to grow, so has tourism attached to the ocean predators, from viewing excursions in shark-heavy waters to cage dives that offer up-close, adrenaline-pumping encounters for those with serious cojones.
As for me, the only time I’ve (knowingly) been swimming in the ocean with these incredible creatures was while snorkeling in the Turks and Caicos. And even though those particular sharks didn’t pose a serious threat to humans, seeing a fin heading toward you in open water is an unforgettable thrill.
Here, some ways you can create your own fin-tastic memories (and, if you’ve already ticked this one off the adventure travel bucket list, please share your experience in the comments section).
Great White Adventures has been running shark tours for about a decade, during which it has worked with biggies in the field including National Geographic and Discovery Channel. The company also offers everyday shark enthusiasts an opportunity to create their own stories, offering excursions called “Cage Divers” and “Topside Observers.” The first puts up to four brave souls in a cage for a half-hour of up-close viewing; the second is for those who want to witness the action from the deck.
Prices aren’t cheap: $775 for a cage experience (with several 30-minute dives rotated throughout the day), and $375 for observing (though prices include all meals plus beer and wine, ideal for calming rattled nerves after being so close to such fearsome teeth). The next expeditions run from September through Nov. 22 to the Farallon Islands (26 miles west of San Francisco), which boast a concentration of great whites that feed on elephant seals. Trips aren’t for the squeamish: The website warns that a shark feeding is “bloody and violent,” and the 26-mile voyage can cause seasickness for those not accustomed to boats.
The company also offers six other shark diving destinations through its sister company, Shark Diving International, including Fiji, Galapagos Islands and the Bahamas.
Palau's world-renowned Palau Shark Sanctuary, the first of its kind in the world, was created in response to the horrific epidemic of “finning,” or removing sharks’ fins and tossing the rest of the animal’s body, usually to make shark fin soup. With its initiative, the Pacific island nation has raised the bar for shark conservation by prohibiting commercial fishing of any shark species within its 230,000-square-mile area. Along with the efforts to save the creatures, the effort is boosting tourism to the area: According to studies, a single reef shark can contribute almost U.S.$2 million in its lifetime to the economy of Palau.
Palau has five main dive spots, one of which is known as the Blue Corner, located at the edge of a reef where two currents converge. Divers can expect to see jackfish, manta rays, eagle rays, and several species of sharks.
The Great Barrier Reef, or “GBR” as Aussies call it, in Queensland has long been a hotspot for divers to see shark species including black- and white-tip reef sharks, hammerheads and massive whale sharks, as well as the much-feared great white. The huge reef spans more than 1,400 miles, creating extensive viewing opportunities that include see seahorses, manta rays, eels and a rainbow of coral.
Tour operators, adventure trips and accommodations abound in the Great Barrier Reef; take a look at our Great Barrier Reef Travel Guide for advice and tips on where to stay and what to do.
One final word of advice, wherever you're headed in search of sharks: Don’t even think about watching the movie Open Water beforehand.