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August 2007

Diving with the Sharks

Sand Tiger Shark
Ever since we started scuba diving, the Dive With the Sharks program at the Denver Aquarium was just something on our list of things to do. It's pretty pricey, but we viewed it as one of those "things you have to do once" activities, since it's in the Aquarium. After attending Colorado Dive Days last weekend, and being reminded that we wanted to do this, we signed up to do the dive today.

I'll note that even though you're in an enclosed tank in the Denver Aquarium, you're still in a tank full of sharks. They actually do their best to disassociate people from food by not feeding the sharks before the dive, during the dive, or after the dive. None of the sharks are handfed, and apparently are around divers every day, so the aquarium has done their best to make this a safe environment.
Michelle during the shark dive
We got to the aquarium around 12:15 and were taken into the "behind the scenes" area, where we saw the freshwater support tank, as well as the saltwater support tank, and the tops of several exhibits. Finally they took us over to the shark area where we could look down from above. It's a pretty big tank, although when you're actually in the aquarium looking into it, it doesn't look that big (I'm guessing because of how they have the glass curved). We were given a briefing as to the different type of sharks in the tank, and some of the different type of fish (there were 2 sea turtles in there as well), and general safety instructions. Things like "do everything slowly", "don't touch the fish", "if a sand tiger shark is swimming in the trench where you'll be, back off and crouch down and let it swim over you because they don't change their path". After the briefing we were suited up!

To avoid contamination issues, the only piece of your own scuba gear you could bring was a mask, everything else was provided for you. We brought our camera as well, but weren't allowed to bring the external strobe, so that decreased its usefulness immediately, but we still got a few decent pictures. 5mm wet suit, hood, gloves, fins, BCD, reg, SPG, and lots of weight. Everyone was overweighted because they didn't want you having to deal with any buoyancy issues during the dive, since most of the time you were going to be kneeling down in a trench someplace.
A hidden Nurse Shark
After gearing up, they broke the 4 of us into 2 groups, and put each group with a guide. Our group was the first one to go into the water. We had to do 2 quick scuba skills, just so they knew we remembered how to do certain things (partial mask flood and clear, and breathe off your alternate reg for a few breaths), and then we were told the guide would go first, stop partway down (in front of one of the display windows, holding onto the edge), and summon us one at a time. Leif went first, then me, and it was cool to see the look on the kid's faces when they saw people in the water staring back at them. In any case, that part of the fun was over soon, and after making sure the way was clear, we descended the rest of the way (down to 22 feet), and settled ourselves into a trench to watch the sharks.

I must say I felt pretty relaxed watching them because I was in the trench. We were still definitely in the tank, and the sharks could still definitely swim to us if they wanted, but it still felt relaxing. It was pretty surreal to look around and see all these sharks swimming by you, and around in the distance. They move very gracefully when they're just swimming around, but they're still predators, so can move quickly if they see something they want (fortunately we never experienced that :).

After being in the first area for a bit, we moved around the edge of the tank to another area where we could see certain sharks better, and even see the 2 turtles swimming above us. At one point while we were there, the guide tapped me on the arm and pointed, and off to our left, a sand tiger shark was swimming a few feet above us in the trench. We all crouched down much more than we were, and he decided to swim above me back into the middle of the tank. I didn't move while he did that, until the guide said all was clear. That was a little freaky, but kind of cool all the same.
Shark silhouette
The third area in the tank we went to was a hole in the wall, about midway up the tank, so we could see things at a higher vantage point. Finally we descended back down to the first area, stayed there for awhile, ascended back to the display window so we could freak out some more kids, and came back to the top. All in all I think we were down there for about 50 minutes.

Definitely something worth doing once in your life, especially if you don't think you're going to do any real shark dives anytime soon (I'm not sure if I want to shark dive in the ocean anyways).
A Shark