Though scuba diving around sharks can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is also potentially dangerous since the behavior of sharks can be quite erratic. As Jacques Cousteau once said, "The only predictable thing about sharks is that they are unpredictable." At the same time, however, sharks hunt to eat, not for sport. They tend to avoid divers since they don’t see us as prey.
Divers that encounter sharks during a descent, should always keep one thing in mind: if you see a shark, keep still, breathe normally and don’t attempt to hide behind a rock or a reef. Most sharks will shy away from humans once their curiosity is satisfied. Although divers should remain calm, they should also be cautious since shark attacks do occur. Before you begin a dive in shark-inhabited waters, learn about the types of sharks you may encounter in order to know their behavior and habits.
Since most sharks feed when it's dark, divers should avoid the water at night, dusk, or dawn. It is equally important for divers to steer clear of murky water since low visibility can cause sharks to mistake humans for prey. Also, since sharks are naturally attracted to blood, divers should keep away from fishing boats that use chum or bait to attract fish.
Oftentimes, when sharks attack surfers or snorkelers, it is because they can’t readily identify the object on the surface, and may think it is a seal or sea lion, therefore divers tend to be safer since sharks will recognize immediately that they are not prey. Divers should enter the water calmly in order to not provoke a defensive attack by a shark. Rapid movements tend to startle sharks and can lead to an aggressive response.
It is also important not to make direct eye contact with sharks since that will encourage them to approach you. After a shark has left, keep calm for at least five minutes to ensure that they have actually left. Since sharks are often more intimidated by height than length, divers should try to remain in a horizontal position. In addition, sharks tend to be intimidated by large groups of divers, therefore, it is best to dive in pairs rather than as a group.
Divers should take into account a shark’s behavior. When a shark is relaxed, they will swim fluidly without making sudden or agitated movements. Try to maintain a distance of at least fifteen feet so you are removed from the shark’s potential escape route. Never attempt to touch or pet a shark since even the most serene species tend to react when touched.
It is also important for divers to be aware of their surroundings. If you become fixated on one shark, you may ignore others in the area. Develop some hand signals with your diving companion so you can keep each other informed of the presence of additional sharks.
Finally, when you leave the water, do so quietly. Try to avoid returning to the surface while a shark is present, and swim directly back to your exit point to avoid an extended surface swim which can aggravate a shark. When you arrive at the surface, exit the water quickly but calmly. Diving with sharks can be an incredible experience, but to do so safely, you must be vigilant and relaxed. Happy diving.