London – Divers love them, yet far too many people have an irrational fear of these magnificent, graceful and misunderstood creatures. It’s easy to say sharks got their bad reputation from the 1970s blockbuster Jaws, but I blame the mainstream media for unfairly giving massive coverage to shark attacks while failing to report on injuries or fatalities caused by other wild animals such as hippos, crocodiles and elephants.
Even when these incidents are reported, they never get the same front-page treatment.
The truth is that shark attacks are rare. Among some of the more intriguing statistics out there is the fact that you are more likely to die from a falling coconut, lightning strike, cows, horses, falling out of bed and even vending machines than from a shark bite.
Considering millions venture into the oceans regularly, there were only 72 unprovoked attacks, 10 of them resulting in fatalities, last year. Instead of fearing these beautiful creatures, we should be seeking them out, as an in-water encounter with a shark is among the most breathtaking, awe-inspiring and humbling experiences you can have.
Here are the world’s best shark-diving locations:
This area is known as the shark-diving capital of the world, mainly because Caribbean reef sharks can be spotted regularly in the deep waters off the scattered islands, but more recently two specific areas have become a Mecca. Tiger Beach, off the west coast of Grand Bahama, is a prime site year-round for tiger sharks, while off Bimini is home to hammerhead sharks in February.
The UK has its own world-class shark encounter – and not just any shark, but the second-largest in the world. Best of all, you don’t have to be a diver to see them. In the summer months, huge basking sharks appear off the coast of Cornwall and around the Isle of Man.
Guadalupe Island, 240km west of Baja Peninsula, is considered the ultimate location to cage-dive with Great White sharks, blessed as it is with clear blue water and plentiful food. On the other side of the country, in the waters off Playa del Carmen in Cancun, you can dive with migrating female bull sharks between November and March.
The Egyptian Red Sea is home to several species of shark, including grey reef, scalloped hammerhead, silvertip and even the odd whale shark or tiger shark, but one of its most majestic inhabitants is the oceanic whitetip.
This highly distinctive shark, with its vast, rounded pectoral fins resembling aircraft wings, can often be spotted from the offshore marine park islands of The Brothers, Daedalous and Elphinstone.
Mention South Africa and sharks and people immediately think Great Whites, but the country offers far more than just the opportunity to cage-dive with the ultimate apex predator off Dyer Island and Geyser Rock near Gansbaai. You can also get in among packs of blacktip sharks and ragged tooth sharks off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.
Bull sharks are among the most feared of shark species, mainly because they prey in the shallows, around estuaries and even kilometres upstream in rivers. Off Santa Lucia on Cuba’s north-eastern shore, between August and February divers can view these awesome predators at close range.
Canary Islands, Spain
The Canary Islands, a sun-and-sand tourist hot spot, might seem an unlikely place for shark diving, but
the angel shark, a placid, bottom-dwelling animal, resides in these waters. They are hard to spot as they often lie camouflaged on the seabed.
Cocos Islands, Costa Rica
The remote Cocos Islands 540km off the coast of Costa Rica are a magnet for divers seeking some serious shark action. Renowned for massive shoals of scalloped hammerheads and whitetip reef sharks.
Ningaloo Reef on the western side of the country offers you a chance to get in the water with the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark. From April to July, you can snorkel with the behemoths near the surface of the ocean.