SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL
It’s not really something you’d choose to experience when you’re about to go diving with bull sharks in Fiji, none smaller than the size of a car.
15 metres down and my ears felt like they were about to erupt and explode into thousands of pieces.
The underwater world, this beautiful underwater world I admire and respect so much, was suddenly violently spinning out of control.
Oh you cruel, cruel world.
PREPARING FOR THE MOST TERRIFYING DIVE OF OUR LIVES
Once upon a time, John and I were like most of the general public – reasonably afraid of sharks.
Then we did this crazy cage diving experience with Great White Sharks off Stewart Island in New Zealand for our honeymoon.
After that, we grew fond of these magnificent and widely misunderstood creatures of the sea.
The next step was to go diving with sharks with NO cage. And where else to do it? Fiji’s Pacific Harbour, home to a busy shark arena.
That’s what they called it on the boat. Our dive instructors gave us a run through of how the dive would work. It felt similar to a strategy plan in a game of football, complete with whiteboard drawings and red arrows advising what we should do, where we will go and what the ‘opposition’ will be doing.
We’d descend to 30 metres and lie down on a dead coral wall lined with concrete slabs to get into position to watch the sharks.
‘This is the arena,” the skipper said, pointing to the game plan.
The word terrified John as it suddenly dawned on him we may be witnessing something akin to Gladiator fight.
After the deepest dive, we would head to a shallow area for some smaller sharks and lots of colourful tropical fish. We’d return to the boat for our surface interval before shark dive number two, meeting the bull sharks for a second time.
And so we signed our lives away and plunged into the shark-infested waters of Fiji’s Pacific Harbour.
I noticed John dropping quickly. In my anticipation and excitement of the dive, I tried to keep up with him.
But I descended too fast.
The pressure began to build up in my ears.
I stopped, ascended a little and tried again. Nope. I couldn’t equalise.
The pain was intensifying. By now, most of the divers were disappearing from sight. I waved my arms around to try and catch the attention of one of our leaders.
He saw my call for help and I signalled to him my ears were hurting. He guided me to a rope to hold on to when suddenly the world around me began spinning out of control.
I struggled to focus and I was hit with a dizziness I hadn’t felt since the night of my 21st birthday when I tried to down 21 shots.
I had no option but to abort the dive.
Guided back to the boat, I burst into tears as the skipper pulled me up to rest on board. I had been so excited about this incredible dive. I was devastated to be missing out.
But hope was not lost entirely.
After a few sobs, a glass of water and some time to gather my thoughts, my Divemaster suggested we could try again, joining the rest of the divers at the 15 metres.
I dried my eyes. It looked like I was going to get the chance to go diving with bull sharks in Fiji after all.
DIVING WITH BULL SHARKS IN FIJI: TAKE TWO
My second descent attempt was cautious but successful. Holding my hand, my divemaster lead me to John, who quickly hugged me and tried to kiss me through his regulator. Naturally, he’d been worrying about his wife who had clearly not made it down to the 30metre dive.
I lay down next to him and focused on breathing slowly, comforted by his touch.
Just a few of metres in front of us was a colourful display of tropical fish swimming between dozens of reef sharks.
Silvertips, black tips, lemon sharks, tawny nurses and whitetip reef sharks appeared one after the other to be hand fed by the divemasters. The water visibility was a good 20-25 metres at this depth so we had a clear view of the different species coming in for a feed.
Next to the divemaster’s scuba fin, which was wedged into some coral rocks, was a moray eel slithering out of its cave to try and attack the the fin. Hand feeding sharks while being attacked by a moray eel? Yeah, nah, no thanks.
It was a colourful show, but I was still gutted to have missed out on the first part of the dive where the big boys were hanging out.
Fear not, we had a second dive to complete that day – one that I was determined to be there for.
FACE TO FACE WITH OCEAN PREDATORS
Our second dive wasn’t as deep – but most definitely action packed.
Lying down on the coral wall, I felt a large presence looming.
The shadows in the distance grew larger and more defined. Feeders were carefully positioned ready to hand-feed these bull sharks, which would open their jaws wide right in front of the divers. The feeders wore chainmail their arms to protect their limbs in case of an enthusiastic bite.
Another diver was positioned a few metres above us, controlling a wheelie bin on a pulley system. Every now and then the diver would tip the wheelie bin, dropping out a couple of tuna heads, creating a shark feeding frenzy. Bull sharks would headbutt others out of the way to get to the food.
I could feel every thrust of the caudal fin – a sudden wave of water would rush against me.
Occasionally the sharks would get too close to the divers. Armed with just a metal rod, one end flat and the other pointy, the Divemasters would gently nudge a shark with the flat end of the rod to move it away.
At times, I felt some sharks were making a bit too much eye contact.
I sunk lower behind the rocks, closing my eyes. I uttered a few Hail Marys for a peaceful death, rather than being ripped apart by a bull shark.
Incredible and awesome to watch, I was still terrified. These are one of the more aggressive shark species. But the bull sharks weren’t interested in the divers. We’re too bony. Tuna heads were far more interesting.
WHAT THE FUDGE DID WE JUST DO?!
Back on the boat, our hearts were thumping. WTAF did we just do?!
It was such a surreal experience of our lives and even now, it’s hard to comprehend the fact that we actually went diving with BULL SHARKS in Fiji!
We must admit, we usually don’t really agree with shark feeding. However, these types of dives help educate the public about sharks and their importance in the ocean. The company, Beqa Adventure Divers, also does a shark count on the dives to keep an eye on numbers. Their ultimate aim is to protect the sharks of Fiji and they run a number of shark research projects.
The area has been turned into a marine reserve where all fishing is banned – something we can definitely support.
Of all the dives we have completed, it was easily the most terrifying, exhilarating and heart-pumping adrenalin fuelled adventure of our lives.
It’s also one of the few times I’ve seen my husband genuinely nervous.
The last time was when I thought it was a good idea to give him a surprise aerobatic flight for his birthday one year. At the time, I had no idea he suffered from motion sickness. He had also just downed a milky frappuccino beforehand. But that’s a whole other story for another day…
DISCUSS: Would you go diving with bull sharks in Fiji? Have you been on any other shark dives?