It’s 7:00 AM and the sun has barely broken over the horizon and clouds from the evening are gently pushed away. We are in Oahu, Hawaii’s North Shore famous for giant surfing waves but we didn’t come to watch the professionals. We arrive at Hale’iwa Harbor and see another boat load passengers with a shark cage at the end. About 10 tourist get on this boat. Within minutes a small, non-pretentious boat labeled “One Ocean Diving” appears and we know this is one to get onto. The tour size is small and intimate, accepting no more than 6 people at a time. The morning air is chilly and we’re thankful for brining wetsuits along with us given our aptitude to snorkeling in much warmer waters. The tour is managed by a captain, dive master, and intern.
We are one of the first to board the boat, nervously checking our surroundings Doug asks the captain, “Is that other boat with a cage going to see a different type of shark than we are or are they going somewhere else?” The young captain replies back “No, they are going to see the same sharks, but we are ones crazy enough to do it without a cage.”
Hayley, our dive master gives us a shark briefing as we pull out of the harbor. Things that could make an already nervous me want to go back to the safety of shore: “The most dangerous part of today’s tour is walking around on this boat” (yeah right). “Sharks have 6 senses so try not to splash or make a lot of noise as this can excite the sharks” (like prey struggling to get out of the water). “No shark selfies, sharks are intelligent and can sneak up behind you” (stalking human pray). The pep talk wasn’t really working or maybe I was too focused on staying alive.
Our little boat rolls over huge swells coming out of the harbor and I wonder how we’re expected to snorkel in these conditions. About 15 minutes the boat slows and engine is turned off. A buoy is thrown over and as we halt, I peer over the railing and see the light grey body of a Galapagos shark magnified through the water. I’m thinking, “what did I sign myself up for?” Despite my body and mind telling me to turn back to safety, I didn’t come all this way to back out now.
The 2nd batch of swimmers to go into the water I follow Hayley’s instructions to a t. The first look into the water and I’m amazed at the amount of detail. The sharks swim effortlessly through endless blue ocean and we are so close, I can make eye contact. It’s truly an unforgettable experience that was worth every doubt you may have.
1. Sharks swim in order of dominance
The most dominant sharks swim at the top of the surface with the least dominant at the bottom. If you remain at the top of surface, you’re indicating that you’re at the top of food chain.
2. Sharks have 6 senses
Sharks additional sense is electricity and vibrations in the water. The sharks we saw knew the boat was in their territory 1 mi before we reached. Sharks can get excited if there are a lot of vibrations so it’s recommended not to splash and attract too much attention.
3. Sharks are respectful of your space
So long as you make eye contact with them (especially the dominant ones), they are respectful of your space. They don’t see you as a food source or easy target, but rather they are curious about you.
4. A simple buoy in the water attracts an ecosystem
A buoy placed in the middle of the ocean is like a palm tree in a desert. The shrimp are attracted to the surface, the fish are attracted to the shrimp and the sharks are attracted to the fish.
5. Sharks need to keep swimming or else they would suffocate
Sharks need to have water constantly running through their gills so to sleep, sharks will find a current so that water keeps passing through their gills with minimal effort.
So, if you’ve reached the end of this article and you can’t wait to check it out yourself, here’s what you need to know:
Where: North Shore, Oahu through One Ocean Diving
Cost: ~170 USD per person
When to go: ideally book the morning slot because this is when the sharks are most active
Pro tip: if your itinerary is flexible, call One Ocean Diving ahead of time to find out when the conditions will be best for snorkeling
Why we love this company: One Ocean Diving is a research facility and in addition to swimming with the sharks, you get a crash course of shark 101. The sharks are 100% wild and they do not feed or lure the sharks to tourist.