Like many people, I’m pretty terrified of sharks. And even though more people die every year from falling out of bed than from a shark attack, just the thought of their razor-sharp teeth sends a wave of bone chilling fear through my body. But a few weeks ago, I faced my fear and swam with these beautiful predators in the largest aquarium exhibit in the world…
The Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium (the world’s largest aquarium) displays seven different species of shark – black tip reef, great hammerhead, sand tiger, sandbar, spotted wobbegong, tasseled wobbegong, zebra and whale shark – as well as thousands of fish in a 6.3 million gallon tank.
The afternoon of my aquarium shark swim I walked around the Ocean Voyager exhibit, photographing the striking marine life and brushing up on my shark knowledge.
But as I continued to observe the sharks in the tank, I reminded myself that they’re often a misunderstood species. Sharks have been around for more than 450 million years and might prowl the oceans as a top predator, but humans are their greatest threat. In many parts of the world, it’s commonplace to kill sharks for products like shark fin soup, cartilage supplements, shark meat and squalene. These alpha predators have become our prey – and, tragically, humans are directly responsible for killing up to 100 million sharks each year.
Films – such as Jaws – weave together narratives of primevil sharks that intentionally patrol the shorelines for an unsuspecting swimmer, contributing to an international fear of the species (true galeophobia in some cases). And while sharks are intelligent predators essential to the ocean’s ecosystems, there’s no evidence that suggests they calculatedly hunt for human prey.
By the time I arrived at the Ocean Voyager waiting room to prep for my aquarium shark swim, I was feeling both nervous and excited. We were debriefed in a waiting room, signed standard liability waivers, and learned about the water in Ocean Voyager: the temperature was between 76-77 degrees Fahrenheit, it had a minimum depth of 20 feet and a maximum of 30.
Touching the animals or departing from the group’s collective swim path were forbidden behaviors.
We were then introduced to our swim equipment – a BCD OR vest, regulator with pressure gauge, mask, fins and snorkel – and our dive safety team.
Once our gear was secured and the team was ready to go, we entered through the top of the Ocean Voyager exhibit and swam along the surface for thirty minutes. We swam next to our buddy and as a collective group for the entire time in the tank, and our team was flanked by trained dive safety officers.
Below, check out highlights from our beautiful experience in these shark-infested waters:
During the aquarium shark swim, I was amazed at how peaceful it felt to be in the tank. When several sharks approached us during the experience, it was remarkably entertaining to admire their curiosity. I even found myself internally celebrating when a shark came within close view.
Overall, I was surprised at my lack of fear during the aquarium shark swim, and withdrew from the exhibit with a renewed appreciation for these remarkable marine creatures.
Well. As long as there was someone tastier-looking nearby. 😉
Caught in the Act: Diving with Sharks airs on Nat Geo Wild Wednesday at 8P et/pt.
Video preview: These divers get some incredible footage of sharks, but not without risking life and limb!
Want to swim or scuba dive with sharks? Check out the Journey with the Gentle Giants experience at the Georgia Aquarium and learn about more shark myths before you go.
Photo Credits: Jodi Kendall
Video Credits: Georgia Aquarium