Dive into these Shark experiences around Australia
The time has come for the most anticipated week on the Discovery Channel calendar – Shark Week. The annual, week-long TV programming block on the Discovery Channel, which features shark-based programming, is devoted to conservation efforts and correcting misconceptions about sharks.
You may be surprised to know that since 2010, it has been the longest-running cable television programming event in history, today broadcast in over 72 countries.
While you get your fix of sharks this shark week, we speak to Deborah Dickson-Smith from Diveplanit about the best spots around Australia to discover a shark experience.
Travel writer, editor, scuba girl and passionate eco-warrior, Deb has over 25 years of experience in the world of publishing. As a specialist travel writer and diver, Deb has managed to travel (and dive) through most of the South Pacific and South East Asia, and now uses these experiences to design tailor-made dive holiday experiences for her clients at Diveplanit Travel.
“Diving with these apex predators of the sea is both exhilarating and humbling. Whether you’re watching a group of gentle grey nurse sharks glide by or watching reef sharks hunting on a night dive, it’s a wonderful feeling to be allowed into their domain if just for a moment.”Deborah Dickson-Smith
The array of opportunities to dive with sharks in Australia is extraordinary. There are Whale Sharks in Ningaloo, Grey Nurse Sharks in Northern Beaches and of course the Great White Sharks in Port Lincoln. There are also some lesser-known but equally amazing shark experiences to be had in the waters around Australia.
Dive with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth
Let’s start with the big boys, whale sharks. Snorkelling or diving with whale sharks can be done in Western Australia, Exmouth. The whale shark can grow up to 16 metres in length, with a mouth over a metre wide. So named because it is as big as many whales and like many whales, a filter feeder. Indeed, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) holds many records for sheer size, being not only the largest extant fish species but also by far the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate, rivalling many of the largest dinosaurs in weight.
On Australia’s west coast, Ningaloo is the place to go for a whale shark encounter. Between mid-March and mid-July, you can enjoy a snorkel on Ningaloo Reef – the world’s largest fringing reef – in the Ningaloo Marine Park, and also go for a swim with the world’s largest fish. Whale shark swimming tours are operated from the towns of Coral Bay and Exmouth. Small groups of only 10 swimmers at a time are dropped close by these gentle giants as they move through the water, and as a snorkeler, you’ll feel particularly dwarfed by their massive size and even wider mouth.
Great White Shark dive off the Neptune Islands
Get into a cage whilst participating in a Great White Shark expedition ex Port Lincon in South Australia, a truly thrilling adventure. Some 40 km off the South Australian coast are the Neptune Islands, the hunting ground of the great white shark. The clear, blue, but cold water 14-19°C (57-66°F) provides optimal conditions for the observation of this gracious predator. To see a Great White Shark in the wild is absolutely grand and rare, but to come face to face with one underwater is one of the most exciting experiences available to divers today. Visit the North and South Neptune Island Groups, where Andrew and Rodney Fox have run many of the world’s successful Great White Shark filming and research expeditions.
The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), also known as the white shark, white pointer, or simply great white, is a species of large mackerel shark that can be found in the coastal surface waters of all the major oceans. It is notable for its size, with larger female individuals growing to 6.1 m (20 ft) in length and 1,905–2,268 kg (4,200–5,000 lb) in weight at maturity. However, most are smaller; males measure 3.4 to 4.0 m (11 to 13 ft), and females measure 4.6 to 4.9 m (15 to 16 ft) on average. The lifespan of great white sharks is estimated to be as long as 70 years or more, well above previous estimates, making it one of the longest-lived cartilaginous fishes currently known.
South West Rocks Grey Nurse Sharks
A well-known dive in New South Wales, just as famous for the cave than grey nurse sharks is at South West Rocks. Often the first dive is through the cave from the lower rear entrance. Coming out into the Aquarium, early morning divers will be treated to the sight of a dozen or so grey nurse milling around. Later in the day, the grey nurse will be found ‘around the back’ at the end of Colorado Run. You’ll also see Wobbegong, rays and numbfish; even the occasional hammerhead has been sighted. Fish Rock is only accessible via boat. Fish Rock Cave is rated on of Australia’s Top 10 Dive Sites – sharks or no sharks.
The grey nurse shark, Carcharias taurus, also called the ragged-tooth shark, is an elasmobranch and belongs to the odontaspididae (ragged-tooth) shark family. It can easily be recognized by its characteristic conical snout and underhung jaw. They look menacing as both jaws are laden with sharp, long and pointed teeth. They can grow up to 3.2m and may weigh up to 300kg. The body is grey to grey-brown dorsally and off-white on the belly.
Dive with Wobbegong and Leopard sharks on the Gold Coast
Whilst Wobbegong sharks can be encountered all year round, the leopard sharks visit the Gold Coast during the summer months. You can find them on a secret little reef off Kirra Beach, which you can swim to from the shore. Then there is the most famous dive sites, the Scottish Prince Shipwreck and Palm Beach Reef. The rocky reefs see all sorts of marine life, including leopard sharks, turtles, bull rays, Wobbegong sharks, soft coral and more.
The wobbegong is the common name given to the 12 species of carpet sharks in the family Orectolobidae. They are found in shallow temperate and tropical waters of the western Pacific Ocean and eastern Indian Ocean, chiefly around Australia and Indonesia, although one species (the Japanese wobbegong, Orectolobus japonicus) occurs as far north as Japan. The word wobbegong is believed to come from an Australian Aboriginal language, meaning “shaggy beard”, referring to the growths around the mouth of the shark of the western Pacific.
Walking sharks of Heron Island
Epaulette sharks (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) are a member of the bamboo shark family, Hemiscylliidae, and while they have the same fin shape and arrangement as the bamboo sharks, they are much more colourful and have long slender bodies so they can wriggle into tight crevices. Nocturnal feeders, when looking for prey epaulette sharks do something that no other shark does, they walk across the bottom on their fins, which has led to them also being called ‘walking sharks’. The can be found in northern Australia, especially on the Great Barrier Reef.
One popular place for finding these sharks is off Heron Island. Stretching approximately 2,300km along the Queensland coast, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is one of the best managed marine parks and tourism experiences in the world. Covering 344,400km2, its size, use, diversity of wildlife and conservation make it one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. The most commonly sighted sharks on Heron Reef are the Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Sharks as well as Lemon Sharks. However, in the low tide is when you may spot the Epaulette shark, the only shark known to be able to walk on land.
Shark diving safety
Diveplanit recommends visiting shark dive sites with a reputable dive operator, and follow their instructions. This should include a Shark Awareness briefing that will ensure that you understand at least the basics:
- Do not block their movement – ensure you are not in the direction that they are obviously going.
- Do not block their exit especially if they are inside a cave or under an overhang
- Do not descend on top of sharks
- Do not get close to sharks: this is ultimately self-defeating. (A shark will move away from any diver that attempts to approach, possibly permanently.)
To get the best of your time with sharks, try to stay in one spot for a while, level with the shark (i.e., at the same depth), and control your buoyancy and breathing. They don’t like lots of bubbles.