Two of the greatest things in life....combined in a single day.
11.07.2015 12 °C
With their scary teeth and staring eyes, some might say that Grey Nurse Sharks are a species you wouldn't want to encounter.
So voluntarily swimming next to them and watching in wonder as they graze past your head might sound like a strange pastime to some, but it is exactly what I did last week.
My friend Micka and I booked in for the shark dive experience at Manly Sealife Sanctuary in Sydney to do just that - experience the sharks with no cages or bars between us, as you'll see from the short video below.
The two-and-a-half-hour experience included a walk around "Shark Harbour" from the outside, information about the residents there and a thirty minute dive with the sharks, including Striker, Murdoch and Huey. (okay, Striker sounds like a threatening name, but who wouldn't want to meet a shark called Huey?)
Having seen Grey Nurse Sharks from several feet away while diving at Byron Bay, I really wanted to see them a bit more "up close and personal". And the shark dive was the last thing on our "things to do in Sydney" list for both of us.
We had a walk around the aquarium and saw the sharks in the glass tube, as they swam above and next to our group with a layer of glass between us and them. But neither Micka nor I were nervous about the prospect of getting closer - in fact we were excited to get straight into the water.
Evo, our lead guide, told us about the cruel career of "shark finning" where sharks have their fins cut off for shark fin soup. Many sharks are dying from this type of fishing, because once the fin is hacked off, they are thrown back into the water and affectively "drown" because they don't have their fin anymore (if they are not constantly moving, their gills can't extract oxygen from the water). Either that, or they sink to the bottom of the ocean, unable to swim, and are eaten by other sea creatures or they starve to death. Whichever way they die, you have to agree it is pretty horrific.
In Australia, any shark which attacks a human instantly has a "kill" order put on it. But sharks can digest their food within a few short hours. So hunting for "a five foot long shark somewhere on the East Coast" is like a racist saying that if a black man holds up a grocery store, all black men within a ten mile radius should be shot. We kill them for our own sense of relief, not because that particular shark was proven to have attacked a human being.
Although I have the deepest sympathy for anyone who loses a loved one to a shark attack, or any other type of sea creature, we have to remember that it is their "turf". We swim in their waters and they are doing what nature intended them to do. Shark attacks are actually relatively rare, and according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), in Australia unprovoked shark attack fatalities equate to an average of less than one per year (0.94). In fact, statistically speaking, you're more likely to die from a mosquito bite, a flying champagne cork, a falling coconut or being struck by lightning. So think about that the next time you celebrate an anniversary on a beach at dusk holding a large metal rod.
Knowing the price of our dive and photos was going towards their conservation and preservation did encourage me that I was doing the right thing, despite the fact it was more than a weeks' wages for me. (I heard my wallet scream, but it's done that a lot while travelling and I've learned to ignore it. Haha.)
After walking round the aquarium and watching a safety video about how not to die while scuba diving, we got kitted up in four layers of clothing ready for the chilly shark-infested waters.
Plunging in head first, we didn't have to wait long until the first shark came to say hello. Then, as we moved around the water and into the larger part of Shark Harbour, we were greeted by more of our new fintastic friends. (Geddit? Fintastic? Never mind).
We stood still and waited for them all to swim over our heads, quietly and peacefully floating in the water and watching as they came up to see who these strange creatures with oxygen tanks and colourful goggles were. (Mine are blue and Micka's are red, just so you know who we are in the pictures).
When they came close we could clearly see their sharp teeth and staring eyes. But once you get this close, any fear melts away and you realise they are just like a puppy sniffing at your legs - they just want to see who you are and what you're about.
I could have happily bobbed in the water all day, watching them swim over and around us, if it wasn't for the fact the water was FREEZING. (It was winter though and the aquarium's water temperature is the same as the sea. So if you like warm, go in summer).
So sadly, the swim had to end sooner or later, and it wasn't long before we headed back.
As we were leaving the tank, two friendly turtles swam up to us to say hello.
Meeting the sharks, turtles, stringrays and other friendly faces of Shark Harbour was an amazing experience and I'm so glad I got to do it.
Afterwards, we watched the Little Penguins show and walked round more of the aquarium before it was time to head to our second destination of the day - the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, Sydney CBD.
Sadly the cafe is now more famous for the hostage siege in December than it is for amazing chocolate, but it is great to see so many customers haven't been put off by the terrible events of last year.
We decided to totally indulge and I opted for a hot chocolate followed by a chocolate cake with a side of vanilla ice cream. Lots of "mmmmms" came from our table as we were the quietest we've been for a long time.
The perfect end to an amazing day - and I can now say I've officially done everything I wanted to do in Australia. Perfect timing, as I leave for New Zealand in just two weeks.
Where more adventures await....