The Best Places To Swim With Sharks

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Megalodon may be extinct, but other sharks have been making headlines lately. There's the great white-tracking app Sharktivity, there's this viral photo of a shark dangerously close to a surfing boy, and there's the Australian zebra shark who shocked scientists by giving birth without a male.

    And as our fascination shows no sign of abating, swimming with sharks continues to be a large and growing activity. The global shark tourism industry makes an estimated $500 million a year, says Patric Douglas, founder of Shark Divers and a shark dive specialist based in California. Many tout swimming with sharks as one of the greatest diving experiences to be had. Depending on the diver's comfort level, options range from observing sharks from underwater cages to participating in feedings.

    False Bay, Cape Town, South Africa

    African-Shark Eco-charter

    It's a mystery why shark breaches at False Bay are more frequent and intense than anywhere else in the world. "White sharks from around the world will breach here, but may not anywhere else," says Karen Lawrence from African Shark Eco-charter. "The intense predator-prey interaction is majestic to watch." Rob Lawrence, owner of African Shark Eco-charter, is one of the first people to have used a decoy to entice a shark breach. The Air-Jaws tour takes off at dawn, when shark breaching is the most common. The charter also offers cage diving with great whites.

    Shark Cage Diving KZN

    Kwazulu-Natal's unspoiled waters offer sightings of reef sharks, ragged-tooth sharks and giant guitar sharks. Each guest spends 30 minutes in the cage during the two-and-a-half-hour trip.Divers may encounter up to 20 sharks.

    Apex Shark Expeditions

    February to September is the best time for shark cage diving trips in False Bay. When False Bay is out of season, Apex Shark Expeditions -- run by Chris and Monique Fallows -- offer trips to Gansbaai year-round. The waters off Dyer Island have earned the nickname Shark Alley due to their remarkable great white shark populations, attracted by the 60,000-strong sea colony on Geyser Rock.

    Protea Banks, South Africa

    AfriDive

    Divers may encounter up to eight different species of sharks in one dive at Protea Banks. During high season, hammerheads and sand tiger sharks can be seen in schools of several hundred. AfriDive is an advanced dive site and a prime location to see bull and tiger sharks. "It is an adrenaline-loaded thrill," says Afridive owner Roland Mauz. "Banks is what I call the Himalayas of scuba diving," he says.

    Bahamas

    Great Hammerhead Shark Safari

    There are around 40 species of sharks in the protected Bahamas waters. It's one of the few places where shark sightings are a daily occurrence, due to the marine park's shark-friendly habitat. Running from December to April, slots on the Great Hammerhead Shark Safari are limited to 12 guests a day. The two-tank dive is in approximately 20 feet of water. Tanks and weights are provided, as well as masks, fins and snorkels.

    UNEXSO

    The Underwater Explorers Society leads shark tours 12 meters underwater. With bait that can attract up to 20 reef sharks at once, the program's staff feed sharks while visitors watch. Divers are encouraged to touch the animals once the shark handler has put them into a state of tonic immobility -- a motionless state that occurs while the animal is inverted. UNEXSO also offers a shark feeder course for those who want feed the beast.

    Fiji

    Aqua Trek Beqa Dive Center

    Local Fijian villages that traditionally relied on fishing for their livelihood placed a ban on fishing in the name of conservation. That means many of these areas are beautifully unspoiled. Fittingly, marine park fees now to go the villagers. Sharks are attracted to the shallow lagoons and steep drop-offs in the area. Species include bull, nurse and reef sharks, as well as lemon and tiger sharks. On Aqua Trek Beqa dives, guests stay on a perimeter around the reef where the dive master starts the feed, 15 meters underwater. "Divers will see at least seven shark species each time," says Mary-Anne Hines, a representative of the program. Bull shark and tiger shark encounters are the most common.

    Cocos Island, Costa Rica

    Undersea Hunter

    In 1994, Jacques Cousteau described the volcanic Cocos Island Marine Park as "the most beautiful island in the world." Located 300 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the island is home to hammerheads and many other types of sharks. Live-aboard boats are the only way to dive around Cocos, as visitors are banned from overnight stays and the continental coast is too far to commute. "Diving on a live-aboard allows you to sit back, relax and focus on one thing, being awed by the incredible beauty above and below water," says Shira Katsir of Undersea Hunter. Undersea Hunter's dive trips include everything from entertainment to diving and camera equipment. A 10-day trip includes ground transfer from San Jose and all meals.

    Red Sea, Egypt

    PURE Diving

    "The Red Sea has some of the clearest waters in the world, offering unparalleled conditions for shark diving," says Christian Heylen, general manager of PURE Diving. According to Heylen, the Red Sea is one of the best places to observe curious oceanic white tips, and also one of the few places to see snaggletooth sharks. Feeding and baiting are prohibited in Egypt, so all shark sightings are "natural" and not man-induced. PURE exclusively uses closed-circuit re-breathers, allowing divers to be silent and discreet. "Sharks here are not affected by tourist habits, they don't associate people with food," says Heylen, adding that sharks behaving naturally in their natural habitat create unforgettable close encounters.

    Indonesia

    Bali Sharks

    Indonesia's Raja Ampat government recently conserved 4 million hectares of coastal and marine waters as a marine sanctuary for sharks. Indonesia is a huge market for shark-catching according to Paul Friese, founder of Bali Sharks, a nursery for young sharks -- although there are signs the tide is turning. Indonesia was the biggest shark catching country in the world in 2011, exporting 316 tons of shark fin. Now, concerted efforts are being made to rescue sharks from the shark fin trade. Fishermen who had previously depended on shark-finning for their livelihoods now bring the sharks they catch to Friese's nursery, where visitors can dive with sharks and get to watch as sharks are rescued, tagged and released. "Guests have told me they will never touch a bowl of shark fin soup again," says Paul Friese. "These reactions push me to see how far the shark conservation nursery can grow."

    Malapascua, Philippines

    Thresher Shark Divers

    Malapascua's Monad Shoal was recently made into a marine park to protect thresher sharks. "This is the only place threshers can be seen every day," says Andrea Agarwal, owner of Thresher Shark Divers. Threshers' tails can make up half their length, and they can grow up to six meters long. "If you are here for a few days you will almost certainly get a good sighting," says Agarwal. Divers will need to be open water-certified as threshers are usually found in deep waters. The best time to see the shy sharks is in the early morning.

    Guadalupe; Mexico

    Shark Divers

    Guadalupe's large population of great whites makes the island an important site for shark researchers. The clear waters are great for cage-diving. This six-day live-aboard takes divers from San Diego across the border to Isla Guadalupe. The tour provides meals, accommodation and beer and wine after the shark encounters. Both divers and non-divers can participate.

    Oahu, Hawaii

    Hawaii Shark Encounter

    Hawaii is home to more than 40 species of sharks ranging from small deep-water pygmy sharks to bus-sized whale sharks. Common sightings include reef sharks, sandbar sharks and hammerheads. At Hawaii Shark Encounter off the shore of Oahu, divers can observe sharks from the safety of a cage. Guests use a snorkel, so no diving experience is necessary. The polyglass pane on the sides allows divers to safely rub noses with sharks that bump the cage.

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