Diving with Sharks ~ Part 1 [Trip Report]
When I was a child, my grandmother had an above ground swimming pool, and books by Jacques Cousteau showing deep sea exploration and living underwater. Every summer she would buy large, black rubber, truck tire inner tubes for us kids to use in the pool. I would stack them one on top of the other, imaging them to be my underwater habitat and I would snorkel across the pool surfacing inside of them. Then hold my breath, I would swim underwater, pretending that sharks and other aquatic life from the books were there with me in the pool. This was the beginning of my desire to become a scuba diver and to swim in the ocean with sharks. Decades later, I would get my chance to see sharks in the ocean.
I didn’t swim in the ocean until the age of 42, in Maui, Hawaii. I rented a mask, snorkel, and fins, put them on, and jumped into the unknown. I swam out and saw the underwater life — fish swimming, sea urchins rolling along, and coral off of Maui’s west coast. My inner child was beyond excited but the ocean is not like my grandma’s swimming pool and I had to learn quickly to navigate choppy waves, sharp rocks and lots of sand. I snorkeled in the ocean every chance I could, always excited to seeing the life around me and wishing I could stay underwater longer. I looked online to see if there was a guide that would take people to see sharks and I found one. The ad said sharks were not a concern for snorkeling trips and you wouldn’t normally even see them, but it added if you wanted to see them then they could arrange that as well.
I immediately booked a guided tour to see white-tip reef sharks. Not being a shark expert, I confused whitetip reef sharks with Oceanic Whitetip sharks and was thinking well maybe I am getting in over my head. Oceanic Whitetip sharks are much larger and by some accounts the deadliest sharks in the ocean (suspected sharks in USS Indianapolis, and other sinking ships). The gift store in the hotel had a book about sharks and I read about the different shark species. Whitetip reef sharks are more docile sharks, sleeping on the bottom during the day and reef hunters at night. I could barely sleep the night before, seeing sharks in the ocean was constantly on my mind. The big day came and Weston, my guide, picked me up in a van and we drove to Mala Wharf in Lahaina. However, our first attempt was thwarted by choppy seas and zero visibility and Weston was kind enough to reschedule for a few days later.
Then the big day came again, Weston picked me up and was fairly certain today would be our day. We donned wetsuits, another first for me, got our snorkel gear and walked along the beach. We gently waded into the water, swimming carefully over rocks and suddenly sea turtles appeared. They were so close but I know you can’t touch them, so keeping my distance, I swam next to them. They are truly spectacular creatures. The bottom got deeper and I would hold my breath and swim down as this was the deepest I had ever been. The pier, which had been destroyed in the 1990’s by a hurricane was to our right and as we swam out, large concrete pieces littered the ocean floor. Yet, there were so many fish. Weston would explain to me the different kinds of fish that we would see along the way. Finally, we came to an area with large concrete slabs on the sea floor. Weston swam down, maybe 30 feet, or so, to look underneath one and then turned looking back to me, placing a hand vertically on top of his head, indicating a shark was there. Ahh this was it!! I could finally see a shark underwater, in the ocean. He swam back up to the surface and told me where it was, I took a deep breath, and swam down and saw the shark. It was so small, probably less than 6 feet in length and it was a white-tip reef shark. I swam back up, smiling from ear to ear. My dream had become a reality.
Weston had brought along a pool noodle for us to float on, it was like our floating ocean base, I would float on it while he went down then he would float on it while I went down. Weston was going down to take some video and I was floating on the surface of the ocean.
Suddenly, I got this feeling we were not alone. I scanned the water around me, looking everywhere for what was causing this feeling, was it one of Maui’s famed tiger sharks or something else? Then from under another concrete slab beneath me, two more white-tip reef sharks appeared, swimming in perfect synchronicity. Their movement was so beautiful, mesmerizing, almost trance-like. Weston saw them and took photos and video of them as well. After our time was up we swam back to the shore. It seemed to be a lot further than we had swam out, but probably because I was tired. This was the longest time I had spent in the ocean and it had paid off because now I saw sharks as animals, almost like dogs, not menacing sea monsters, hell bent on eating humans.
This was also the beginning of my shark encounters. My next adventure with sharks would be up close and personal at the Downtown Aquarium in Denver.
Start on Baby Beach near Mala Wharf in Lahaina, Maui. Do not touch sea turtles or disturb any aquatic life, just be an observer. Look for Humuhumu-Nukunuku-Apuaa (Hawaii’s state fish), several other fish species and turtles.
- Location: Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
- Round Trip Distance: 2200 feet (Baby Beach to Sharks)
- Time: One Hour
- Date: Jan 25, 2018
Sea turtle in Maui
Snorkeling to the end of the pier. The sharks are at the far end.
Sea Turtle swims in the Pacific Ocean
This is fun!
A turtle swims near the fallen pier
Two Whitetip Reef Sharks
Whitetip Reef Shark
Short video of our snorkel adventure