Every time I hear the word shark, my heart starts pounding as if I were being proposed to. Honestly. Nothing fascinates me more in the ocean than these misunderstood animals. The feeling I get sharing the water with them. The moment, when they decide to swim alongside me. The moment, when they get so close. My heart is beating fast with excitement, it feels like it is going to burst any minute. And yet I feel relaxed when I am around these monsters.
When I started diving and before I discovered my passion for diving, I was always a little nervous getting into the water. Thinking back, this really makes me laugh and I understand what my dive instructor Nancy meant when she said: “We would be so lucky to see sharks”. Sharks are very shy and human flesh isn't exactly on their menu.
After diving for a few years, I know what she meant by this. Ok, nurse or whitetip sharks are fairly easy to come by. But what about the others? Hammerheads? Bull sharks? You have to be in the right spot at the right time to see those.
Three years ago, shortly after I took my divemaster course in Playa del Carmen, I returned to Yucatán to help out a local dive shop in Cozumel. It was then when I first heard of the bull sharks. A rare occasion? For me yes. I did feel a bit nervous at first, but then I did sign up for that dive. A friend was guiding the dive and briefed us on it.
Diving with the Bull (Sharks)
After Al briefs us, we all get on board the boat. Of course, I am a little nervous. I begin to ramble on and then I start talking really fast. And then I go quiet. Like I am not even there anymore. But curiosity always wins.
Bull shark season in Playa del Carmen is from November until January (some people say they stay until March but I cannot confirm that). The sharks can only be seen at one specific spot and not all over Playa del Carmen.
As we get to our dive spot the captain yells out: “Tiburones” (“sharks”). Safety check and a somersault into the water. I am wondering whether the sharks will be easy to spot? I can't see one from up here anyway.
We descend to 23m and start searching for bull sharks. Al carries an empty plastic bottle which he keeps squeezing. Apparently, sharks are attracted by the noise.
I really can't tell whether it was the creaking of the plastic bottle or the curiosity of the sharks, but suddenly a bull shark approaches us. Al signals us to keep ourselves in a low, laying position. The shark comes closer but wouldn't come too close either. And then his companions come. And even more. Until I have up to 10 grown bulls sharks in front of me and around me.
Am I still nervous? The adrenaline pumps through me as if a lightning bolt hit me. This moment exceeds my expectations in so many ways!
Time flies! And before I can really comprehend what happened we hace to ascend to make the safety stop. I'll remember those 34 minutes with the sharks for a long time!
Tips for diving with bull sharks
IMPORTANT!!! Pick a dive shop that does not feed the bull sharks or attract them with guts.
They say: Take only memories, leave nothing but bubbles!
The dive shop Mexico Blue Dream is my address in Playa del Carmen to which I always turn. The two guides Al and Steve (the latter did my divemaster training and he also certified my boyfriend) are both not only knowledgeable but also have a big heart.
Do not be confused, diving with the bull sharks represents a potential danger. However, if you're concerned about your wellbeing you should not even get into a car. There is also an interesting website, which reports about shark attacks. In recent years there have been no incidents around Yucatán.
Since the bull sharks can only be found at a specific spot in Playa del Carmen, you will not find them at the “normal” dive sites. So if you do not wish to see them, you will not see them.
How to behave underwater: You should always get a detailed briefing before the dive, but it is important to stay in the group. Simply as a precaution.
The site where the bull sharks are found most of the times is deeper than 18m. For this reason, you either need to be a certified Advanced Open Water diver or have taken the Deep Diver Speciality – or do the deep speciality there.
If you want to learn more about bull sharks, you can also take the Shark Diver Awareness Speciality. I'll do it myself in a couple of weeks!
Note: A professional underwater photographer joined us on this dive. I bought those photos and now I'm happy to share those with you.
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