Tiger Shark Diving Fuvahmulah – Maldives
Have you ever found yourself snorkeling, diving, or swimming in the ocean where you look around feeling like something is watching you?
Wondering if there’s anything you can do to protect yourself if it were?
Since Jaws debuted in 1975, many of us have been captivated with the presence of sharks. It’s obvious that movies usually tell us the truth (insert sarcasm here) and that sharks actively hunt and seek humans as prey whenever we are in the water right? How dare we enter their territory, and thus we will be punished. This seems to be a popular cultural belief or at least a nagging fear in the back of our minds.
What if this were untrue? What if, Jaws was simply a scary movie designed to engage us, like Sharknado- a bizarre idea that tornados in the ocean would pick up sharks and fly them on land.
Is something like that possible? I suppose. Is it remotely even likely? Absolutely not.
And do any of us actually waste any of our time looking around the sky for flying sharks? What pushed this fear onto us and why does it live deeply within?
Interestingly enough, the coexistence between sharks and humans has been both positive and mutually beneficial since the dawn of time. Hawaiian culture actually believes that some sharks live on as their ancestors. Therefore, they are treated with respect and are seen as sacred and valued.
What a beautiful and encouraging spin on that!
In the past, fishermen and sharks have worked together to reap the benefits of each other’s successes during their respective hunting. Sharks keep our oceans alive and healthy. We need them. Without them, our oceans will become further diseased, and the brilliant and vibrant corals and fish we all know and love will disappear.
Sharks clean up the leftovers of the ocean and balance the food chain. Without them, the ocean is destined to be overrun with imbalance and creates challenges to its environment, which subsequently impacts our environment.
But before we get into all that let’s jump right into the question that got us here- is diving or swimming with Tiger Sharks safe?
The short answer to this is yes – absolutely and without a doubt.
But you must be smart about it. We may want to believe that they can be ocean puppies that nuzzle next to us, as we have seen more and more in social media videos, however, caution must be exercised. Getting in the water with the appropriate training, experience, and preparation is a must, otherwise, make sure your guide in your group has these qualifications.
In my case, I was very lucky to have not one, but 3 – 5 extremely experienced shark divers.
How Can I be so Sure it’s Safe?
While I am not a dedicated marine biologist, nor do I have a PhD in shark behavior, I consider myself reasonably aware and able to observe situations and data.
Point in case, let’s introduce a majestic, yet small (roughly 5 square km), island in the Maldives called Fuvahmulah (pronounced Fuh- Mu- lah). AKA “Shark Island”. This unique island is home to OVER 200 resident tiger sharks. Yes, 200. Amazing.
Fuvahmulah Island- Maldives
More than 7 dive shops operate tiger shark dives daily on this island, and that doesn’t include liveaboards that visit throughout the year.
Every day, divers arrive and sit in roughly 20-30ft of water (about 8-10m) gazing in awe of these incredible creatures and watch them swim enchantingly through the water for 45 mins to an hour.
One group after the next, after the next. Often with 10-20 divers per group.
So this begs the obvious question, How many people have been eaten? How many limbs have been lost?
If that many people are in the water around these man-hungry monsters day after day, the island and dive shops must have accidents on record and cases where at least one member of the group is lost occasionally into the deep right?
There are no cages- no spear guns. Nothing is given to the divers for protection. In fact, I was armed with nothing but my own collapsible pole and a go pro (which by the way can actually draw them closer due to the shark’s ampullae of Lorenzini, a biological evolution as an additional sense to target and identify prey by electroreception).
Would you believe me if I told you they have ZERO incidences? Zero. And human behavior is a heckuva thing. There have been a number of unaware moments where someone should have been hurt, but fortunately, they were not.
After all, we’re a culture of “selfies” where people walk off cliffs accidentally in an effort to get the perfect photo. Surely someone has done this with the sharks.
So what gives here? Tuna heads, blood in the water, sharks swimming all around us (our max at one time was between 10 and 20), and only about 10 humans. Easily 1:1 if not 2:1 in favor of the sharks.
And yet no one was injured. No one was even remotely bumped in an aggressive manner.
The simple reason is sharks are not as man-hungry as we may have been led to believe. In fact, they weren’t even always tuna hungry. They have an incredible sense of smell and are intelligent animals. And if they don’t want to eat, they don’t. Sometimes they are just curious.
They swim up to you, if you’re lucky lock eyes, and gaze back- a truly remarkable experience. Yet not once did I ever feel a worry that they would head straight for me, mouth open, ready to attack.
Let’s add some further context to this though. Is it smart to jump into shark-infested waters by yourself or with only one buddy, go spear fishing and drag large fish off of your body with blood in the water, and expect to pet your new sharky friends?
I would say you are putting the shark (a wild animal by the way) in a very tough position not to do what they are evolutionarily hardwired to do – follow the blood trail and eat their actual prey (the fish-not you). Which isn’t very fair to the shark if something were to happen and sadly, they would get the blame. Not the human for their part in that scenario.
So be smart about it. I had the privilege to dive with Pelagic Dive Centers. Fuvamulah. Inah, the owner, is an extremely knowledgeable local who grew up with these sharks and knows them. I mean actually knows them, often by name, as well as their patterns, and habitat.
I also happened to be extremely lucky to score 1 of the 10 spots to dive with the amazingly awesome ocean and shark conservation team Ocean Ramsey and Juan Oliphant from One Ocean Diving Oahu, Hawaii.
They taught us about shark safety, how to interact with sharks, and even took us up close free diving with multiple tiger sharks.
Did I mention we went surfing after some of our dives just up the way from where we were with the sharks?
No limbs lost. Go figure.
Diving With Tiger Sharks:
When looking into diving with any type of shark (tiger, bull, or others) always do your research, and appropriate preparation, and be aware of the situation you’re putting the shark into. Remember, we are entering their home. We are engaging with them.
Just like any animal can react, and has its own emotions and behavior, sharks can have bad days too.
They can be unpredictable, get irritated if feeling bothered, or maybe grumpy if their bigger siblings are picking on them. They also cannot communicate this in a way we always understand. So be smart. Don’t rush to go pet them on your own. Go with a group that knows what they’re doing (I could not recommend Pelagic Dive more highly- they also happen to be the only local dive shop on the island so feel good supporting the locals) and enjoy the experience.
I will most certainly be returning.
Well to be in the center with these incredible creatures was such a gift, and a truly magical experience worthy of having time and time again.
Please be mindful of other tour operators’ antagonistic tactics, large group numbers, and other unsafe practices, and if possible stay away from them. Do your research to align with the programs that best reflect your values. It is our duty to respect the sharks as we enter their home and to be responsible.
With the promotion of shark conservation, and many beautiful photos of large sharks and people touching them spreading across the internet, the business of shark diving is growing. And with it, many bad players are in it for the money it attracts as well.
Not all, but some.
I implore you to do your research if you cannot go with Pelagic Divers and utilize an alternative, or even one they recommend. Their staff are all local, most of them raised on the island their whole lives, and they will most assuredly point you in the right direction if they cannot accommodate.
*Please note I don’t get any commission for writing this. I’m simply sharing with you all so you have the best possible experience and help support the sustainability of this gorgeous little island.
Why are there Tiger Sharks in Fuvahmulah?
Fuvamaleh has been home to these animals for hundreds of years with a great working relationship with the locals. The fisherman catch the tuna, they toss the remains they don’t need back into the harbor, and the tigers come to clean it up and enjoy the free meal. Over time this has attracted more and more resident sharks.
It is quite fascinating to behold this wonderful symbiotic bond between the two that has occurred.
The island is thriving- the corrals, fish, turtles, even octopus are abundant.
I cannot recommend this experience enough, while also encouraging you to be respectful of the extraordinary eco-system you get to explore.
What Was my Favorite Part?
Sitting in the middle of the circle and watching two to three 12-16ft tiger sharks swim around me. Watching their protective eye lens open and close while they interact with me, and locking eyes with them as they swim by- sometimes even brushing up against me. What a thrill. What a gift.
Time truly slows down and I have never felt more mesmerized and present in my life.
What Can We Do?
Sustainable ecotourism is a must. There is no excuse these days. The island has a limited ability to handle the waste removal that is involved with the increasing tourism. Please bring a reusable water bottle and use their filtration stations.
Limit or avoid using plastic wherever you can, and if possible, participate in beach/ocean clean-ups while you’re there and/or while diving.
The clean-ups we did on land and in the ocean rivaled the shark encounters in terms of the joy experienced.
Ocean Clean up Crew
Let’s preserve this one-of-a-kind place for ourselves and for future generations.
As the famous proverb goes, “We are not inheriting the earth from our parents, we are borrowing it from our children”.
Support the locals, have a great time and enjoy the awe of watching a large shark swim within feet/meters of you. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
For more information on shark preservation & safety, and details of why we need sharks in our waters please see Ocean Ramsey, Juan Oliphant , and Pelagic Dive Centers on Instagram or online. Or click on any of the links throughout this blog.
Ocean has a deeply detailed and engaging book called “What you should know about sharks” that more accurately depicts humans as the monsters killing the sharks, instead of the other way around (see link to her site).
Who is the Real Monster- Sharks or Humans?
Can you Dive with Tiger Sharks and be Safe?
Should you? That much is up to you.
Regardless of the activity of being in the water with them, please support and encourage others to stop shark finning, save our sharks, and preserve the ocean for our generation and the generations to come.
It all starts with us, now and in this moment.
Be safe and travel well my friends!
Ocean Ramsey Tiger Shark Research Fuvahmulah- Maldives