When most people imagine being in the water with sharks it is a part of some terrible nightmare – but wanderers aren’t most people. While spending time in the Outer Banks we wanted to ensure we spent some time expanding our diving horizons, and the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island had just the experience we were looking for: DIVING WITH SHARKS.
A quick phone call and a no-hassle online registration was all it took to get Kess and I signed up to dive with the sharks. The plan was simple – show up at the aquarium with our C-cards (scuba certification ID for the non-divers out there), get a quick safety briefing, gear up, and get in! We were stoked. In addition to our own excitement, Kess’ family was going to be inside the aquarium watching through the glass – which meant plenty of opportunities for some great video and possibly some interesting photos! (Best Christmas cards ever).
After two days of anticipation, we arrived at the aquarium and were greeted at the front desk by our Dive Master. I can’t understate the VIP treatment we were given – no waiting in line at the ticket gate for us! Before Emily led us through the aquarium and past the “Staff Only” doors for a behind the scene look at the aquarium, we got to meet the sharks we’d be swimming with from the dry side of the glass. The display – a 285,000 gallon tank called the Graveyard of the Atlantic – houses Sandbar sharks, Nurse sharks, Sand Tiger sharks, and a wide variety of other fish that call the tank and the wreckage on the bottom home. We were especially excited to see Big Girl – a 10 foot, 350 pound Sand Tiger cruising through the display…. although maybe excited isn’t the only word that could describe those feelings.
After seeing the display from the dry side, Emily led us behind the scenes to gear up and get in the water. In order to prevent the introduction of any foreign bacteria to the tank we dove using the aquarium’s gear – which was especially nice when it came time to clean up. The dive plan was simple – enter through the acclimation pool, dodge any cruising sharks as we descended to the bottom of the tank, then swim behind the wreckage to pop out in the front of the display to hang out with the sharks.
While we dove, Kess’ family stood on the other side of the glass watching as we spent the entire dive mere feet from some pretty sizable sharks. We were able to take some awesome pictures and videos with them through the glass, and I highly recommend that any divers seeking to try this activity bring along friends and family – it was definitely a unique experience to involve non-divers in our hobby.
Both the sharks and the fish became quite comfortable with us in the tank within a few minutes and we soon felt like denizens of the tank – and the longer we stayed, the closer the sharks got in the course of their own investigations. Based on their behavior, I have to wonder if the sharks were just as interested at looking at us as we were in looking at them. One aspect of the dive that neither of us anticipated but that turned out to be absolutely awesome was the interactions we got to have with other visitors to the aquarium through the glass – especially the little kids that were super excited to see someone in the tanks swimming around with the sharks. In addition to hanging out with sharks, taking some awesome shots with the GoPro, and interacting with the guests through the glass, we also got to search through the sand on the bottom of the tank for shark teeth – and too my surprise there were quite a few littering the bottom of the tank.
After 45 minutes or so we exited the tank and cleaned up the gear. The shower was hot and got rid of the shark stink from swimming around the tank (I made sure to bring soap thanks to a review I read before going on TripAdvisor). The aquarium presented us with some T-shirts and we got to keep the shark teeth we found in the sand during the dive. In all, it was one of the most exciting and pleasurable dives I have ever had, and Kess and I are both looking forward to repeating this experience the next time we are in OBX. I cannot speak highly enough of the staff, our dive master Emily, the overall professionalism, and the level of service that we received as part of our experience diving with the sharks. For a few extra bucks we also got a copy of the GoPro footage Emily took of our dive in the tank mailed to us on two jump drives, and she did a great job shooting the dive. If you are interested in diving with them yourself, and I highly recommend you give it a shot, you can get more information from their website here and on their Facebook here.
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