Parents know what I am talking about. By the end of summer break, you are ready to throw your kids to the sharks or into a cage—or both. And you can! And without going to jail! It will actually be good for them and exciting for you.
The shark diving experience on the Aquatica dive boat is unique in that it caters to divers of nearly all ages—6 to 66 and all experience levels, including novice snorkelers. Shark diving for children novice snorkelers? Yup, and with out-of-cage experiences, advanced divers won’t get bored either.
Here’s how it works: Early in the a.m. the Aquatica motors out from L.A. Harbor, laden with young (and young at heart) adventurers and lots of fish guts. The destination is an underwater sea mount miles offshore from any land mass. Depth is unimportant because it is far, far beyond diving range, but the mountain attracts a variety of marine life, including blue sharks. Chumming (throwing the fish guts into the sea) proceeds to attract these cool looking but relatively harmless critters. I am not sure why but the kids like shoveling sludge into the water. Perhaps boys just seem to like doing “gross” stuff. One little girl, however, seemed to enjoy feeding what was to soon become her new found friends. “Here, sharky, sharky, sharky. Come and get it,” she repeated in her voice that seemed quite small against the expanse of the vast blue sea.
While waiting, boat Captain Manny Koch, himself an experienced shark diver of many years, gives a thorough slide presentation in the galley that not only lets the adventurers how they will be proceeding with their experience but also gives them a lot of fascinating information about sharks, blue and otherwise.
The presentation ends and within just a few minutes one of the crew shouts out the first shark sighting, a three-foot blue. Small, yes, but more will follow soon. Sure enough, a five-footer arrives. Eventually, we had five visitors.
The children circle the boat looking down on the sleek blue creatures and screaming with delight every time a dorsal fin cuts through the surface. No fear, just fun and anticipation. Rubber suits are donned and the cage is lowered.
The Aquatica’s unique cage is what makes these experiences possible for young shark divers (and inexperienced adults as well). The very wide 8 X 16 foot cage is floated so as to put the top bar a full two feet above the water line. Then the depth of the cage is only about four feet deep. The whole thing is surrounded, including on the bottom, by heavy duty mesh. It is like snorkeling in four feet of water, but not only can you see the sharks coming in from the sides but from below as well. Only a couple of steps and you are in the cage.
Sharks pass safety within inches of your face and feet. Crystal blue is everywhere and sharks can be spotted from a long way off. The thrill-filled shrieks and laughter of the kids cannot be contained. A handful of adults, experienced, and rookie divers also enter the cage. Because blue sharks like to skim the surface, you will get a close eye full. I myself, also an experienced out-of-the cage shark diver, found this a joyful swim both because of the up-close look and just being surrounded by kids that were absolutely delighted to be encountering the real ocean in a very unique and special way.
While the cage full of kids stayed in the water, preparations were made for experienced divers and their extreme experience—a face to face encounter with an open ocean shark and nothing in between.
I’d done this before. My son Eric, although an experienced diver and veteran of Caribbean reef sharks, had not. Unlike the Caribbean where you sit on the bottom with your back to a reef, the most unnerving thing about California blue shark diving is that you are open on all sides—back, all sides and from below. 1,800 feet of deep blue is under you. That alone is unsettling.
On the Aquatica some of this nervousness is quelled by a down line with a clump weight for clinging to keep you under the boat 15 to 20 feet down. Each diver is also accompanied by a “wrangler” diver with a shark billy that keeps the sharks at a safe distance. This leaves the paying customer to take pictures or video at will or to just watch.
I got a lot of great shots, as did my son (including one very close encounter) but I especially delighted in looking up into the masked eyes of the kids still in the cage watching us watch the sharks and continuing their own close encounters. Many of the young divers spent hours in the water only coming out when they were pruned and blue from the chilly water.
But one more piece of fun and education remained. The crew caught a small blue and, with the kids doing most of the important work (except for holding the strong shark onto the deck), he was tagged, measured and returned to the sea unharmed. Blue sharks tagged off Southern California have been later recorded as far away as Japan.
The Aquatica is a full-size charter boat with galley, air fills, and bunks. She regularly dives Catalina and the other Southern Channel Islands. Shark dives are run about once a month during prime season for such encounters. For more information, call (818) 400-7439 or visit www.diveaquatica.com.