FROM OUR ARCHIVE
TOP 7 SHARK DIVES
For a lot of divers sharks are at the top of the list of marine animal encounters. Here's a list of seven of the best shark dives across the world
DYER ISLAND, SOUTH AFRICA - GREAT WHITES
For a long time, the Neptune Islands of South Australia were considered the best place to see great white sharks, But the Aussie sharks, while fine performers, sometimes fail to turn up even after sustained chumming. These days, the seas off Cape Town are probably the best for those who want to see these magnificent sharks. Your boat takes you t a channel called Shark Alley, where heavy chumming and a good supply of bait usually ensure the presence if one or more great whites. When the inevitable dorsal fin arrives, you totter into one of the suspiciously flimsy-looking cage and per into the murk. When the ghostly angular snout of a great white finally appears, your adrenaline levels will go through the roof.
Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world, growing to a maximum length of 14m. They dwarf predatory sharks such as the great white, but are completely harmless. With their incredible size and white-spotted body, they are unmistakeable, but so rare that you can do thousands of tropical dives and never see one. Divers who get fed up waiting to see a whale shark head for Ningaloo Reef Marine Park in Western Australia where these bulky beauties gather to feed from late March to early May. Spotter planes watch put for the filter-feeding sharks, then radio their positions to boats fill of snorkelers, who are dropped off in the path of a shark. You then swim alongside until you're too knackered ti keep up or the shark decides to dive.
You hit the water, battle your way down through the surface current, and it looks as if the sea bed is moving. you are looking at an immense school of scalloped hammerhead sharks, one of the most astonishing spectacles on the underwater world. Quite simply, Cocos Island is the best place in the world to dive with sharks. There are no organised shark feeds here because this isolated slab of jungle - a 300km chug from Costa Rica - is one big sharkfest, with or without bait. On most dives at Cocos you will see scores of white-tip reef sharks, packs of silky shark hunting at the surface, squadrons of pacific mobular rays and even the occasional whale shark cruising by.
Organised shark feeds in the Bahamas attract tiger sharks, great hammerheads, lemon sharks and Caribbean reef sharks, often all at once. You swim to a sandy area at about 15m, then wait while the boatmen lower a dustbin-sized lump of frozen fish guts into the water. Then, it's just a question of settling down and watching as scores of fast-moving Caribbean reef sharks tear into the 'chumsicle', ripping off chunks of dead fish. You have to wear dark gloves in case a myopic shark mistakes your pallid hands for fish flesh during the entertainment. You also have to keep a reasonable distance - but the sharks still swarm around you, sometimes nudging divers as they follow the scent of fish blood.
Britain's most overlooked animal attraction is the basking shark, which appears off the west coast from May. Like the whale sharks off Ningaloo Reef, it is a huge filter-feeder, the second-biggest shark in the sea. Every summer, inflatable boats full of divers are launched from Cornwall in search if the sharks, but the best place to track them down is the Isle of Man, home of the Basking Shark Society. The trick is to drop in the water in the likely path of one of the sharks, then hope to intercept it as it approaches though the jade-green water. Watch our for the huge white mouth, which filters tons of tiny crustaceans from the water.
Sharks like to hang out in currents, and this isolated atoll to the northeast of Tahiti has some of the fastest in the Pacific. At full tidal flood, currents can exceed five knots, making this one of the world's most exciting drift dives. The best dive spot here in Avatoru Pass, where a deep dive can bring you close to a huge wall of grey reef sharks. Regular sightings of 5m great hammerheads suggest that the reef sharks are preyed on by these oceanic giants, which lurk below in deeper water, waiting to ambush a straggler. Aside from its adrenaline diving, Rangiroa has kaleidoscopic reefs and a wealth of fish life. Watch out for the resident silvertips, which many aficionados regard as the most beautiful of sharks.
The highly streamlined, ocean-going blue sharks of California have provided entertainment for generations of divers. You chug out beyond the giant kelp forests, then your skipper will set a sea anchor to stabilise the boat before lowering a cage into the water. A guide dresses in a medieval-looking chain-mail suit and, once, everyone else is inside the cage, starts releasing bait. before long, between five and 20 of these sleek sharks will be snapping at the bait, occasionally bumping the cage. But things really hot up if a big mako shark decides to put in an appearance. Then, the blues give way to the top dog and scatter, double-fast.