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What It’s Like to Dive With Fighting Sharks

By Amanda Castleman | Updated On January 5, 2024
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What It’s Like to Dive With Fighting Sharks

Two dozen sharks swirl in as the crew lowers the chumsicle — a ball of frozen fish chunks. Yap's 81-degree Fahrenheit waters blur its edges, triggering little solar flares of blood, which look greenish-black 40 feet down.

diving with fighting sharks

"Some charge each other. For one particular pair, when neither backs down, the teeth come out."

Steven Hughes

The current's kicking, so the bait — and many divers — remain tethered. I've anchored my reef hook carefully, its point biting into stone instead of hard coral. Now I can relax, bobbing on its 6-and-a-half-foot cord like a balloon.

Northwestern Yap’s Vertigo site attracts reef sharks: mostly greys with a sprinkling of whitetips and blacktips. Lean and scarred, they scythe toward the chumsicle. I've never seen sharks this beat up. They look like they've been rumbling with the Jets daily — in a knife-fight way, not a fun dance battle one.

Sure enough, they start squabbling. The greys ripple their bodies — snouts up, backs arched, pectoral fins down — and swim in figure-eight patterns. Some charge each other. For one particular pair, when neither backs down, the teeth come out.

The two sharks lock together, thrashing. Time slows as they tumble toward me. I dart sideways, but the current straightens the reef hook's line, snapping me back into the predators' path. I exhale and cower just over the coral. Then... WHAM. The fighting sharks smack into my face.

My head snaps back as they blast right over me: a knot of writhing, biting fury. The water softens the blow, so it feels like getting socked in a pillow fight — except for the fear factor. I imagine my mask ripping away and the current carrying off my contact lenses. Without them I’m bat blind. What if the sharks turn on me, as I'm trussed to the reef, squinting in the vague last-known location of my random boat-assigned buddy?

I'm grateful they stay focused on each other and not me.

Later I learn that baited greys tend to be aggressive and enter into a frenzied mob feeding pattern, which can become dangerous to humans.

Never mind the risk to us. Why are we inciting wild creatures to savage each other? I vow to avoid shark dives.

But then a friend enthuses about the carefully choreographed expeditions in Beqa, Fiji, where operators put chum in several places so sharks don’t have to compete. Instead, they float around, grabbing food in an almost lazy way.

Excess chum falls to the ocean floor, attracting sea life and encouraging coral formations. Grateful for the tourism, residents created Fiji’s first marine reserve to shelter their sharks.

So maybe these dives can be done right. But next time, I'm keeping my nose out of it.