What It's Like to Scuba Dive in an Aquarium
Steven P. Hughes
Hello From The Other Side
Experience an aquarium from the animals' point of view.
For most people, working in an office full of sharks would be a bad thing. But I work as a show diver at SEA LIFE Orlando, teaching guests about the underwater world. We also assist our aquarist team in maintaining and cleaning our 300,000-gallon ocean habitat. Some days that means scrubbing the entire Atlantic Ocean; on others it means retrieving our green moray who’s managed to jump to the adjacent habitat for the umpteenth time.
It takes a little practice to get used to aquarium diving — it’s a much tighter space than you’d think. Great buoyancy is a must, because our habitats are a maximum of 17 feet deep. You also need to be aware of your surroundings — there are a lot of animals in there, and if you don’t watch your fins, you’re likely to smack one in the face.
A typical show consists of a back-and-forth between a dry-side host and me via a comm link as we discuss our animals — I like to teach the appropriate dive signs as we go along — and marine conservation. Once we open the floor for questions and pictures, the real fun starts. Kids line up for high-fives and to play rock-paper-scissors through the window. Sometimes we’re photobombed by Chely, a rescued green sea turtle.
But my favorite show-stealers are the sharks. Our habitat holds five species: sandbar, nurse, gray reef, blacktip and a zebra. One question we get every show is, “Are you afraid of the sharks?” at which I can’t help but laugh. As most divers know, sharks tend to swim off the moment they see you. Ours used to avoid us too, but with time they’ve become comfortable with us.
On one occasion, one of our 5-foot sandbar sharks nonchalantly swam over my shoulder and high-fived me as I spoke with a guest. The man froze mid-sentence. Of course, he couldn’t see my ear-to-ear grin behind the full-face mask.