By Kris Sherman, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
TACOMA, Wash. – Exhilarating. Edgy. Enlightening. Eye-to-Eye Shark Dives bring heart-thumping excitement to the Northwest on Oct. 11.
For the first time ever, visitors to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium can immerse themselves in the underwater world of more than a dozen sharks, some weighing as much as 450 pounds.
And virtually anyone over 8 can do it – whether or not they have diving experience.
Imagine standing in a sturdy cage breathing surface-supplied air as sharks’ fins wave to and fro in front of wondering eyes.
Or strapping on a scuba tank and swimming among six different species of sharks with a trained diver as a guide.
The program has two distinct experiences:
· Cage Dive: For non-certified divers ages 8 and up. No prior diving experience is necessary. All participants need is a sense of wonder and a willingness to learn something new.
· Scuba Dive: For certified scuba divers ages 15 and up. This is a chance divers dream of – swimming among sharks.
Both meet ADA accessibility standards, and dive staff is trained to make the experience memorable for people of just about all ages and abilities.
Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive will grab participants by the tail of their imaginations and take them on a heart-pounding journey into the realm of the shark – something that few people will ever be able to say they’ve done.
Exhilarating because divers can safely share the water with the sharks, even though it’s perfectly human to have a brain that shouts, “But isn’t this dangerous?”
Edgy because there’s nowhere else in the Pacific Northwest where the general public can dive with so many sharks in a warm-water exhibit. And isn’t diving with sharks the kind of check-it-off-the-list adventure so many people crave?
Enlightening because Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive’s main message is one of conservation and coexistence. The sharks themselves will show it’s safe to swim among them. Divers will learn how these animals are misunderstood, unfairly maligned by pop culture and mercilessly hunted and killed by the millions for their fins.
“The main goal of this program is to publicize the plight of sharks worldwide and to inspire people right here in Puget Sound to help protect and conserve marine life for future generations,” zoo deputy director John Houck said. “We want our visitors to leave with a pledge to take action that will help save sharks.”
The images of shark destruction are difficult to see, the messages painful to hear.
It’s not sugarcoated, but it is mixed with the fun of the shark dive at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The message is perhaps all-the-more memorable because it’s associated with such a positive personal experience.
Eye-to-Eye is easy to do. There’s no bathing suit to bring. No special preparation needed. No equipment to lug around.
Participants will wear dry suits that slip on over street clothes and seal out water. Everything – except that bit of stretch-the-comfort-zone courage and curiosity mentioned earlier – is provided. Scuba dive participants do need to come with proof of certification.
The salt water is warm, about 75 degrees F. Clear, with excellent visibility. And about 13 feet deep.
As divers immerse themselves in the 240,000-gallon South Pacific Aquarium, they’ll see 17 sharks. Over there, is a 9-foot-long, 450-pound lemon shark. And, look, there goes a sandbar shark. And a school of nurse sharks. And sand tiger shark. Oh, and a blacktip reef shark is cruising near the wall. And a Japanese Wobbegong is lying in the sand.
Dive-with-sharks programs are growing in popularity in the United States and around the world. But two things set the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Eye-to-Eye experience apart.
· It’s the only one around that offers this unique combination of no-experience cage dive for some and scuba-certification-required open dive for others.
· It emphasizes conservation in word and deed, with an array of messages about the perils sharks face in the ocean, information on what individuals can do to help and a donation fund that will be put to work in global shark protection efforts.
The South Pacific Aquarium also is home to large Crevalle jacks, horse-eye jacks, a golden Crevalle jack, clown fish, sergeant majors, domino damselfish, butterflyfish, Banggai cardinalfish and dozens of others, so divers will learn about them, too.
Prices for the cage dive are $50 for zoo members and $65 for non-members. The cost for the scuba dive is $160 for zoo members and $175 for non-members. Prices include admission to the zoo and aquarium and a souvenir Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive towel.
So, besides the “I-can-hardly-wait-to-dry-my-hair-and-tell-my-friends” bragging rights, what other takeaways are there for divers?
Here’s a very sobering – and utterly urgent – message.
“Experts suggest that 38 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup,” Houck said. “Sharks are at the top of the marine food chain and are critical to maintaining balance in the world’s oceans. They desperately need our help, and we believe the Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive is a great way to get more people involved in helping these animals.”
The dive program highlights several making-a-difference actions people can take – and messages they can share with family members and friends.
· Not purchasing shark products such as shark fin soup, sharkskin items, pills made with shark cartilage or shark jaws.
· Choosing sustainable seafood caught in ways that don’t accidentally catch and kill sharks.
· Urging members of Congress to pass laws to protect sharks.
Reservations for the Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive programs are required.
They may be made at www.pdza.org/dive.