Swimming With Sharks

For my birthday this year, Beth got me a really awesome present. I got to go scuba diving in the Dubai Aquarium with a bunch of sharks.

You’ll remember that I saw three gray reef sharks while diving in the Maldives back in July. This time, however, I came face-to-face with a tank full of sharks as well as rays and all kinds of fish. Officially, the aquarium claims that over 33,000 creatures (including over 400 sharks) inhabit the main tank. Maybe all sharks look alike, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see 400 sharks while I was in there. Regardless, it was a very cool experience.

Before you get in the water, you’re required to sign a huge stack of papers that waive any liability should a shark get too friendly. The funny part comes next. You have to watch a 20-minute video orientation that describes all the various aquarium rules and further warns you of the dangers associated with shark diving. The aquarium works hard to convince you that sharks aren’t bloodthirsty man-eaters hellbent of attacking everything in sight. However, the opening segment of their video features heavy-metal music and quick film cuts of sharks gnashing their teeth and biting things. I honestly laughed out loud and looked over at the aquarium diver who was walking me through the process. He kind of shrugged his shoulders apologetically as if to say, “I didn’t make the video… and I don’t understand the logic either.”

Once I got all kitted out, it was time to get in the water. My dive guide led us down to the bottom of the aquarium where we started in one corner of the tank. In order to limit the possibility for danger, divers are encouraged to basically sit down and be still. That way, the fish swim around you instead of the other way around.

Normally the fish are the main attraction for visitors to the aquarium. That day, however, all eyes were on me. The tank opens up into a huge pavilion in the mall and it seemed like everyone was waving at and taking pictures of me. I spent about 5-10 minutes waving back and posing for pictures and was hardly aware of the fish swimming by.

Then the first shark came by. Sharks aren’t scary… at least not these. They’re well fed and used to people swimming around them, so I was just another tank inhabitant. I’ll admit, however, the first time a shark came within 3 feet of me, thoughts do run through your mind about all those teeth.

The coolest moment of the whole dive came about half-way through.  A big reef shark was getting up-close and personal with me in the middle of the tank. I was laying on top of  rock while he swam circles. As he came up behind me on the final circle, I lost track of him. The dive guide reached out and grabbed my air tank and just lifted me straight up in the air. The shark swam right underneath me.

The whole dive lasted about 30 minutes, which is fairly short for that depth. I certainly wasn’t out of air, they just want to get you in and get you out. It’s a cool one-time experience, but I don’t think it would convince anyone to give up open water diving. You may never get this close to a shark in the wild, but it’s hard to get past the manufactured sense that the experience isn’t totally real when you’re inside a mall.

  • Hidden Behind Fish
  • Waving to the World
  • On the Lookout for Sharks
  • A Big Grouper
  • Just Hanging Out
  • First Sharked Headed My Way
  • Starting to Get Close
  • Back for Another Pass
  • Still Circling
  • This Shark is as Big as Me
  • Swimming with the Fishes
  • Headed to Location #2
  • Chilling on this Rock
  • Sharks Getting Really Close Now
  • He's About 2-3 Feet from My Face
  • Still Circling Me
  • One Last Pass
  • He Swam Underneath Me
  • Off to the Back of the Aquarium
  • Dive is Almost Over

All photos courtesy of my awesome wife Beth Daniel Lindsay, photographer extraordinaire.

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