I'm keen to share things that I've done with others - I love learning about culture and history, I know the importance of great service, good quality products and positive experiences. I love to experience life's opportunities. I live in Melbourne.
Published April 21st 2016
Get up close and personal with sharks
I guess it's one of those things that not everyone wants to do — voluntarily go underwater and spend time within a metre of several living, breathing, person-eating sharks. I did it.
SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium offers the experience to those who have the urge. When you book a ticket for Shark Dive Xtreme, the administration process begins. You will need to address all the safety aspects of the dive at least two weeks before your adventure. This is important. I completed a Medical Clearance from my GP and also a special Dive Health Check. These are checks of general health that ensure a "diver" has no particular health issues that would risk their safety whilst underwater. For example, if I had any problems with air pressure — my lungs, breathing or ears — this would be checked thoroughly to ensure there was no danger to me. It seemed like a chore, but it was for my own good.
One of our underwater companions
On the Sunday morning of the dive it was only 9.30am, but very busy. Shark dives don't operate every day, only from Fridays to Mondays and weekends are the same times that families and visitors like to come to see the rest of the aquarium. Even though I had a pre-paid voucher, I still had to line up to be checked off the list and admitted, and I had to complete more forms too. However, at this point the admin stopped and the fun began.
After a short wait for all "divers" to arrive our dive guide introduced himself to the small group (of only five). We were led down to a lower level and into the dive area. We could instruct our friends and families to come down to the "Mermaid's Lagoon" to watch the dive. Out of the lift we gathered in a small area and were given a comprehensive safety briefing. There was no need to be concerned that I'd never SCUBA dived before, as the briefing covered all a novice diver needed to know about what to do, what not to do and the creatures we would see below the surface. Every so often the tank's surface would break and a fin would momentarily appear then disappear. It was fascinating and disarming at the same time.
The guide also provided instructions about specific hand gestures used underwater. That's because nobody can speak or hear underwater, hence the necessity of hand gestures to relay messages between divers:
" - Let's go this way" " - Look up there" " - I don't feel well" " - We will (or I want to) return to the surface" " - I can't breathe"
The slide show seemed to take forever. But then wet suits were handed out and we struggled into them with swimming togs underneath, a firm but not tight fit. We had to make sure we could still breathe comfortably. We put on diving gloves, a helmet, mask and a pair of special dive shoes with rubber soles to stop feet from slipping, then flippers. We were covered from head to foot with rubber gear. Then we got weight belts and the heavy SCUBA tanks. The weight was significant - around 30kg.
Then, finally, we got into the massive tank.
We can clearly see the public looking back at us!!
We each climbed backwards down the ladder and into the salt water. Thankfully, the gear then became weightless; we were suddenly buoyant. That was a weird feeling. The water temperature was a shock at first too — cold, but not unbearable. It was a curious sensation when the coolness permeated my wet suit. At this point, there's only one thing you can do to warm yourself up inside the wet suit, aside from going back to the surface, that is.
All divers arrived on the submerged platform and we were given extra weights to keep us grounded. We met two more dive instructors who reviewed the hand gestures and we practiced several critical dive skills:
clear the mask of water, clear the mouthpiece of water and equalise" underwater – to make our ears "pop".
Then we went below, the instructors guided us to another platform. The creatures gently glided past seemingly oblivious to us. Some were massive like the giant stingrays with a fin span bigger than us, a huge and colourful leopard shark, a grey nurse shark, and several brightly coloured fish. It was surreal but marvellous.
We could clearly see through the water and through the glass to the public peering in on us. They waved and we were encouraged to wave back. We were told not to wave too near the fish or to make any sudden gestures though, as this could upset them and they might react unpredictably.
We headed to the bottom of the tank where a photographer took our pictures through the glass. Then we swam around along the bottom under the instructors' guidance for between 30-45 minutes, stopping every now and then to see what the instructors pointed out.
Time to get out ....
The sharks, stingrays and fish passed by all the time; Some were very close. All too soon the dive was over and we were guided back to the surface.
After this time it was getting pretty cold in the water and the struggle out of the wetsuit was rewarded by a fabulous hot shower.
A majorly enjoyable adventure!
The instructors were fantastic. They were careful, professional and fully aware of our safety at all times.The photographs were available for us to buy after about an hour. It's a great experience. see the video below.