Experts hope a new cage-less shark dive experience could educate and thrill at the same time. Sam Duncan takes the plunge.
The shark dive at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour allows participants to get up close and personal with sharks without a cage for protection and is attracting thrill-seekers and tourists to the extreme experience.
While the grey nurse sharks at the aquarium do not inspire the same terror as other species such as the Great White, they cut a menacing figure as they swim rapidly towards divers only to cut away at the last minute.
The size of the sharks looming up directly in front of swimmers and their teeth in such close proximity tests the nerves of the most seasoned thrill-seekers and shark-lovers.
...they’re not always inherently and inevitably dangerous or aggressive animals
The east coast population of grey nurse sharks in Australia are listed as “critically endangered” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. They were heavily culled until the 1970s due to their "fierce” appearance.
Dr. Leah Gibbs from the University of Wollongong is an expert in human-shark encounters and has extensively surveyed ocean users. Her research demonstrates that a human-shark encounter can reduce fear.
“The dominant view was that those people who have actually encountered sharks tend to accept them as part of the ocean; tend to recognise that they’re not always inherently and inevitably dangerous or aggressive animals,” she said.
Shark management policy has been a highly charged area of debate in recent years following a perceived rise in the risk of shark attacks and controversial WA and NSW state government policies to manage the issue.
Dr. Gibbs believes that a human-shark encounter can lead to more positive associations and dispelling of myths.
“Because they are such mysterious creatures — that most people haven’t seen — it’s very easy for our views of them to become very distorted," she said.
Sea Life Sydney Aquarium's Chris Fletcher believes a face to face encounter helps people gain a better understanding of the animals.
“It’s an immersive experience, you’re in their environment. Apart from respecting it, you see that they’re actually going about what they do," he said.
Divers come face to face with five grey nurse sharks up to 3.2m long in the cage-less dive experience; three of these sharks have been relocated from the recently closed Manly Sea Life Centre.