That, my friends, is what a scream underwater sounds like, and it is exactly the noise I made when I saw a 10ft shark swimming right at me.
Luckily, nobody can hear you scream underwater. Of course it was a manly scream no doubt, and of course I didn’t pee myself a little as it got closer, staring into my soul with those black glossy eyes.
I wasn’t afraid at all.
Okay, that is a small lie… I was terrified. My stomach tightened up and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. All I could do is let out a mewing sound as the shark cut through the water like it was thin air, and I couldn’t move fast enough to brace myself to be chomped.
Would all of those episodes of Shark Week I’ve watched help me out of this underwater pickle? I don’t think so…I was dead meat.
*Cue the Jaws music* Dundun…dundun…dundun dundun dundun dundun
Speaking of Shark Week, Discovery Channel just ended another season of this gnarly show, and it inspired me to write about the time I swam with sharks in Napier, New Zealand.
SPOILER ALERT! I did survive.
Drats, I hope I didn’t ruin the suspense…
Napier is home to the National Aquarium of New Zealand, one which lets you snorkel with the sharks. While visiting the Art Deco themed town located in the southeast of the north island, I knew I had to knock that one off my bucket list and finally see just what it is like to come face to face with these horror movie mascots.
They are all blood thirsty killing machines after all right?
The aquarium itself is quite a bit smaller than others I’ve visited in the past, but it does still have a ton of information to take in, and was the only one I had come across to offer this kind of a unique experience.
Before we suited up to go snorkeling, we took a quick tour around the aquarium and watch some of the feeding in the tank. Yes, feed them until they are STUFFED, so they’ll have no room for me.
Besides your normal array of underwater animals like stingray, various types of fish, and sea turtles, the aquarium houses 4 different types of sharks and one behemoth (dead) giant squid.
Fun fact: One of the long time aquarium employees actually came up with the best known preservation method for the giant squid, and this is why the display isn’t murky or has bits floating around in it.
Watching it from the tunnel kind of calmed my nerves a bit, being that sharks are one of my own biggest fears. Probably from watching Jaws too many times as a young lad.
“Oh, they aren’t THAT big.” I said when I first saw the sharks come around the diver.
Little did I know, the rounded tunnel we walked through made the sharks look about a third of their actual size.
I was pretty stoked at this point. I hurried to slip on the wet suit and rushed to the entry point of the aquarium.
“Now, you don’t have to do anything except flout there, your wetsuit will keep you a the top of the water. Just swim around, but don’t touch them.”
Easy enough I thought. When I got in the water though, it turned out to be way colder than I expected.
When I mentioned earlier that my stomach had tightened up and I couldn’t breathe, a lot of it was due to the temperature in the water.
I was literally shivering already by the time I let myself sprawl out and dipped my face into the water for the first time.
I had never been snorkeling before, so that was an experience in itself.
It’s a whole different world underwater. Some senses are heightened, and some are hindered. The world goes completely quiet, and all you can hear is your breathing (or my hyperventilating) and the swish of your flippers.
But everything else underwater can surely hear, sense, and feel you way better.
And then I spotted the shark for the first time, and I remember mumbling something into my snorkel around the lines of “Oh my god” when I saw just how big they are!
It was like the size of a freakin’ car! And of course it was swimming right at me. This is the point where I screamed underwater as mentioned before, and it hits you just how potentially defenseless you are underwater to any wildlife there.
They swim better and faster than you, and as the shark came closer to me I froze. I was holding my breath. I was shivering. And I hoped I wouldn’t be eaten.
And the shark swam right beneath me like it had no care in the world. Well, it also helps that it was a Seven Gill shark that just so happens to not have a hankering for humans.
But that was the really cool thing about swimming with the sharks. Even though the don’t have the flesh- shredding teeth of Great White or Tiger sharks, sharks in general really don’t eat people.
From watching TONS of Shark Week episodes, sharks seem to be highly mis-understood creatures with most attacks being that of mistaken identity. And swimming with these made me see just how fascinating sharks really are.
Now, I’m not saying I’m going to go out to South Africa and dive with Great Whites just yet, but swimming with the sharks in Napier shed a whole new light on them.
And made snorkeling one of my new favorite things to do.
Here is a video of some footage from the aquarium. Listen at the end to my terrified laugh after a shark brushes me!
Have you ever swam with sharks? Do share =)
If you fancy reading about Swimming with Great Whites, check out this article by Don’t Ever Look Back!