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by Karin Yttergren, student writer

With all due deference to surfing and snorkeling, if you haven’t yet tried swimming with sharks you have a whole new world to experience.

Nothing can compare to the feeling of being in the water with these fascinating animals. It’s surreal and powerful, frightening but fun, and something you will remember for the rest of your life.

One Saturday in March, photographer Anna Bandling, another communication major at HPU, and I went to Hale‘iwa Harbor, on O‘ahu’s North Shore, to dive with sharks. The Shark Encounters welcomed us aboard their 32-foot Radon Vessel Kainani and gladly answered all our questions. There were two instructors, one of them the captain, and nine other eager, wanna-be shark divers aboard.

Before departure we received some basic safety information. There were fire extinguishers on board, 20 life vests, and one life raft. There was also a Coast Guard monitor, and we were told what our location would be, just in case in an emergency an instructor, for any reason, could not get to the radio. The basic rules were: no hands or feet outside the cage. Sounds reasonable even though the type of sharks we were about to meet normally don’t eat humans, only other fishes.

The captain was Juan Oliphant, 30, from Mexico. He’s been in this business for five years and has worked for Shark Encounters for three. What he loves about the job is that it’s never the same. People are different, and so are sharks, and there is nothing monotonous about the job, Oliphant said.

This kind of job requires a great deal of knowledge about sharks and ocean safety. When he has spare time, Oliphant swims with the sharks outside of the cage, which he does not recommend for beginners, even though he’s been in the business for five years he has never witnessed a shark-related accident. People have received minor injuries on the boat, cuts or bruises, but never have there been shark attacks.

Asked if people ever back out and don’t want to go in the water, he said: “That happens, but once we talk them into trying, they often don’t want to come back up again. And several times a day we hear that this is the best thing they’ve ever done.”

Chris Simmons, 30, one of the brave divers, was here on vacation from his real estate job in Utah. A few days ago he and his wife went on a whale-watching trip and Simmons, who easily gets seasick, felt a bit apprehensive. “I’m nervous about the boat ride,” said Simmons just before departure. “I’m not even thinking of the sharks right now.”

The boat ride was rough, but after 15 minutes, the cage was waiting in the water. Simmons seemed relieved that the boat ride was over, but then he started thinking about the sharks. So nervous he almost forgot to put his snorkel on, Simmons was among those first in the cage with five other excited divers. As soon as he got into the water, all signs of tension and fear disappeared, and he was smiling proudly.

While the first group descended, the rest of us got a quick shark lesson. The sharks that circulated around the boat were Galapagos sharks; they are normally 10 to 12 feet and the most likely shark to be seen on these tours. We were lucky, because we also got to see some sandbar sharks, 5-to 7-feet long.

The tiger sharks only come every third or fourth month, and then all the other sharks disappear to avoid becoming shark food.

We went in the cage with the last group of divers. In the beginning it was scary to be so close to the sharks, even though the top of the cage was just above the surface and two of the sides were covered with plexi glass. When the sharks stared into our eyes, it felt very unreal, but after few minutes it all seemed normal.

Back on shore, Simmons still had a big smile on his face, and he said he was glad his wife had talked him into shark diving.

“ I have always been a bit afraid of the water, but I think I’m cured!,” Bandling said. As soon as she got up, she wanted to do it again!


Two brave HPU students get ready to swim with sharks.

Cage courtesy Hawaii Shark Encounters

Beware of hungry sharks!

Courtesy Monica Karlstein

Would you get in the water with these animals?

Courtesy Hawaii Shark Encounters hawaiisharkencounters.com





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