The sun was just beginning to lighten the sky as I parked at
Haleiwa Harbor on Oahu’s North Shore. A slight chill sent shivers
up my spine when I walked toward the water. Surely the morning air
was responsible for the goose bumps on my bare arms. It couldn’t
possibly be the thought of snorkeling with sharks.
I’d signed up for a morning shark dive with Hawaii Shark
Encounters on a lark, daring myself to up the ante in my quest to
swim with as many sea creatures as possible. I’d already raced
through the water with whale sharks (which happen to be totally
harmless to humans) and gone diving with tiger sharks in the
aquarium at the Maui Ocean Center. It was time to mingle with the
big guys maybe even a mighty hammerhead.
I joined a group of fellow adventurers on the Kainani, a 32-foot
boat that looked as though it couldn’t possibly withstand a shark
attack. She was a fine vessel, all in all, with a toilet, hot-water
shower and sound system softly playing the latest Jack Johnson
ditty. The captain and mate seemed quite capable as we sailed
smoothly out to sea past sailboats and hardy swimmers. The
passengers chatted about the upcoming Honolulu mar-athon, which
several planned to run the next day. Most of them looked fit, eager
and a tad nervous. Some were downright terrified.
The boat slowed far too soon for comfort beside a metal cage
bobbing in clear blue water. As the crew attached the cage to the
back of the boat, we cleaned and adjusted our masks and snorkels,
lathered on sunscreen and joked about our upcoming adventure. We
noticed the mate lugging a foul-smelling bucket toward the back of
the boat then dangling long strips of mahimahi over the water.
Nasty-looking gray sand sharks soon swarmed around his outstretched
hand, snatching the offerings. As the captain beckoned us toward
the cage we all politely demurred, saying we’d allow someone else
the first turn.
Two brave young men strapped on their masks and descended a
ladder into the cage. Soon they were snapping photos of sand and
Galapagos sharks baring their teeth just inches from the metal
bars. My husband and I took the next turn, and my shivers turned to
tremors as my body hit cold choppy water. I grasped at the cage’s
upper metal bars and nearly growled when my husband pulled at my
arms while pointing at sharp teeth just inches from my fingers.
Silly me, I’d forgotten the first rule of shark snorkeling don’t
offer your body as bait. Settling behind the Plexiglas panels
lining the lower walls of the cage, I tried to breathe slowly and
take in the scenery.
A dozen or so sharks circled the cage, bumping the glass with
their hard, bulky bodies. Though in reality they were probably only
three or four feet long, they looked enormous and most definitely
dangerous. Their mouths seemed constantly open in sinister
snaggle-toothed grins and their tails whipped the water into frothy
waves. They ignored the schools of mackerel and small tuna darting
toward the boat for a bit of chum as if strips of wahoo and
mahimahi were hardly worth their attention.
I glanced down and spotted a pretty little yellow and blue
filefish floating at the bottom of the cage. It looked injured and
intimidated. I wondered what would keep a particularly hungry shark
from swimming over the top of the cage and descending to feast upon
our bodies. Our guides had assured us the sharks were virtually
harmless, as long as we stayed inside the Plexiglas. But they
hadn’t mentioned that the top of our cage was totally open to
invasion. I figured that upped the danger quotient
To be honest, I was glad I didn’t spot a hulking hammerhead or
fearsome white shark. This relatively easy encounter with Galapagos
and sand sharks was enough excitement for one morning, as we all
agreed when safely back onboard the Kainani. I’ll gladly wait until
I’m safely ensconced in a full-scale shark cage with sturdy steel
bars on all four sides before tackling my next shark adventure. We
all felt a bit stronger, braver and more confident as we chatted
excitedly on our way back to shore.
When I spotted the runners at the marathon the next morning,
they proudly sported their new Shark Encounter T-shirts and an air
Prices: $100 per adult and $50 per child under 12 and
passengers who don’t want to get into the shark cage. Rates are
Schedule: 7:30 and 10 a.m. in winter; 6, 8:30 and 11 a.m.
in summer. Tours last two hours. Advance reservations are
Hawaii Shark Encounters