Diving with sharks near Jupiter, Florida

is one of the most fascinating and thrilling things I have experienced since learning to scuba dive.  Danielle and I have six shark dives logged with a variety of sharks off the coast of Jupiter, Florida, including:

  • Bull Sharks
  • Lemon Sharks
  • Hammerhead Sharks
  • Sand Sharks
  • Nurse Sharks
  • Tiger Sharks

Each encounter has been awe-inspiring as they majestically swim slowly and sometimes playfully among the divers.  When a shark approaches, we have been taught to look them right in the eye.  If they continue to enter our personal space, a light hand on the top of their nose with a gentle push will redirect them away.  After experiencing this interaction several times, I became confident that the sharks were not dangerous and had fun watching and interacting with them.

Is Diving with Sharks Safe?

Diving with sharks is very safe if you are a certified diver, follow instructions and act appropriately around the sharks while diving.  Humans are not a natural food for sharks.  The odds of getting attacked by a shark while scuba diving is 1 in 137 million.  In the last 57 years, only eight scuba diver-related deaths from shark attacks have occurred.  Several of these resulted from interactions with great white sharks, the most aggressive of all sharks.  For more statistics about shark diving, reference this article:  Dive.site.

It is recommended that unless you are specifically trained, you should always dive with a master dive instructor with vast experience diving with sharks.  There is specific knowledge of how to attract and interact with sharks safely.  Emerald Charters has been running scuba dive shark charters for over 20 years and has never had a threatening incident with a shark.

Why Shark attacks happen:

Most shark attacks result from swimmers and surfers acting like food in shallow water.  Laying on surfboards with arms and legs kicking and splashing in the water looks like fish or rays to sharks which are food sources for them.  New Smyrna Beach on the northeast coast of Florida is where many shark attacks have occurred while swimmers and surfers are playing in the water.  This area is a favorite feeding ground for sharks.  I would think twice before swimming in the surf in New Smyrna Beach, but I would be completely comfortable scuba diving further in the ocean depths with them.

On April 28th and 29th, Danielle and I joined our dive comrades from Gulf Coast Divers on a planned two-day shark diving excursion with Emerald Charters in Jupiter, Fl.

Summary of our April 28th Shark Dives with Emerald Charters

Our Saturday morning dockside meeting time was 7:30 am.  We woke early to a beautiful warm spring day.  A perfect day for getting us to dive with the sharks and experience how amazing they are to see up close.   With the help of Emerald Charter’s staff, we loaded our dive gear aboard the boat.  A staff member was there to run Nitrox gas tests on our dive tanks and have us sign off on each of our tanks regarding the percentage of enriched air in each tank.  Using enriched air of up to 36% reduces the chance of decompression sickness, allowing for extended dive time and shorter surface intervals between dives.  It also reduces the annoying dryness I often feel in my mouth while diving.

Danielle enjoying the sun and our morning ride out to dive with the sharks near Jupiter Florida

First Stop: The Deep Ledge – Diving with Bull Sharks

After a forty-minute ride to our first stop, The Deep Ledge, JC hoped to attract some Bull Sharks and maybe a Hammerhead or two at this location.  JC, the dive master, had already given us a dive briefing of what to expect and how he wanted us to dive with him.  With our gear on and checked, we did a negative entry dive and descended to about 90 feet.  A negative entry dive is when the diver has no air in BC and is negatively buoyant when they hit the water, allowing for a faster descent.  Danielle and I took a few minutes longer to get down as we had problems equalizing our ears. However, the visibility was at least 60 feet, so we could easily see where the rest of the divers were heading.  Once we got our ears to cooperate, we headed down to join the group at about 85 feet a minute or two later.  JC was already banging on his tank, creating a chum slick with his fresh chopped-up bonito and albacore fish in a milk crate.

Bull Shark smiling and showing off his teeth as he looks me in the eye

Diving with sharks safely:

The dive group is instructed to stay behind and slightly above the dive master while he chums and tries to attract the sharks. However, the sharks are weary of humans and often send one shark to check things out before the other sharks appear. So, it was only a few minutes before JC pulled in the first bull shark.  Shortly a few others came in and began to swim all around and among the divers.  Sadly, several of the sharks had hooks stuck in their flesh. One had one right near his right eye, and another had one stuck near his mouth.

JC began to ascend to about 40 feet as planned, continually chumming and feeding the sharks from his milk crate filled with tasty chunks of fresh fish.  His goal was to entice the sharks to shallower water, so our air tanks would last longer, giving us more time with these fantastic creatures.  The group took his cue and worked to stay above and behind him.  The current was strong, and we struggled to stay in a close group.  The sharks did follow us up and continued to swim in and around everyone in our group.

There is a big shark in my face!

Several bull sharks and a sand reef shark followed us to shallower water.  As they swam past us, we often had to reach out and gently redirect them as they entered our personal space.  A light touch on the top of their nose and a gentle push away nudged the shark in a slightly different direction.  Redirecting the sharks gave us an amazing up-close view of these incredible animals.  They are pure power and cartilage; we could see into their eyes and teeth.  The Bull sharks looked like they were smiling as they glided by us.  They swam by moving their bodies back and forth with their whole body and tail, creating effortless forward propulsion as they glide through the water.

As our air tanks got low, JC continued to the surface after our safety stop, around 15 feet, coaxing the sharks with us.  A few folks got on the boat due to the low air, but others stayed in the 10-15’ depth and continued to watch and interact with the sharks.  A few more sand reef sharks showed up that were up to 8-10’ long.  They are lighter in color than the bull sharks and seemed to enjoy swimming around the divers near the surface.

Dive Two: Location: Lemmon Drop. Diving with Lemmon Sharks:

After everyone was on board, the captain headed to our second stop, Lemon Drop, so named because it is an area where there are usually many Lemon sharks.  All the divers were busy switching their gear to their second tank for the day and rechecking their gear.  When we arrived at the designated spot, we still needed more surface time before returning to the water to avoid any challenges with decompression sickness.

JC brought us together and reviewed what he would be doing and what we should expect on the next dive.  Our depth would be around 70.’  Lemmon sharks are very social.  He calls them the puppy dogs of the sea because they like to swim all around the divers, often getting into their personal space before being redirected.  We had witnessed lemon shark behavior on our first dive in January, so we knew what to expect.  Again, he asked us to gather above and behind him and let him work his magic with the fresh bait and noise.

After our dive briefing, JC cut up more big chunks of bait fish.  He also used large sections like whole heads to feed the sharks if they would take it.

Time to feed the sharks - cutting up fresh bait fish

Diving with Lemmon Sharks is Just Fun:

Lemon shark following us up to the surface

Down we went again to about 70’.  The current was strong, and we were moving over the ocean bottom at a pretty good clip.  The bait box used by JC is attached to a marker at the surface so the boat captain can follow us.

Within minutes the first lemon shark appeared along with several others. They began swimming all around the divers, including in-between JC’s legs which he had to maneuver away from.  Another bull shark appeared as well in the background.  Visibility wasn’t quite as good in this area, but we could still see 40 or more.  Almost everyone in the group was having fun taking pictures of the sharks.  Two of the divers had large camera rigs and took some fantastic pictures seen here.

Again, when our air started to get lower, JC took the sharks and the divers to the surface.  Both lemon sharks and a few sand reef sharks swam around the divers and the boat as they got on board.

 Dive Three: Location- Sun Mariner Wreck. Diving with Hammerheads, Lemons, and Bull Sharks

Lemmon Shark swimming with Zebra Fish - Courtesy of Gulf Coast Divers

After a good box lunch provided by Emerald, we moved to our third and final dive spot, the wreck of the Sun Mariner, which was about a 45’ tug boat that sank years ago.  We had not yet seen a hammerhead shark, which was our goal for the day.

During our dive briefing over lunch, JC instructed us to follow him down to about 70’ to the wreck, grab onto the upper side of the tug, and kneel on the inside of the rail, holding on tightly as the current would be very strong.  He was right; it took some effort for all of us to grab onto the rail and get ourselves lined up on the inside of the rail.

Attack of the Goliath Grouper – more dangerous than sharks

JC went about 8’ deeper onto the sand with his two bait boxes for this dive.  Three large Goliath Groupers were hanging right near the ship, and they were immediately attracted to the bait in the milk crates.  JC warned us that the Groupers are much more aggressive than the sharks and that he would be cautious around them.  Sure enough, the largest grouper almost immediately went after the bait in the milk crate.  JC had to scramble to get out of the way. Quickly, the grouper forced one of the crates open with a firm head butt that released one of the bungees opening the crate.  He swallowed one of the fish heads and a bungee chord in one gulp.  JC managed to chase him back, but they hung around and followed us for the entire time JC was near the ocean floor.

Finally the Hammerheads Sharks Appeared

We didn’t spot any hammerheads initially, so as instructed, we left the wreck and drifted above and behind JC while he pulled the two crates through the white sandy bottom, trying to imitate the sensation of a ray in the sand.  After a few minutes, we spotted a hammerhead shark circling the group. Then, another appeared, and the hammerheads came in closer for the bait and to check us out.  Everyone was busy trying to get into position for the best pictures.

 

 

Nuetral Bouyancy is Important:

Diving with sharks while trying to take pictures can be very distracting.  Danielle and I constantly checked JC’s position to ensure we were not below him as he ascended.  Being below him could scare the sharks off and might put us in the chum stream, which is not the best idea.  It is easy to change depth 20’ without even realizing it while swimming and maneuvering for pictures.  Maintaining neutral buoyance is a skill that must be mastered on these dives.

Once again, we moved toward the surface, enticing the sharks to stay with us with chunks of fresh fish.  When we surfaced, we found that the wind had picked up, and the seas were rougher.  Our divers surface spread apart a bit, so I had to wait until it was my turn to get picked up, which is never fun when it is a bit rough.  Back on board, we were tired but thrilled that we had finally interacted with a few hammerheads.   Once everyone was on board, the captain headed for the inlet and back to the dock.  We broke down our gear, packed it in our dive bags, dried off, and discussed our fantastic day.  Danielle couldn’t wait to see her pictures that night.

Red Sky in the Morning Sailors Take Warning:

Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the morning was for severe weather with thunderstorms and high winds.  Danielle and I were not optimistic that we would get out; everyone else seemed to think it would be fine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and we did not get a chance to go out on Sunday’s shark dives.

Next Dive Adventure

We’ll be sure to plan another shark dive shortly.  Our next dive excursion with be drift diving off of West Palm Beach, which is supposed to be a lot of fun with lots of sea life to see.  I hope you enjoy our story and these amazing pictures taken by Danielle, myself, and Matt Glime of Gulf Coast Divers.