Shark Diving off the Coast of Jupiter, Fl

There is a first time for everything:

I knew a shark diving trip was on our list, so I was not surprised when my dive buddy, Danielle, told me she wanted to plan a weekend of shark diving near Jupiter, Florida, in January.  Two thoughts popped into my head:

  1. Okay – is this how it ends for me – Not the way I want to go.
  2. January weather in Florida is unpredictable, and it could be freezing.

We have talked to enough divers about their shark diving experiences that we knew safety was not an issue.  Most experienced divers rave about their shark diving experiences and have encouraged us to go.  However, there are always those scary dark thoughts about what if running around in my head.  So I suppressed those dark thoughts and told Danielle to book it.

The Weekend Plan:

Off we went on January 14th to head down to Jupiter, Fl, about 3 hours from our homes.  We planned to do a two-tank drift dive with Kyalami Charters on Saturday and a three-tank shark dive off the coast of Jupiter, FL with Emerald Dive Center on Sunday.

The weather report could have been better.  A major cold front was scheduled to hit us Friday night, plunging the overnight temps into the 30s with daytime highs in the 50s and strong winds. As a result, the operator canceled the Saturday dive trip.  We still had a fun Saturday, freezing at the Stuart boat show in the morning, and then visited with my brother and his family living in the area.

Shark Diving Day:

Sunday’s trip was confirmed.  We arrived at 8 am at the designated spot in Jupiter and were greeted by a very efficient, friendly woman who checked us in.  She went through the Nitrox testing process on our tanks, giving us the specific Nitrox blend and MODs (maximum operating depth) for our dive computers.  We were done in a matter of minutes after signing our paperwork.  Next, the dive master checked out our gear to ensure it was shark friendly, which meant no whites, yellows, or light blues.  He also ensured we had gloves and hoods and no exposed bare skin showing.  All was good with our equipment—the orange highlights on my BCD were fine, as were my turquoise flippers.

Nine crazies were diving, and we all huddled in the sunlight to keep as warm as we could.  One couple had come all the way from Prague, Czech Republic.  The temperature was 40 degrees.  Once the crew had all the gear loaded on the boat, the dive master came and got us, and off we went.  The boat ride was cold, and we were dressed more for skiing than diving.

Heading Out to Sea:

Danielle getting ready for our first diveWe started to get got our gear ready as we made our way out into the ocean.  The captain was dealing with large, rolling 9’ swells. We kept busy getting our gear ready and into our wet suits.  Danielle and I wore long-sleeved Under Armor turtle necks and leggings under our wet suits for maximum warmth.  We were glad we had them on.

Next, we had our pre-dive briefing with the dive master, who was friendly and excellent.  He had been doing shark dives for 20 years and knew his stuff.  He walked us through a description for all three dives.  Our first dive would start at 80’, where he would chum the water and make sounds to bring the sharks up from the bottom to feed.

The first shark dive: Bull sharks and a surprise guest:

The visibility in our first spot was terrible, so we safely surfaced and got back on the boat to find a better place.  Ten Hammerhead shark - a unexpected guestminutes later, we jumped back in the water with our original tanks and headed down. After that, visibility was much better, and we saw luminescence in the water, which was fun to see.

Down to 80 feet, we went and huddled up just above and behind the dive master, who began chumming and calling the sharks.  After about 15 minutes, the big Bull sharks swam serenely into our view.  Three of them went up to the dive master while he offered them chunks of fish.  They swam by and through our group, not showing much interest in the food yet.  A little more coaxing, and they began to eat a little.  More sharks showed up, and we started our ascent to 40’ and continued to feed and photograph them.  As we rose to 30’, a large 14’ hammerhead appeared.  The group was excited to see it, but unfortunately, I missed him.

Back on the boat, we switched our tanks and used the hot water in our wet suits to keep us warm above the surface.

Danielle’s left ear had a pinhole rupture that blew air through it every time she breathed.  She had dealt with this once before, so she knew what it was and opted out of the remaining dives to be safe.o the boat headed to the second dive location, which promised more shark variety as we all tried to keep warm.

The Second Dive:

Marilyn jumping in for the Lemon shark diveDown we went to about 60-70 feet.  The visibility was even better, and the dive master again began to chum.  Jellyfish were in the area, but none bothered us.  Instead, hundreds of hand-sized crabs were heading our way, attracted to the chum.  It was weird to see out into the blue ocean with all these light-colored crabs heading toward us.

After a few minutes, the sharks showed up again.  First, the Bull sharks, followed by Lemon sharks.  They swam all around the dive master and the group.  One went right through the bottom of my legs.  I had Danielle’s camera and was busy getting some great pictures reminding myself to dive first and photograph second.  I was never scared or nervous; they acted like any other large fish, just minding their own business while they fed on the chum and chunks of fish being offered.   The sharks followed us up and continued to feed and swim around us.

Last Shark Dive Featuring Lemon Sharks:

We headed closer to shore in shallower water for our third dive around 40-50’.  After freezing on the deck, we were very happy to get back into the water.  This is where we would find more lemon sharks, and they would be more “enthusiastic,” according to the dive master.

Lemon Sharks are swimming with us on the surface. Down we went, and three lemon sharks immediately appeared looking for food.  The dive master had three right in his lap, nudging him.  They swam right through his arms, and the buoy line almost getting tangled.  More showed up, and at one point, we had about 12 lemon sharks swimming around us.  The Lemon sharks came from all directions and surrounded us, initially making me a little nervous.  I looked them straight in the eye as they approached me, and they veered off.  The dive master had to push them away as they got too friendly with him.  A pesky Remora was also in his face.

As we surfaced, all the Lemons came with us to the surface.  Danielle took a great video of the sharks swimming around the dive buoy on the surface behind the boat.  I was so mesmerized by the sharks swimming around me that I didn’t realize most other divers were already on the boat.

Bull sharks swimming among us

We took lots of videos and had a blast.  What a great experience!  We wished it wasn’t so cold on the boat and Danielle’s ear hadn’t blown, but we both had a great time.  We plan to go back at the end of April when more hammerheads will be in the area.  I can’t believe I just said that. Hopefully, it will be warm by them.

 Takeaways:

  • Don’t be afraid of shark diving. We never felt threatened, and it was a fantastic experience.
  • Think twice about the weather. If you tend to be very cold, consider booking your dive in the warmer months.
  • Make sure you have all your gear squared away and a complete head-to-toe covering.
  • Take lots of pictures.
  • Emerald Charters in Jupiter was excellent and provided a box lunch. We highly recommend them.
  • Don’t forget to tip the crew and dive master.