Discovery Channel’s 27th annual Shark Week ran from August 10 to August 16, and according to the network it reeled in 42 million viewers. The weeklong programming was the third best to date (it tagged 62.1 million viewers in 2010 and 51 million in 2013), but set record ratings among women and young men. In other words, people are fascinated by sharks and Shark Week provides the chance for them to get up close and personal with these mysterious creatures without having to dip their toes in shark-infested waters. Still, few things are as exhilarating as swimming with the ocean’s most feared predators, and the more adventurous divers and snorkelers think nothing about suiting up and descending in a metal cage into a bona fide Sharknado. Here are the 10 best places in the world to swim with sharks.
10 Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Situated 1,200 km north of the west coast capital of Perth, Ningaloo Reef was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. The fringing coral reef is home to over 500 fish species and 200 hundred types of coral. Despite being nationally threatened, pods of whale sharks feed at Ningaloo Reef between mid-March and July, following a mass coral spawning.
During the winter months the reef is a migratory route for manta rays, dolphins, and humpback whales.
9 The Cove: La Jolla, California
La Jolla Cove is famous for its alluring coves and caves, and it is often cited as the most photographed beach in San Diego. Diving is accessible via beach entry, so a boat isn’t necessary. The warm, calm water is home to yellowtails, rays, and colorful garibaldi. During the fall months, La Jolla Cove is home to huge schools of leopard sharks, tope sharks, and angel sharks.
Divers and snorkelers with boats can travel 10 miles offshore and swim with blue and mako sharks. Of course, keeping up with a mako is going to be difficult considering it’s the fastest shark in the ocean.
8 Cat Island, Bahamas
Cat Island is a sleepy Caribbean paradise. The island’s north side features a wild, untamed shoreline and some of the best scuba diving in the world. From massive coral heads and vertical walls to caves and coral canyons, Cat Island is known for its diverse marine life. Moreover, it’s the world’s hotspot for oceanic whitetip sharks.
With a mottled graffiti contrast of dark gray and white, the bodies of whitetip sharks look paint-splattered –like a sleek, marine version of a Jackson Pollock painting. Despite their striking appearance, whitetips are considered to be curious and peaceful.
7 Beqa Lagoon, Fiji
According to Andy Casagrande IV, cinematographer for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, “Fiji is home to dozens of shark species, but for some of the best bull shark action on the planet, Beqa Lagoon is king.” Bull sharks are said to be aggressive, but at Beqa Lagoon the local Fijians hand-feed them. Beqa Lagoon is comprised of over 100 square miles of clear water and protected by 30 kilometers of barrier reef, making it one of the world’s largest barrier reefs.
Popular dive sites in Beqa Lagoon include Ceasar’s Rock, Carpet Cove, and Fantasea. Along with bull sharks, large tigers and hammerheads are also found in the lagoon.
6 Tiputa Pass: Rangiroa, French Polynesia
Tiputa Pass is a strait that joins the Rangiroa lagoon to the open ocean of the South Pacific. The fast moving current lets water in and out of the lagoon twice a day. The flow of water, which is like an underwater river, brings fish that feed on the drifting nutrients. Of course, smaller fish are prey for bigger fish, and hundreds of silvertips sharks lurk in the gap to hunt.
The silvertips hang almost motionless in the fast-flowing current, waiting for dinner to swim by. Silvertip sharks can attain a maximum length of 10 feet, and they’re considered potentially dangerous to humans because they have a tendency to swim too close.
5 Guadalupe, Mexico
Located 150 miles off the coast of Baja, Mexico is the island of Guadalupe. The clear and relatively warm waters make it one of the best places in the world to go cage diving with great white sharks. Guadalupe is home to the great white's favorite food: seals. Ten years ago this pristine white shark hangout was unknown, but today great whites from Guadalupe have been featured on both Shark Week and National Geographic’s Great Migrations.
What makes Guadalupe different from South Africa and Australia -other popular great white stomping grounds -is that the water is less choppy and the visibility spectacular. Divers can see a great white approaching from over 50-feet away. In other words, cue the theme from Jaws.
4 Isla Mujeres, Mexico
During the summer months hundreds of whale sharks migrate north of Isla Mujeres to feed in the plankton-rich waters created by the joining of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The whale shark is the biggest shark in the ocean; many of these gentle giants can grow over 25-feet long. With a mouth up to 5 feet wide and 300 rows of teeth, swimming beside this unique species is intimidating.
However, they’re docile creatures and pose no threat to humans; whale sharks have even been reported to act playfully with divers. Whale sharks are considered to be solitary creatures, which is what makes their annual gathering in Isla Mujeres so unique.
3 Tiger Beach, Bahamas
Located 20 miles offshore of Old Bahama Bay Marina, Tiger Beach is the underwater hangout of tiger sharks, lemon sharks, and reef sharks. According to Eli Martinez, founder of Shark Diver magazine, tiger sharks are the main attraction at this dive spot. Captain Scott Smith discovered Tiger Beach in the late 80’s. The area has a shallow reef bar located a quarter mile from a deep-water drop off, and two wrecks are within half a mile of each other in ten to twenty feet of water.
The dive spot was known for years as the Dry Bar, but was renamed Tiger Beach because of the numerous tiger sharks that visit the site. While Pacific Tigers are said to be more aggressive than Atlantic Tigers, all tiger sharks are classified as man-eaters.
2 Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Jacques Cousteau proclaimed Cocos Island “the most beautiful island in the world,” and considering the beauty, abundance and diversity of marine life at the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, it would be hard to argue with the undersea explorer. Located 340 miles from the Pacific shore of Costa Rica, reaching the world’s largest uninhabited island is no easy task.
Most of the island’s dive sites are islets; while the action typically takes place at the 60 to 90-foot mark, some dives can reach as deep as 130-feet. Marble and moray rays, dolphins, Orcas, whale sharks and tornado-sized school of jacks are common in the changing currents around Cocos Island. However, Scalloped hammerheads are the island's biggest attraction, as large schools, sometimes up to 100, are often spotted in an area known as Bajo Alcyone.
1 Gansbaai and False Bay, South Africa
Monster great whites are known to roam the waters of False Bay, which is a 30-minute ride from Cape Town. What makes the shark-infested waters of South Africa so unique, however, is that divers can not only jump into a cage and come eye-to eye with the fierce predators, but they can also watch them go fully airborne as they attack Cape fur seals.
The great whites’ ambush is legendary. In the Shark Week documentary, Air Jaws: Fins of Fury, filmmaker Jeff Kurr captured mega-shark “Colossus” leaping out of the choppy water in a stunning acrobatic attack. “Submarine,” a 30-foot great white that has terrorized South Africa for decades, is also believed to roam the waters of Gansbaai and False Bay.