ALIWAL SHOAL & PROTEA BANKS
South Africa / Indian Ocean

Divers flock to Umkomaas in KwaZulu-Natal to experience the incredible attractions of Aliwal Shoal. A rocky reef in the Indian Ocean’s warm waters, it is the remains of an ancient sand dune, about three miles off the coast.
Between August and November huge number of raggedtooth sharks (aka grey nurse sharks or sand tigers) congregate to mate.
Belying their looks, these sharks are quite docile and can regulate their buoyancy so that they don’t have to keep swimming, forcing water through their gills. That’s why they are a favourite with aquariums.
At Protea Banks you are guaranteed to see tiger sharks in April and May, along with oceanic blacktip, dusky, guitar, bull, hammerhead and whale sharks at other times of year. Some dive centres even claim that if you don’t see a shark on a dive, you get your money back!
However, there are usually strong currents and you need to be able to survive a shore launching of the dive-boat through big surf.
www.oonasdivers.com

BEQA LAGOON
Fiji / South Pacific

Ten hours’ flying time from Los Angeles, the Fijian islands have a great variety of diving, but for sharks there’s nowhere quite like Beqa Lagoon near Viti Levu, the island where Nadi international airport is located.
A shark-feed dive here can draw in eight or more species. The water is chummed, then the feeder takes up position next to a big stainless-steel post to ensure that no shark can approach from an unexpected direction.
First the little whitetip reef sharks arrive, but quick and agile blacktips soon displace them. These defer to grey reef and silvertip sharks, which move over to let sicklefin lemon sharks compete for the fish scraps.
Size matters, and muscular nurse sharks can take over, but even they make themselves scarce when the bulky bull sharks take over. If you’re lucky, Scarface the resident tiger shark might make an appearance. At 6m long, this is a tropical version of a great white, a very impressive-looking animal.
www.fijisharkdive.com, www.aquatrek.com

COCOS
Costa Rica / East Pacific

If you head to Cocos, the island of the sharks, 350 miles into the Pacific from parent Costa Rica, you’ll probably do your check-out dive at nearby Manuelita Island. You’ll see a few scalloped hammerheads in the blue, and whitetip reef sharks lying around lethargically.
However, do this dive in the dark and it becomes one of the most exciting you’ll ever do. Not one but hundreds of whitetips turn into voracious hunters in the night and will enthusiastically use the light of divers’ lamps to hunt by.
The seabed becomes a mass of writhing bodies competing for prey.
Cocos has many famous dive-sites, such as the Roca Soucio and the seamount Bajo Alcyone. You will encounter hundreds of scalloped hammerheads schooling on the upwelling currents and visiting the reef from time to time to be cleaned by willing barberfish.
You’ll also see lots of other animals, including Galapagos sharks and giant whale sharks. Recently some tiger sharks have joined the regulars.
Silverado is a shallow-water cleaning station monopolised by silvertip sharks, although they are not always in attendance when divers visit.
www.underseahunter.com, www.dancerfleet.com, www.aggressor.com

DARWIN
Galapagos / East Pacific

Darwin and Wolf are tiny islands 150 miles north of the main Galapagos chain, but it’s here that you’ll discover the most dramatic shark-diving.
The currents around Darwin are strong and the water can be chilly, but the scalloped hammerhead sharks seem less skittish and more inquisitive than elsewhere and come very close to look at you before dashing back into the blue at the last moment.
Naturally, it’s also a place to spot large Galapagos sharks, and if you’re lucky you’ll see more than one fully grown whale shark; often as many as three up to 18m long, travelling in a flotilla. That’s an awful lot of fish.
You can leave the safety of clinging to the rocky substrate as you watch the show and take your chances swept along in the ocean, but if you’re patient and wait, these oceanic leviathans will circle the island several times, delivering a repeat performance several times in the space of one dive. www.galapagossky.com, www.aggressor.com

EXMOUTH
W. Australia / Indian Ocean

This part of the world may have a comfortable Home Counties feel to it but nothing could be further from the truth in the ocean that abuts it. It‘s home to a great many species of shark, both tropical and temperate. Fatal shark attacks on swimmers and surfers recently have led to understandable paranoia among those living here.
Exmouth is 800 miles north of Perth, itself the remotest capital on Earth, and 2000 miles south of Darwin, on the North-west Cape. It hosts Ninagaloo Reef, one of the world’s largest fringing reefs.
From March to July, as many as 30 full-grown whale sharks have been spotted at a time feeding in the nutrient-rich waters. Up to 18m long, girth to match, it can be humbling to snorkel with one.
They are thought to be on an anti-clockwise migration around the Indian Ocean, probably starting in the Gulf of Tadjoura near Djibouti, where they return to give birth. www.exmouthdiving.com.au


FRENCH POLYNESIA
South Pacific

Covering an area bigger than western Europe, it would be wrong to single out one part of French Polynesia as unique for sharks.
However, the channels that feed through to the lagoons in the Tuamotos, such as Rangiroa, Tikehau, Apataki and Fakarava, host vast numbers of grey reef sharks together with the bigger sharks, such as tigers and great hammerheads, that prey on them.
When the tide rises in the ocean, the water flows forcefully through the channels into the lagoons (Rangiroa has the second largest lagoon in the world). The sharks enjoy the flow of freshly oxygenated water through their gills without having to swim.
Tiputa Pass in Rangiroa is famed for this with its walls of sharks, just as its Avatora Pass is known for silvertip shark encounters.
Tahiti, the capital, lies in the Society Islands along with spectacularly beautiful Bora Bora and Moorea. This last is where shark feed dives involving big lemon, whitetip reef, grey reef and pretty little blacktip reef sharks are regularly undertaken. Moorea is rapidly gaining a world-class reputation for it.
www.tahiti-tourisme.com

FALSE BAY
South Africa / Indian-Southern Ocean

Close to Boulder Bay, with its beach famous for friendly penguins, at Simon’s Town near Cape Town, you are invited to have a close encounter with great white sharks using only a snorkel and protected by a cage.
Wildlife TV programme-makers have beaten a path to the door of operators working at Seal Island in False Bay, and recorded those moments where sharks hit Cape fur seals violently from below, sending them flying up out of the water.
Chris Fallows researched this as a possible cage-diving eco-tourism location and with his friend Rob discovered the now famous shark breaching behaviour.
This is one of the few places where you will see the ocean’s number one predator hunting and killing its prey.
Only a couple of people are in a cage at any one time and these trips are limited to between February and September. At other times the operation moves to Gansbaai. It’s an experience open to everyone prepared to wear a warm wetsuit.
www.apexpredators.com

GUADALUPE
Mexico / East Pacific

If you want to see great white sharks close up in clear water, there’s nowhere better than at Guadalupe Island off Baja California. Only here can you be sure of visibility exceeding 40m and yet see these magnificent giants, kings among predators, at close quarters.
Cage-diving is the order of the day, because great whites are alone among sharks in that their major prey are warm-blooded mammals like sea-lions and elephant seals. Divers are confined in cages just below the surface and relatively safe, but it’s still a heart-pounding experience when one of these carnivores comes in to look at you.
If you’re really up for it, double-decker cages give you the chance to stand on the upper deck in the open.
Diving is done via surface-supplied air, with backup dive gear in each cage. The submersible cages are lowered every 30 minutes to one hour.
Boats depart originally from San Diego in the USA for the 20-hour journey, or from Ensenada in Mexico.
www.guadalupesharkdiving.com, www.nautilusexplorer.com, www.solmarv.com

GULF OF TADJOURA
Djibouti / Gulf of Aden

In winter, whale sharks are thought to give birth in the warm waters around a basin surrounded by seismic activity. Almost a small sea, this is part of the African Rift, almost the hottest part of Africa.
Nobody has witnessed the whale sharks giving birth, but what is well-documented is that youngsters aggregate, feeding on plankton in these nutrient-rich waters, off the arid coast of Djibouti.
A few will later turn left past the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb into the Red Sea, while most will turn right and eventually enter the Indian Ocean.
Here they start their long migratory journey, following the plankton south down the coast of Africa, past the Seychelles and onwards to Australia.
The world’s largest fish is becoming a symbol of Arabia’s bountiful, but largely unprotected, marine heritage in the Gulf of Aden.
Djibouti is off the beaten track for most travellers but those that make it to this bustling military port from October to January are rewarded by being able to snorkel with and photograph several of these behemoths at once.
www.djiboutidivers.com

EASTERN CUBA
Atlantic/Caribbean

A great interactive experience with bull sharks takes place out of Santa Lucia on the Atlantic side of Cuba. What makes it special is that the sharks, up to a dozen of them, congregate in about 25m and, when the current in the channel slackens, you get to them by descending the length of a 19th century wreck that reaches up to near the surface.
The big, mean-looking sharks are enticed to make repeated circuits near the divers by feeders wafting barracuda heads in their direction.
Cross Cuba to the south-east Caribbean coast, travel 60 miles out and you’ll find the jewel in the crown, the Jardines de la Reina or “Queen’s Gardens” marine reserve. The bull sharks are harder to find, but who cares – you get an astonishing variety of other sharks in rich profusion.
Seven species are encountered regularly – grey reef, lemon, silkies in particularly large numbers, great hammerhead, nurse and both blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, with whale sharks around in November and December. Expect fast drifts and a good possibility of 20-30 sharks invading your personal space in 20m visibility!
Five liveaboards operate in the area.
www.thescubaplace.co.uk

MALPELO
Colombia / East Pacific

Visitors to Cocos and Galapagos can complete a golden triangle with a trip to Malpelo, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a stark rocky mountain that pokes its head up out of the ocean between the other destinations.
Malpelo is known as the Mount Everest of shark encounters. The Yemaya liveaboard departs from Panama, visiting Coiba Island on the way.
It’s not a trip for seasickness-sufferers because there is little in the way of sheltered anchorage when you arrive, but the experienced seafarer and diver will be rewarded with interaction with masses of scalloped hammerheads, Galapagos sharks and massive whale sharks in numbers. You are also likely to be buzzed by silky sharks while waiting to be picked up.
Malpelo is also known for a deepwater species of sandtiger, occasionally seen at the El Bajo de Monstruo.
www.coibadiveexpeditions.com

NEW PROVIDENCE
Bahamas / Atlantic

The Number One shark-feeding dives in the world are claimed to be held at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas. Certainly more divers must have enjoyed the spectacle there than anywhere else, and it’s to Stuart Cove’s that the world’s movie-makers head when they need shark sequences.
For us ordinary divers, there are shark feeds nearly every day and sometimes twice a day. It costs a lot, but nobody ever complains about that afterwards.
In fact, people form a line after the dive to buy the video of the experience.
The sharks are primarily Caribbean reef and can grow to an impressive size, often as much as 2m. They say you haven’t seen a shark until one has nudged you, and divers get nudged in an orderly fashion as these big animals circle, waiting for their turn to get a morsel of fish from the feeder.
To add variety to the dives, some feeders prefer to use the deck of an intentionally sunk wreck for divers rather than the more usual sandy arena, providing an unusual background to your photographs. www.stuartcove.com

NEPTUNE ISLANDS
South Australia/ Southern Ocean

Rodney Winston Fox is a South Australian film-maker, conservationist, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the great white shark and a famed survivor of an attack by one.
With his son Andrew, he now offers white shark cage-dives from their liveaboard Princess II, departing from Port Lincoln.
Divers in thick wetsuits breathe from a surface-fed air supply in one of two cages that can be lowered to the ocean floor. The limited passenger numbers means they can enjoy maximum cage time.
The sharks are not resident but migratory, stopping in the Neptunes when a New Zealand fur seal colony is breeding.
Best opportunities to see them are in December and January, although the Foxes appear to run expeditions throughout the summer season (southern hemisphere).
Only mature sharks feed on the fur seals and they tend to be big, sometimes more than 4m long. Of course, there are other species to see too, including bronze whalers, oceanic blue and shortfin mako sharks.
The Fox Shark Research Foundation’s large photographic database houses more than 10 years of images of every shark they have seen.
www.rodneyfox.com.au

PALAU
Micronesia / North Pacific

Blue Corner, Ulong Channel, German Channel – these names crop up regularly in the pantheon of the dive-sites. It’s here that you can guarantee close encounters with grey reef sharks as they patrol the areas where the reef walls force the ocean to flow up and over them into the lagoon beyond.
Divers need to be securely hooked in to watch the show, and turning a head can result in a mask being dislodged by the rush of water, but you’ll witness schools of jack bravely cleaning parasites from their scales by wiping them on the rough skin of passing sharks!
You’ll be amazed at how easily the sharks surf the current as you hold on for fear of being swept away. You can visit these sites by liveaboard or a fast skiff.
Palau is an independent republic made up of a group of islands and can be reached by a direct flight from Tapei. Many dive centres and liveaboards are based there.
www.visit-palau.com

PORT ST JOHN
South Africa / Indian Ocean

Nearly every year in June and July, huge schools of small fish congregate off South Africa’s south-eastern coast and head north-east to the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean.
Dubbed “the Greatest Shoal on Earth”, what makes the annual Sardine Run so spectacular is not simply the vast waves of silvery sardines but the legions of predators that gather just off the east coast for the year’s greatest feast.
These massive baitballs of millions of fish are preyed upon by dolphins, sailfish and seabirds, but it is the bronze whaler sharks that capture the imagination of visiting divers.
The dives are unpredictable but when the action starts it is adrenaline-pumping.
Rufty-tufty divers tend to wait ashore until a baitball is sighted (sometimes by microlight aircraft) and then head out to sea in small groups aboard fast boats such as RIBs.
The Sardine Run also coincides with the annual migration of humpback whales, which move north into warmer water to mate and calve.
www.scubaddicts.com, www.sardinerun.net

OFFSHORE MARINE PARKS
Egypt / Red Sea

Oceanic whitetip sharks are ocean-roving scavengers that feed in shallow depths. They used to be the most prolific large predator on Earth, and still frequent major sea-lanes in the tropics, following freighters that chuck their kitchen waste over the side. These refuse collectors of the sea enjoy a catholic and opportunistic diet.
As liveaboards have got bigger, they make the same noises, including the sounds of engines and generators and the frequent splashing of things entering the water. This rings the dinner bell for oceanics, which is why you’ll often find them circling under your boat at offshore Red Sea sites such as the Brother Islands, Elphinstone and Daedelus Reef.
Divers who are patient and keep calm, hovering horizontally at around 6m, will often get a heart-stopping moment when these creatures with long aircraft-wing pectoral fins approach for a close look.
It is not recommended to be found snorkelling or surface-swimming at these sites. You’ll look too much like something that’s fallen from a boat!
www.egypt.travel

SOUTH ARI ATOLL
Maldives / Indian Ocean

There is a dive centre on each of the Indian Ocean tourist islands that spread across the Equator north to south that can tell you it will take you to see sharks, but since Herwarth Voigtmann’s pioneering shark-feeding experiments got him into trouble, the activity has been banned by statute.
All manner of shark inhabit these waters, however, so it’s just a matter of getting close to these nervous predators.
Not at all nervous are the young whale sharks that frequent the ocean side of the reefs around the islands of South Ari Atoll early each year.
The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme was established in 2006 to protect the sharks and an area was set up as a marine park for this purpose. All dive centres on the nearby islands will offer whale shark-spotting trips.
It is normal to snorkel, because scuba equipment does not allow you the speed and mobility to keep up with these creatures and they tend to spend only a few minutes at one time near the surface before returning to deep water.
www.visitmaldives.com

TIGER BEACH, GRAND BAHAMA
Bahamas / Atlantic

First discovered by Jim Abernathy operating out of Fort Lauderdale in Florida with Shearwater, this patch of shallow water off the west end of Grand Bahama Island is swept by a Gulf Stream current that provides clear visibility.
Here you can encounter young tiger sharks, lemon sharks and the occasional great hammerhead. It’s a favourite with underwater photographers, and the well-striped tigers are small enough to allow clear pictures of them in their entirety.
There are so many regular attendees to these staged feeds that most of the sharks have been given nicknames.
Now you can get there with other operators, including another from Florida, Dolphin Dream, and Bahamian operators.
There is an element of risk with these inquisitive and sometimes aggressive large animals so it’s not a trip for the faint-hearted, but it is recommended by the cognoscenti. www.sharkexpedition.com, www.stuartcove.com,
www.scuba-adventures.com

UNEXSO, GRAND BAHAMA
Bahamas / Atlantic

Years ago you could pay for a shark dive with the UNEXSO dive centre and be taken to a site where life-size glass-fibre shark models were moored on invisible lines. One of the most-published pictures, of a girl in a bikini snorkelling with a great hammerhead, was taken in this way.
Later, Ben Rose developed a shark-feeding programme employing chainmail suits for the feeder and dive guides, while their frightened audience sat and watched mesmerised in nothing but swimmers and T-shirts.
Things have moved on. Today the UNEXSO experience is special, thanks to cave-diver and shark-wrangler Christina Zenato.
After some 15 years of practice, she has progressed from simple feeding and shark-handling, employing tonic immobility, in her chainmail suit, to developing a whole ballet routine with big Caribbean reef sharks as her partners.
The high point comes when she balances a co-operative shark on its nose in the palm of her hand. See it to believe it. www.unexso.com

WEST PAPUA
Indonesia / N Pacific

There are hundreds of species of sharks, and none are more different from the traditional idea of the requiem shark than the tassled wobbegong.
Often more than 2m long, this carpet shark is the ultimate ambush predator, lying motionless for hours if not days at a time, tail coiled like a spring, ready to lunge forward to swallow some unsuspecting fish that swam too close to what it thought was a bit of coral reef – a fatal mistake, because it was a mouth.
Where can you spot these dramatic animals Lucky divers visiting the Raja Ampat in Indonesia’s eastern reaches see them everywhere once they get their eye in. The Bird’s Head peninsula of West Papua has also come into the diving limelight recently with the resident whale sharks that have learned to live commensally with fishermen in Cenderawasih Bay.
They have learned that the bagans, floating fishing platforms, throw their dead fish overboard, so they hang around the nets awaiting a hand-out. Nowadays they often get their photos taken by divers, too.
www.indonesia-tourism.com