An epic Sydney experience: Shark Dive Xtreme at Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary
Sharks, commonly believed to be aggressive creatures who cause nothing but carnage in the ocean. These inquisitive creatures are more often than not misunderstood and could easily be compared to your household pets, the only difference is that the your local news coverage would be ridiculous if every dog, or crazy cat attack made it to air.
Being somewhat adventurous, I have always wanted to go diving and couldn’t resist the opportunity to get up close and personal with these gentle giants at Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary. The dive itself is the Shark Dive Xtreme and no prior diving experience is required!
Guaranteed underwater encounter with sharks, and the most incredible part of it all – it is without a cage!!
Before I scare you off, the dive is certainly ‘Xtreme’, not ridiculous, we didn’t have our first ever diving experience, cage free with Great White sharks! The dive itself was however with critically endangered Grey Nurse sharks. Don’t get me wrong, the Grey Nurse sharks are still exactly that, sharks, these guys (and girls) grow to around 3m in length and weigh up to 300kg, so whilst I compared them to household pets above, it wouldn’t be ideal if they weren’t respected!
You will scuba dive with not only Grey Nurse Sharks, but also plenty of other local Sydney marine life including sea turtles, stingrays, Port Jackson Sharks, Wobbegong Sharks and hundreds of amazing sea creatures!
If you’re still not sure about the whole swimming with shark thing, look at it this way… Grey Nurse sharks are considered to be the Labradors of the Sea! It doesn’t get safer than this and like us, you don’t need to have any prior diving experience!
Now, for the exciting bit, the shark dive!
Swimming with the endangered Grey Nurse sharks was truly an experience we won’t forget. They have been protected in NSW since 1984 and are now totally protected right across Australia.
We were greeted by Evo, one of our guides and an experienced diver for the afternoon. We started the session with a walk through the aquarium to meet the sharks and get to know who is who (Although, I must admit I found it hard to remember which was was Huey and which one was Freckles!!). This tour was probably one of the most important bits for Jenna in particular, who went in quite scared of the sharks and stingrays. Once Evo had finished talking to us about these creatures and how soft, gentle and cuddly they are (yes, one of the stingrays in particular likes to cuddle!!) then we (well, I was ok, so Jenna..) felt more comfortable in knowing that they were in fact perfectly safe and they don’t like to eat humans – so we’re okay on that front too!!
Actually, if there was anything in the tank we needed to move out of the way for, it was Dave and Chong (the two massive Loggerhead turtles!!). They think they own the tank and expect the sharks to move out of their way!
With the tour over, it was time to head back up and start filling out our medical forms and watch the intro and safety video. We also met Alex who also joined us on the dive. Alex was in charge of sizing us up for our wetsuits (he got them all spot on!!)
Once we finished the video briefing, Evo ran through the underwater hand signals, the equipment, how it all worked and also allowed plenty of time for questions. With all the paperwork done, it was then time to make a move!! It all became real, very quickly. We walked down a few stairs to where the wetsuits and change rooms were, at which point we realised we probably should have brought some towels with us (who would have thought you would want to dry yourself after the dive?).
Given the water temperature was a little over 16 degrees celsius, I was glad to be given three layers to put on! The first a long sleeved wetsuit top, the second was a standard wetsuit and the third was a full length wetsuit. We then added wetsuit boots to protect our feet and keep us warm and off to the practice pool we went!
We step into the pool one at a time and get the scuba tanks put on (around 35kg with the tank and weights!!).
It was then time to start practising how to breath through the regulator out of the water. I know it sounds silly, but breathing through a regulator doesn’t feel natural initially and you are automatically wanting to hold your breath. Once we are comfortable doing that, it was time to put our faces underwater (ears still out to listen) and practice breathing under water with the regulator. Then, it is time to learn how to go under and sit on your knees while learning how to take the regulator out under water and how to put it back in and get rid of the excess water. We also learn how to get rid of any water in your mask while under water. We practice some of the hand signals under water in the pool and these include equalising, are you ok and I’m not ok. Knowing these signals are key to a successful dive. Another important thing to practice is how to sit/walk under water so you don’t fall backwards with the weight. This is by simply leaning forward holding your hands in front of you.
Then, before we knew it was time to get in the tank! One by one we manoeuvred from the pool into the entrance to the tank itself. The entrance to the tank is on one side of the aquarium, which is where the female shark (Pallas) and pup (Murdoch) stayed for the season, away from the men! We were quicky greeted by Pallas however was a bit dissapointed that murdoch didn’t make an appearance.
We then walked around the surface of the tank around to the other side which is where the rest of the male sharks (Huey, Striker, Patches and Freckles) stayed. Murdoch, being a rebeleous pup somehow managed to find his way around to the rest of the men!
The dive itself was interesting, walking along the surface and balancing yourself is quite easy, but it was much easier leaning up against the curved tunnel whilst observing the marine life. We balanced ourselves and it was only a few seconds before we were greeted by a massive stingray which swam directly above our heads!!
We then see Evo with the camera pointing at us.. we knew something was headed our way! It was time to stop breathing out (to limit the bubbles in the photo – great tip!!) and look at the camera… next thing you know, a massive dark shadow appears over us and it is a Grey Nurse shark, inches from our heads… It was the most surreal feeling. In that moment, I realised I wasn’t scared… I was amazed that these guys were quite happy swimming around, not one bit bothered by us. I felt totally safe.
The dive itself is for 30 minutes, but it felt so much quicker! There was so much marine life to look at, sharks, stingrays and turtles constantly inches away from you that there was never a dull moment!
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to where it all started. We exited the pool and removed the scuba gear and had a nice hot shower… whilst waiting for the equipment to be packed up I heard a lot of splashing around in the pool, I assumed it was either Alex or Evo (not sure why we thought they wanted to go for another swim). Obviously, we were wrong!! It was stumpy (one of the gigantic stingrays) who followed us into the pool (see video below!) and couldn’t find her way out! We watched her for a bit before Alex jumped back in and after a bit of a struggle guided her back to the tank.
Looking at the footage after the dive is awesome, and you quickly realise how close they actually came to you! When you buy the full photo and video package, you get all photos and video on a shark USB and a certificate to say you survived the shark dive!
Here is a short video we’ve put together of our shark dive.
And of course Stumpy’s expedition in the pool.
In case you haven’t figured it out – we LOVED it! It was such a unique experience and one that you can’t find many places in the world. If you’re in Sydney, it is worth heading over to Manly Sea Life and booking in a shark dive. It is something you won’t forget!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain