There are roughly 70 shark attacks per year in the entire world. In 2014, there were three deaths total.
From 2000 to 2011, there were 349 deaths from tipping TV sets, which averages out to a little more than 31 per year. You could argue that watching Shark Week is more dangerous than swimming with sharks.
That twisting of statistics aside, it’s fair to say that our fear of sharks doesn’t exactly match the evidence. We certainly don’t fetishize other scary things in the same way. Discovery Channel has yet to focus on my greatest fear by running a “Texting While Driving Week,” but I get it. Sharks create a very particular brand of anxiety, one which secretly titillates us, deep in our lizard brains. Jaws morphs it into a fixation, and the next thing you know, Shark Week is a cultural phenomenon.
That’s not to say I, Steve, am above it all. Not in the least. I’ve never moved faster in my life than when I was surfing in Australia, and a grey fin started slicing through the water just 100 feet away. My heart felt like it was going to rupture for the better part of an hour. But my fear doesn’t make me want to avoid sharks at all costs. I’m more like the dumb person in the classic Ian Edwards joke who keeps walking through the sharks’ living room. I’ve paid good money to go diving with sharks four different times. I’ve been scared each time, and I’ve left the water feeling ecstatic. I even donate to save sharks, though my donation is mostly just a ridiculous attempt to curry favor with great whites.
For now, I’ve got no plans to stop going in the ocean. Not because sharks are just “big, beautiful fish,” as this Vice writer asserts, but because they absolutely fascinate me… or maybe just because I’m not brave enough to watch them on TV.
With that being said, my colleague Keith has put together a list of ten places around the world you can visit to have your own underwater shark encounter.
Gansbaai, South Africa
Gansbaai’s “Shark Alley” is the first place you should look if you want to meet a great white. From the safety of an aluminum cage and with the assistance of a trained staff, you can have a Jaws-esque experience that you’ll live to tell about… unlike most of the characters in the film.
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
The Red Sea is full of aquatic wonders worth witnessing first hand, including endemic butterfly and pipe fish. In the Sharm el-Sheikh region of Egypt, you can take a diving tour in waters filled with 40 different shark species.
Shark Point, Wolf Island (Galapagos Islands)
Imagine scuba diving in the bluest of oceans, only to turn around and see a smudge of darker blue off in the distance. As you move closer, the shape grows far larger than you expected, and you find yourself face to face with a 50-foot whale shark. Experiences like this are par for the course in the Galapagos, where giant turtles plod through the jungles and Marine Iguanas swim in the surf.
Layang Layang, Malaysia
If you have a good story to tell of swimming with a shark, you may not have to buy yourself a drink for a while. But if you can tell a story about swimming with hundreds of sharks, you’ll be treated like Poseidon himself. Encountering hundreds of sharks isn’t just possible, it’s quite likely if you visit to the Coral Atoll at Layang Layang, Malaysia between March and May. The 13 coral reefs serve as a hot spot for hammerheads, leopard sharks, and the occasional whale shark, and the water’s so clear that, on a good day, you can see for more than 100 feet.
Okay, so maybe swimming with hulking adult sharks is a bit too much for you. That’s perfectly understandable. Fear not: You can still have an adrenaline-rush worthy shark encounter. Bali Sharks and other nearby outfitters specialize in letting visitors swim with and feed shark pups that are much less intimidating than their parents.
Guadalupe Island, Mexico
Have you ever asked yourself, “How big can a great white shark get?” If so, you might want to head to Guadalupe Island in Mexico to uncover your answer in person. The island is situated near a feeding ground for adult great whites, including one of the largest to ever be caught on film. The massive female, named “Deep Blue,” has been estimated at more than 20 feet long and as wide as “a fat hippo” (fat hippos are huge, by the way). From the safety of a cage, you can to see just how big Deep Blue and her kin are.
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
If you’re looking to be fully surrounded by sharks, you may be an adrenaline junkie, but you’re also in luck. Cocos Island lies more than 300 miles off the west coast of Costa Rica and is often the home to schools of hammerhead and white tip sharks, along with myriad other aquatic species. All you need is a passport (and a good dive outfitter), and you’ll soon find yourself with dozens of sharks swimming above, below, and all around you.
Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa (French Polynesia)
When you visit Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa, in French Polynesia, you’ll find that there are enough dive sites to last a lifetime. This is a great spot for a night dive, and seeing grey sharks, whale sharks, and lemon sharks circling the reefs is very likely. If you think sharks are unnerving in the daytime, just wait until you encounter them after dusk.
Gladden Spit, Belize
While Belize is one of the smallest countries in South America, a large part of what attracts tourists are the world-renowned dive sites. The country is blessed with the second largest barrier reef in the world. If this list proves anything, it’s that pristine reefs often lead to a higher than average shark population. No matter your budget, there are diving packages made available for you to see as much of Belize’s aquatic wildlife as possible, including whale sharks.
To get a truly educational interaction with sharks in their natural habitat, you don’t have to travel too far. Roughly 300 miles off the coast of Florida, you can weave through old ship wrecks occupied by sharks of all sizes. You’ll even get to watch them eat up close with the assistance of a trained staff.