For some, scuba diving with sharks is a dream.
For others, it’s a nightmare.
Large pelagic sharks are some of the world’s most powerful apex predators with hunting skills whet from millions of years of evolution. On the outer edge of Beqa Lagoon, Fiji, you can take part in Fiji’s famous shark dive and see eight species of shark and hundreds of species of fish in the warm waters of Beqa. In peak season, divers are in the water with up to seventy sharks at once.
In this guide to the Fiji shark dive, we’ll cover:
- The ethics and conservation aspects of the Fiji shark dive: Should you do it?
- What you need to know before you dive with sharks in Fiji
- Who to dive with: Beqa Adventure Divers vs. Aqua Trek
- What to expect during your Fiji shark dive
- How experienced do I need to be to do the shark dive?
- Is diving with sharks safe?
The Fiji shark dive: Is it ethical?
There is no clear answer on whether the Fiji shark dive is completely ethical from a conservation standpoint. While there is nothing inherently wrong with scuba diving alongside sharks, all dive operators running the Fiji shark dive feed the sharks (often by hand) which creates an unnatural environment for the sharks and surrounding reef life.
Feeding wildlife goes against one of the main conservation principles of not interfering with nature. In almost every circumstance, feeding wildlife creates dependency on humans as well as a potential association of food and humans. For example, bears in national parks who are fed by well-meaning humans are often put down once they become overly familiar with humans and are found wandering through campsites or developed areas. It’s best for both people and wild animals if the animals are weary of humans. Consider the fact that there are major surf and scuba dive sites in the Beqa area.
However, there is no correlation between shark attacks on random swimmers/divers and baited shark areas anywhere in the globe.
While sharks don’t necessarily have the capacity to associate being fed with seeing humans as a food source, there is a risk of these sharks then biting a human outside of the shark dive where they might not have before. Should an attack happen nearby the shark dive site, it’s damaging for both humans and sharks. The negative media that follows a shark attack only stokes more fear of sharks which can lead to anti-shark laws like taking sharks off protected species lists and shark-culling policies. It also leads to apathy or a negative sentiment from the public who, despite all statistics of shark attacks, harbor an inherent fear of sharks and may not feel a pull to protect these apex predators.
There have also been instances where people have been bitten by sharks during the Fiji shark dive and these shark dive accidents were not properly reported. Operators may claim that there are “no incidents,” but reports elsewhere state otherwise — making it a “they said, they said” issue. In an incident reported on 5 June 2019 in the Fiji Times, the dive company refused to comment on an alleged shark bite where a Malaysian tourist sustained an 8 centimeter wound to their head.
The truth is that money leads when it comes to the creatures we protect. Sharks are often targeted in the Pacific by Japanese and Chinese fishermen for their fins — an essential ingredient in shark fin soup. Sharks are also under threat due to overfishing and ocean pollution. Without the aid of tourism money, how will there be an economic incentive to protect the sharks? Large fishing companies already exploit economically developing areas for their sharks. Consider Lombok where shark finning takes place despite locals not eating shark fin–nearly all of it is exported.
A live shark in these scenarios could be more profitable than a dead shark. When you account for the cost of flying to Fiji, accommodation, food, and the dives, tourists will have spent a sizable amount of money to see sharks swimming in the sea–rather than pent up in an aquarium.
I talked with Dr. Gabriel Vianna, a marine scientist who studies shark tourism. In his research where he and his coauthors looked at the socio-economic value of the shark-diving industry in Fiji, they found that in 2010, shark diving contributed $42.2 million USD to the economy of Fiji. Compare this to the cost of a shark fin which brings in a one-time cost of $650 USD per kilogram. Without shark tourism, there is little economic incentive to protect sharks.
Dr. Vianna says, “If shark dives are done well, they can be pretty beneficial. There is a big debate in the scientific community on if shark dives have a physiological or behavioral impacts on the animals. As we see in Fiji, the sharks know where to get the bait. They definitely learn and get conditioned to that. But the thing is, the sharks still go out and do their own thing. There is very little evidence that this harms the sharks, of course, if the shark dive is well-done and responsible.”
Dive companies like Beqa Adventure Divers have used the Fiji shark dive to create a Shark Reef Marine Reserve where fishing and boating are banned. The money coming from shark tourism helps supplement the local villages, who use this form of tourism to sustain themselves rather than fishing. Because of this, the marine reserve’s fish and shark populations are thriving. The shark dives take place in a very contained area where people only interact with a small portion of the reserve’s reef, making the impact on local coral and fish minimal.
Diving with the operators who run the Fiji shark dive, you’ll quickly see that all the staff are passionate about protecting sharks and even have a deep bond with the sharks who feed at the area, knowing their individual personalities. The shark dive operators feed the sharks low-calorie fish heads, which keeps the sharks from becoming dependent on human relationships for food.
Since the shark dive in Fiji has been in operation, the number of sharks who frequent the dive sites have increased each year–with the size of the sharks increasing as well.
The real danger, perhaps surprisingly, is the risk of humans mistaking a tightly controlled environment for raw nature. The sharks at the Fiji shark dive site not exhibiting normal shark feeding behavior and are instead taking cues from the dive staff who have conditioned them to eat at certain times and certain ways. Some divers may feel that sharks are safe animals with personalities akin to marine mammals and may treat them accordingly (think grabbing on to its fin and riding it for the ‘gram).
Ultimately, it is up to each individual diver to decide whether they feel it is ethical to support baited shark dives. This is a topic that is obviously complex and largely depends on the dive center and the environment it operates in.
As a general principle I ask: Is this action causing more harm than good? Based on the considerations above, I felt that it was an ethical experience. However, this does not mean that all shark dives are ethical. Each one must be examined on a close case by case basis.
What you need to know before you dive with sharks in Fiji
It’s normal to be nervous about diving with sharks for the first time. Here are a few tips to help you feel relaxed and confident before you dive.
Get some experience before you go. The shark dive companies don’t require you to have your advanced open water or a minimum amount of logged dives to go on the shark dive, but we suggest you have at least 15-20 dives before you go. Ideally, have your advanced open water certification. All divers must be open water certified. Some of the shark dives go as deep as 30 meters. If you’re inexperienced or are still a nervous diver, you won’t be able to relax. At this depth, you’ll also be consuming air quicker than at shallower depths.
Don’t wear white. The fish heads used to feed the sharks are white.
Use a pair of gloves. You’ll be watching the sharks while ducking behind a reef wall and might want to hang onto it during your dive. If your dive operator hands out gloves, wear them.
Dive before the shark dive. If you’ve been out of the water a while, go on a fun dive at least a few weeks before the Fiji shark dive to calm any nerves. It will help you used to breathing underwater again.
Bring your own gear if you have it. Some of the rental gear is very tired. You’ll feel more comfortable in your own. (If you don’t have your own gear, don’t let this stop you.)
Wear at least 3mm of neoprene. You won’t be moving much on your shark dive and might get cold easily. It’s always better to be too warm than be too cold. You can flush water through your wetsuit if you start to overheat.
Know your camera inside and out before you dive. While the shark dive is as safe as diving face to face with sharks can be, you need to stay alert. If you plan on taking pictures, make sure you’ve handled your camera in its housing many times before you dive. When in doubt, simply hit the video record button, point it at the action, and enjoy the show. You can always take stills or draw clips from the main video later.
Check your ego! Nobody cares if you’re the most experienced diver on the planet. We witnessed a lot of peacocking on our Fiji shark dives where experienced divers boasted about how many dives they had under their belt and threatened to disobey the guides. The guides would rather have a less experienced diver who listens well join them rather than the best diver in the world on their dive. It’s not your boat. You aren’t the guide. You aren’t a shark whisperer. Step back, follow all orders, and you’ll have an incredible experience.
Who to dive with on the Fiji shark dive
There are a handful of operators who offer the Fiji shark dive out of Pacific Harbor.
Beqa Adventure Divers: Operates out of Pacific Harbor and offers two distinct shark dives. The first dive drops to 28-30 meters and has a safety stop that spans along a coral reef where you’ll see plenty of reef sharks being fed. The second dive is shallower at 16 meters and includes a safety stop where you dive along coral reef.
Aqua Trek: Also operates out of Pacific Harbor and offers one shark dive that people complete two times. The dives reach 18-25 meters and last a little over 20 minutes.
Beqa Lagoon Resort: Based on Beqa Island and offers two dives that both go to 25 meters.
Our writers have yet to dive with Beqa Lagoon Resort so the opinions for this article are only relevant for Beqa Adventure Divers and Aqua Trek. Our writers at The Salt Sirens have had positive experiences at both dive shops. The equipment at Aqua Trek was alarmingly worn, and we had to exchange one regulator three times. Beqa Adventure Divers has gear that is in better condition. However, one BCD did not inflate properly on the first dive with Beqa Adventure Divers and needed to be exchanged on the boat before our dive.
Beqa Adventure Divers tends to take a more serious approach to the dives than Aqua Trek, and is more structured. Both operators have an heavy emphasis on safety. If pressed, we recommend Beqa Adventure Divers.
No company sponsored this post or compensated the cost of our dives. RIP to our bank accounts.
What to expect on your Fiji shark dive
While most fun dives are casual and lighthearted, the dive guides who work on the Fiji shark dive are serious and all dive briefings are taken seriously — especially on the first dive before the dive guides have had a chance to gauge the skills of the group.
First, you get your equipment ready at the dive center–arrive early to ensure that everything fits and works properly. You will then go onto a boat and driven out to the dive site.
There are eight species of shark that frequent nearly all of the Beqa shark dive sites: lemon sharks, nurse sharks, black tip reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, bull sharks, silvertip sharks, and tiger sharks.
Once you reach max depth, you’ll line up along a small wall made of reef and either lie or kneel down. This forms somewhat of an arena where you can witness the sharks as they swim over and around you. A handful of dive guides will be behind you holding long metal rods and communicating with one another. Other dive guides will be above the sharks, either feeding the sharks by hand (rewarding only those who are behaving in the way that the dive guide wants) or by opening and closing the lid of a wheeled bin.
The sharks do not enter a feeding frenzy like you might imagine them too. Rather, they quickly swoop by, dart for the bait, and then circle back around for another shot at the food. You’ll be able to see the shark’s raw power as they swim. Chances are, it’s a calmer experience than you think.
At the end of the dive, a guide will tap his tank. The group of divers will then follow the guide to complete their safety stop.
Divers will return to the boat one by one at the end of each dive.
Want to read even more? Check out Hannah’s detailed account of diving with sharks in Fiji.
Is scuba diving with sharks safe?
Everyone wants to know if scuba diving with sharks is safe. Scuba diving itself has inherent risks involved. Couple this with the fact that you’ll be scuba diving with one of the ocean’s best predators and there is certainly added risk. Sharks are, after all, not guppies and the dive takes place outside of a cage or tank. However, shark bites in general are uncommon and the operators who run the shark dives out of Pacific Harbor place a large emphasis on safety. The staff at these operations have long metal rods to nudge sharks away should the sharks get too close. Divers are directed to a confined area and closely supervised.
However, the lack of transparency among the Fiji shark dive operators is alarming. I do not trust that these dive operators report all incidents until they are forced to. In 2011, a diver allegedly asphyxiated during a shark dive. In 2016, a diver was bit while diving with Beqa Adventure Divers. Writers at Undercurrent sought answers and were met with silence. Despite what the glossy magazines claim, bites have occurred with both guests and staff on the Fiji shark dive. We’d love to see these Fiji shark dive operators follow in the footsteps of Scuba Accidents and Risk Management Techniques for Divers and report openly on what happened and how they can prevent these accidents in the future.
On May 17, 2019, a Malaysian tourist was bit on the head during a shark dive at Beqa Lagoon Resort. Alarmingly, Beqa Lagoon Resorts admits that their crisis care was inadequate. They state on Tripadvisor, “The resort dive operations manager failed to care or support the injured party, and it seemed clear he had not dealt with a similar situation and was not aware pf (sic) procedures with injured ill and accident victims.” The resort then lists the accurate emergency procedure should this happen again. It is unacceptable that this follow-up procedure wasn’t known by all of the dive staff let alone the dive operations manager. At least they provided a public response?
Regardless, it is a shark dive after all and given the incredible amount of divers that complete the dives week after week, the low (known) incident record is impressive.
As a final safety tip, remember that panic is one of the top causes of death among scuba divers. So long as you stay calm and follow directions, you’ll likely have a wonderful and safe experience on your shark dive. Check your air gauge regularly–being so immersed among the sharks, it’s easy to let time slip away and you unknowingly consume more air than normal.
Would we do it again?
Out of the five of us at The Salt Sirens who completed the two-tank Fiji shark dive, all of us would do it again. It was well worth the cost of the dives and we enjoyed the privilege of admiring sharks at such a close distance. We felt that overall, Beqa Adventure Divers and Aqua Trek respected the environment that they worked in and took safety seriously. This was easily one of the most incredible dives of my life.