An Eagle Ray Divers Shark Diver student tries out the scuba resort’s new, life-like shark suit Thursday at Blacktip Island’s Confrontation Reef. (Photo courtesy of Albert Kok)
Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Divers announced Friday they will offer a new Shark Diving specialty course that will allow divers dressed as sharks to interact with feeding reef sharks.
After two pool sessions, Shark Divers will don a life-like neoprene shark costume and swim among frenzied blacktip sharks in open water.
“We’ve got to stay competitive with other scuba resorts on the island,” said Ger Latner, Eagle Ray Cove’s dive operations manager. “Sandy Bottoms and Club Scuba Doo are eating our lunch. This gives our divers something they can’t get anywhere else.
“A couple of our instructors, Marina DeLow and Alison Diesel, came up with the idea, and we let them run with it,” Latner said.
“With this course, you don’t just get to see a shark, you get to be a shark,” DeLow said. “The sideways dolphin kick’s the skill that takes the longest to learn. You have to swim on your side to make the shark’s tail go back-and-forth properly.”
“You’ve gotta certify on the mini rebreather, too,” Diesel said. “A shark leaking bubbles freaks out the real sharks and totally ruins the experience. But if you do three open water dives in the suit, you get a Shark Rebreather card, too.”
Other island resorts were critical of the course.
“Ger’s yahoos’re chumming the water, then dropping unprotected divers smack in the middle of the food chain,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “How smart is that? A real shark bites the fake shark, it’s game over. For the diver and Blacktip Island’s tourism product.”
Scuba divers, though, raved about the course.
“It really gives you a feel of what it’s like to be a shark,” Eagle Ray Divers guest Bill Fish said. “And the Junior Shark Diver certification lets the kids in on the fun, too.
“We even put little Scotty in the Shark Snorkeling class,” Fish said. “Now the whole family can come out on the boat instead of one or the other of us staying behind on shore with the little ones. And the other divers love the way Scotty’s surface thrashing attracts so many blacktips.”
Eagle Ray Divers staff stressed the course entails on more than simple recreation.
“We talk about the role sharks play in our reef ecosystem, shark behavior and shark body language,” DeLow said. “It’s so gratifying when one of our divers does the ‘friendly-approach’ fin waggle and a reef shark comes in for a snuggle.
“Of course, we had that one diver sneeze while gesture beta testing,” DeLow added. “We’re not sure what, exactly, he signaled, but it didn’t turn out well. For the diver or the shark.”