Riding Sharks & Feeding Rays

The greatest highlight, the coolest thing possible in Bora Bora for many is to swim with the massive lemon sharks on the outer reef off Teavanui Pass, Bora Bora’s only pass. This is the adventure of a lifetime where the adrenalin hit is at its highest, where the risk/reward factor reaches the ultimate.

We took an exceptional tour, even the introduction to what lay ahead was perhaps the funniest adventure overview I have ever heard. We would stop en route to the sharks to feed the stingrays who gather in great numbers inside the lagoon not far from Motu Tapu & Teavanui Pass. Here’s a shot of the fellow who made the hilarious introductory speech trying to see if the stingray loves him too:

bora-ray-kiss

Here the author can be seen during the outing under review ‘strolling’ with a number of more than friendly rays in Bora Bora’s marvellous lagoon whilst oblivious to the presence of a number of sharks. It gives an idea of the expanse of this beautiful body of water, the beautiful & exhilarating lagoon of Bora Bora:

bora-stunning-lagoon

A shot of what you’ll find when feeding the sting rays, lots of rays & lots of black-tipped reef sharks:

bora-bora-stingrays

We were out on the lagoon – stunningly beautiful despite the buckets of rain falling down – with over 60 people who were in Bora Bora for a major Traditional Wedding. They had heard of the ‘rush’ that comes from diving down for the chance to literally bear-hug one of these monsters, the exhilaration of gliding effortlessly through the water using only raw ’shark-power’! Here’s the proof – GOOOOOO Moana & Marc:

Those who dive in & see the sharks will tell you of the excitement, excitement where your heart leaps out of your chest. Those that ‘ride’ a shark will tell you that it is not like any other experience; an indescribable mix of fear & achievement, of another dimension. Here’s how it looks ‘live’; don’t you like the ‘360’ – a complete ‘hugging’ turn around the shark’s body during the swim – around the shark’s body!

It came as no surprise, nonetheless, that more than a third of those present could not bring themselves to even enter the water – lemon sharks have been known to attack, the latest case in Teavanui Pass occurring in February 2013.

I have embarked upon this adventure many times & covered this exceptional event in separate reports on Shark Feeding and in posts covering Sharks, Sting Rays & Manta Rays but today was special. We were large in number on this occasion & I could feel the fear certain of those present faced, yet I would witness relatively poor swimmers drawn to the water to face their fears (indeed one person who could not swim entered the water with an inflatable float & helper). I watched the frenzy of youth trying to reach a shark & saw people receive ‘love-bites’ from ‘pushy’ rays. In all the excitement of what was unfolding & in awe of the surroundings in which one found oneself it was easy to forget the environment into which we were venturing & the risks associated with that environment.

It prompted me to record a few observations that I trust will be of use to readers undertaking this exceptional dive into another world:

Feeding Stingrays:

  • When feeding the stingrays, the opportunity exists for those participating to take a handful of fish with which to feed the somewhat greedy rays. The first thing you MUST do is to KEEP THE HAND HOLDING THE BAIT UP HIGH & OUT OF THE WATER – hold the bait in one hand & use the other to take small pieces of fish at a time to feed to the rays. The hand not holding the bait can also be used to maintain your stability as the rays swarm over you for something to eat, potentially pushing you into a position where the rays can give you a ‘feed me’ bite of encouragement!
  • It is not just the stingrays you need to worry about if you have the hand holding the fish in the water – you have unwittingly made yourself a target (at great risk) for sharks! Sharks can smell & isolate the position of the fish from 100s of metres away & then move swiftly to grab the bait – & whatever is holding it! Believe me you will not even see the shark coming.
  • Similarly – & incredibly I see it too often – don’t be one of those who dive down in the water with bait in hand to feed whatever takes your fancy, or worse, those who hold the bait to their mask whilst underwater awaiting that ‘3D experience’ that comes as the colourful tropical fish bite away at the face of the mask. It’s your face not your hand the shark will target this time!

Swimming With Lemon Sharks:

  • You have to remember that for a Tahitian, sharks are reincarnations of their ancestors & the sharks are there to protect their Tahitian family. The Tahitians have lived with & swam with sharks for centuries. They understand better than most what it is that they are undertaking & they have years of experience in the field. Don’t be misled by the ease with which they can carry out certain feats.
  • Be aware that the sharks have been fed by divers before & over many years. Follow the guides advice & instructions to the letter. Be aware that guides, understandably wishing to give their clients the ultimate experience, can, by giving the sharks too much ‘burley’, unwittingly change to comportment of the sharks – should the lemon sharks come to the surface you should calmly but quickly leave the water, as you should if other species of shark appear – the tiger shark, for example. NEVER swim with any bait in hand!
  • Those wishing to approach the sharks more closely need to have excellent snorkeling capacities. Watch your guide closely – when he descends he does so at an angle perpendicular to the ocean floor. The descent is by ‘flipper-power’ only; there is no movement of the arms. It’s an ‘effortless’ swim directly downwards making the necessary adjustments for water pressure with the guide aiming to reach the shark’s dorsal fin.
  • Most travelers, even the very good swimmers, do not have these skills. The tendency is to dive at an angle to the sea-bed, kicking frantically (always use flippers when diving) & using the arms for greater speed. This only alarms the shark & leaves the diver short of breath.
  • What tends to happen is the shark readies itself to move away & such divers then tend to reach out to at least try to touch the shark. They grab for the tail & this seriously annoys the shark putting the swimmer in danger.

A lemon shark – you can identify it by its bulky frame, ‘lemon’ colour & by the fact it has 2 large dorsal fins roughly the same size:

lemon-shark

Be sensible, know your capacities & your limitations.

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