Those adrenaline rushes flowing from shark feeding in outings such as those appearing in the sensational photos below may be a thing of the past.
People come to Bora Bora from all over the world to see the sharks, feed the sharks, and swim with, well, swim on the sharks. Some say that hand-feeding sharks and swimming among the large numbers of them that appear at mealtime is akin to swimming in an aquarium.
However, the leading dive companies here can tell you that any reduction in the ability to feed sharks is met with a corresponding decline in dive numbers.
I’d heard much about the feeding of sharks in Bora Bora as an activity fraught with danger, But it’s the pinnacle for those coming to Bora Bora looking for adventure. The picture below is enticing:
Having watched Polynesians in these waters for many years, I had come to admire their deep spiritual connection with the natural world to respect their belief that sharks are family and ancestors there to protect their earthly relatives. To witness that which you are about to read is both culturally enriching & an insight into where our beliefs can take us.
Another beautiful day in paradise dawned & we headed to Teavanui Pass, Bora Bora’s only pass, to where lemon sharks swim free. It is to this corner of paradise that those who have come to swim with the sharks, those who come to feed the sharks, steer their boats.
Shark feeding has been legally banned in French Polynesia since 1997 following mishaps in Moorea. In the back of our minds, the thought that it was a lemon shark that had attacked a Canadian tourist here earlier in 2013.
Debate rages between well-intentioned scientists & politicians & Polynesians who have lived a certain way for centuries, between those who allege the comportment of the sharks has been dangerously changed & those who argue that a safe working relationship has existed for centuries.
I was there to understand. I suspect that should there be another attack, it may well have the final say. I am certain it will not be a Tahitian that is attacked.
Our guides, undaunted by the debate & wishing to ensure those of us snorkeling lived the maximum experience, slid into the water. The boat was immediately encircled by scores of blacktip reef shark.
After deep reflection, one takes the plunge, and it’s another world where you immediately feel out of your depth! Tremendous fear grips you before you are re-steadied by the sheer beauty of the setting.
We bob up & down outside the coral reef that protects & surrounds Bora Bora, ever conscious of our distance from the boat and the safety it represents as we look back over the sacred island of Motu Tap. On to the mystical Mt Otemanu, where god is said to have descended on Bora Bora.
We are in good hands and there could be no better place to be.
Looked who’s joined the crowd:
We peer through our masks as never have I seen so many reef sharks at the one time, never so many colorful fish swimming so close at hand and then you look down and there are 10-15m below huge lemon sharks around 3m in length cruising the coral ledge smoothed by millions of years of waves:
A shark’s eye view of the black-tip reef sharks, fish aplenty & even seagulls in for feeding. The effortless style of the large lemon sharks leaves an eerie feeling of insecurity.
It’s an addictive environment with warm waters, crystal clear, the shark’s bulky frames offset against a greyish coral background as they swim, apparently unperturbed by our presence. One is drawn to approach the sharks more closely.
Then suddenly and without warning, one of these monsters sweeps to the surface near the boat in search of berley. Your gut twists, and you know these beasts, potentially dangerous & to be treated with respect, only come to the surface to hunt.
You seek the means to escape back to the boat, but in an instant a Tahitian on board dives into the water and onto the back of the shark, taking it by the dorsal fin.
The shark dives with great speed and the Tahitian stays put, releasing his grip only once reaching the seafloor. This can not be real and I must be imagining things!
What followed was unimaginable, powerful, Polynesian:
In perhaps a moment of madness, the Tahitians are accompanied by someone clearly keen to meet the family. Tahitians believe that sharks are their ancestors and that the sharks are there to protect them as there has never been a single attack in all that time.
These impressive creatures are among the earth’s oldest lifeforms dating back over 400 million years, some 200 million years before dinosaurs appeared.
One more dive calling, perhaps the greatest of all, the chance to swim with the majestic manta rays. We head off towards a spot not far from the sacred, the royal Motu Tapu.
Manta rays have long lived in the waters of Bora Bora for many years, prevalent in Teavanui Pass & near where now stands the Hilton. They dislike building development, however, and are now found more in the waters off Fitiiu Point.
There were efforts from the commune to minimize any disruption to them occasioned by the building of the luxury hotels nearby.
Access to the rays is controlled, but it makes for one of the best snorkeling experiences of your life. If you are exceptionally lucky, you may witness a mating dance where a female ready to mate will swim slowly through the waters with a line of males behind her.
She will swim onto the back of a nearby female, and the males will assemble one on top of the other on the back of the 2 females in a dance that will only last a few seconds.
I recall vividly my first dive with the manta rays. I was snorkeling in Maupiti’s Onoiau Pass, staying close to the reef as the current there is treacherous.
It’s a wonderful dive as the pass is full of sharks, sea turtles, rays and dolphins swim just off the break that marks the entry to the pass, with whales circling the island a little further out to sea.
I was looking down at around 15 sharks of different sizes & breeds when suddenly a manta ray swam up into the range of my mask, seemingly almost colliding with me. It must have been almost 3m across & it scared the daylights out of me.
Bora Bora’s snorkeling is just as memorable. Manta rays truly are the most gracious of creatures and you can swim for hours among them with no sense of time.
There are always things to see along the way whilst diving in the world’s most beautiful lagoon.
The first thing you must do is to keep the hand holding the bait up high and 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.
Don’t be surprised if they push you into a position where they can give you a feed me bite of encouragement!
It’s not just the stingrays you need to worry about if you have the hand holding the fish in the water. You sometimes unwittingly make yourself a target for sharks!
Sharks can smell & isolate the position of the fish from 100s of meters away & then move swiftly to grab the bait and whatever is holding it.
Don’t be one of those who dive down in the water with bait in hand to feed whatever takes your fancy.
Or even worse, those who hold the bait to their mask while underwater awaiting that 3D experience that comes as the colorful tropical fish bite away at the face of the mask.
It’s your face, not your hand the shark will target next time!