Enter if you dare to the depths of the Florida Aquarium‘s shark enclosure. Scuba dive in a beautiful coral reef tank with sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks, and white tip sharks. You’ll also be up close and personal with stingrays, a sea turtle, Moray eels, and a ticklish grouper.
Get to the aquarium bright and early when they open. The fam drove in from Orlando and we conveniently picked the same weekend as Gasparilla so the Tampa area was surprisingly busy for 9 in the morning. You’re greeted by dive guides who check your certification and set you up with a short video and a room to change into wetsuits. You can bring your own scuba gear but they’re fully equipped at no extra charge so I’d leave the hassle at home.
Each diver gets their own guide to dive with them and you get into the tank one at a time. You start out by sitting on the ledge of the tank and hoist yourself into a dive cage, probably so you don’t fall on top of a shark. Once you’re acclimated and stop freaking out, exit the cage into open water and be prepared to be amazed. It’s like when Dorothy opens the door and sees color for the first time.
Into the Tank!
All around you are beautiful tropical fish, coral reefs, and yes, sharks! Beneath the surface, the colors are brighter, the sounds are heavier, and the world is somehow better. I might be biased because I love diving so much but it really never gets old.
Your dive guide leads you to different sections of the tank to point out various animals like ‘oh look there’s an eel’ or ‘watch your hand there’s a shark 6 inches from you’. It’s all communicated in “dive language” though. Your guide has a “shark stick” to keep the sharks from getting too close to you and they also interact with you the whole time. My guide and I skimmed the bottom for shark teeth and she’s a pro at spotting them and plucked one up for me. She then found this huge grouper and blew bubbles from her regulator at him and I swear it was like tickling a kid! He loved it!
Sharks are pretty cool creatures. They are much bigger when you’re in the water with them and they have no fear of humans. The ones you scuba dive with are non-aggressive breeds and they get really close to you. I mean really close! I had to back up a few times to get out of their way. This experience definitely put some of my fears to rest. I might even try scuba diving with sharks in open water as long as I bring a “shark stick”.
After your dive get your photos and enjoy the rest of the aquarium! A staff photographer documents your scuba dive from start to finish which is where all of these images are from. There are lots of exhibits to stroll through but we were so hungry we just National Lampoon European Vacation-ed it.
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