To experience diving with bull sharks is probably on most scuba divers’ bucket lists. Observing these majestic creatures in such proximity is a rare privilege. Seeing them glide above you is a euphoric feeling that is hard to recapture.
During the months of November to March, in Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, groups of pregnant female bull sharks arrive in the shallow coastal waters to give birth to live pups in the nearby mangroves.
On a recent holiday in Mexico, my two adult sons, both qualified PADI divers, got to experience diving with bull sharks. In this post, my son Jamie gives helpful advice for other divers wishing to do a bull shark dive in Playa del Carmen.
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Helpful information on bull shark diving
When can you dive with bull sharks in Mexico?
Head to Playa del Carmen in Mexico between November and March to dive with bull sharks.
You aren’t necessarily guaranteed to see them, though, as they are wild animals, so keep that in mind when booking a trip.
Ask the onsite dive shop at your resort or the company that will take you diving if there have been regular sightings.
Why do bull sharks return to Playa del Carmen each year?
Female bull sharks return to Playa del Carmen to give birth to their pups at their breeding ground.
It’s very unlikely that a male bull shark will be sighted during the dive.
What qualification do you need to dive with bull sharks?
As this is a deep dive between 20-30 metres, you should be an advanced scuba diver. Getting your advanced certification before booking this dive can be done through a recognised body like PADI.
What depth do you go down?
You’ll descend down to 24m (78.7 feet).
How long did the complete dive last?
The complete dive lasts around 45 minutes from entry to exit.
How long do you spend with the sharks?
You’ll spend around 30 minutes in the main breeding ground, where the sharks surround you.
Do you swim around the sharks or stay in one position?
Nearing the end of the dive, you’ll have a free swim in the open as you make your way up for a safety stop.
For the main part of the dive, you will be given a rope to hold on to. This will help you remain as close to the seabed as possible. This gives you stability so you can enjoy the experience of observing the bull sharks with little to no silt being kicked up by divers fins.
A safety stop is required so divers’ lungs can adapt to the change in pressure from being underwater at depth for a considerable time. This lasts around 3 minutes, during which time the bull sharks slowly circle beneath you.
How many divers and instructors are in each group?
There were eight divers in my shark dive group and three instructors. This was great as it didn’t feel like a crowded dive and meant the instructors could ensure all the divers were safe while with the bull sharks.
Did you see many bull sharks?
On our dive, we saw a total of 18 bull sharks which was fantastic!
There was a constant flow of sharks from every angle, and they got so close you could feel their bellies rub past your head.
How big is a bull shark?
They can measure almost 9 feet and weigh up to 550 pounds.
How long do bull sharks live?
20-30 years is the expected life span of a bull shark.
Do you get to take part in bull shark feeding?
No, we didn’t feed the sharks; however, the instructors did as they wore special divers’ chainmail designed to prevent serious damage from a shark bite.
Watching them being fed was amazing as I saw all their teeth up close and witnessed the power of their bite.
There were times when the sharks would try and get into the feeding tube, but with the expertise and knowledge of the instructors, they knew how to handle the situation safely.
Can you take a camera down with you?
If you are an avid underwater photographer or want to take a go-pro down to record your bull shark experience, then you are welcome to do so.
The advice that is given is to make sure to keep everything close to your chest, so you aren’t extending your limbs out too much.
The instructors also film the experience so that you can buy the footage if you aren’t comfortable filming yourself but still want to keep and relive the experience when you are home.
What photography equipment did you use for these shots and videos?
To film my experience, I used my iPhone 12 pro and a Divevolk Seatouch 3 Pro housing which I would highly recommend.
It’s one of the only phone housings that you can still use your touch screen with and also allows for wireless charging, which is great if you are doing multiple dives and don’t want to remove your phone from the housing to prevent any potential leaking.
You can also buy different lenses, attachments and filters, and I would recommend investing in a red filter so that you can be sure to capture the best imagery and video underwater.
The red filter adds red back into the video because when you dive at depth, the colour red vanishes, and everything starts to turn blue; this is because the colour red has a shorter colour waveform that can’t penetrate deep down into the ocean, so making sure you have this filter is essential.
What scuba gear do you use?
I have been diving with the same equipment for 15 years and recommend each item for its durability.
Imprex Fins by TUSA – With assisted thrust technology, these fins have a flexible mid-section. This makes swimming easier without getting worn out and allows you to glide further.
Mask by TUSA – The model of the mask I have is old, so the closest comparable mask TUSA now do is the Freedom tri-quest which allows for clear vision underwater.
Snorkel by TUSA – Again, like the mask, this model is an older model, so the newest comparable model TUSA have is the Platina II Hyperdry which has a splashproof shield to prevent water from entering when snorkelling on the surface of the waves.
Cressi Anti-Fog – To ensure you have the best experience, this is a diver and snorkeller must-have. The spray adds a thin film to the mask lenses and prevents fog from building up, making your diving experience crystal clear.
Keenso Divers Slate – I like to take these on most dives to jot down any notes of what I’ve seen. If you’re struggling to identify a type of fish or coral, hopefully, your instructor can write the answer to your question on the slate.
Which company did you dive with?
The company I used for my bull shark dive was AquaWorld, which has outlets in a lot of hotels and resorts along the Riviera Maya.
How much does it cost to dive with the bull sharks?
The bull shark dive cost $186.00 (2023 prices), which included transfers, the dive, and scuba equipment hire.
Where did you have to go to catch the dive boat?
The transport from the hotel dropped us off at the shore in Playa del Carmen, from where we took a boat to the dive site.
How long was the boat ride to the dive point?
Once on the boat, it was a short 5-8 minute ride to the dive site, so great for those who get a little seasick. It was surprising to find out how close the bull sharks are to Playa del Carmen’s shore.
How do you reach the seabed?
To enter the water, you roll backwards off the side of the boat and grab hold of the rope, which you then pull yourself along until you reach the anchor buoy. You then make a controlled descent down to the sea floor.
What safety tips do you get before the dive?
Before getting in the water, the dive instructors brief you on what you can and can’t do when diving with the sharks.
Much of the information given is the knowledge you should already know as an advanced or higher-qualified diver. The instructors make it very clear to keep together, not to separate and to keep your limbs still and close to you so that you don’t become a shark snack!
What is it like to dive with bull sharks in Mexico?
On my dive, I was surrounded by not just one but 18 bull sharks, which was an unreal experience. Bull sharks are so graceful when they swim, and to have watched them in the ocean is a privilege.
As these gentle creatures brushed past me, I felt totally at ease and, at the same time, extremely excited.
I have cage-dived with Great White Sharks in South Africa, but this was so much more of a hands-on experience (well, not literally, for obvious reasons!).
Many believe sharks are vicious animals whose main objective is to attack you, but that could not be further from the truth. On several occasions, the sharks swam straight towards me and over my head, completely uninterested in me.
However, bull sharks are dangerous, predatory animals and can be more aggressive than great white sharks. Had I been waving my hands around, the sharks may have acted completely differently. However, by adhering to the strict safety briefing the instructors gave, my limbs always stayed close to my torso, and I didn’t become shark bait!
My favourite part of my dive with the bull sharks was when I swam alongside them with my brother, and they all followed us as if to say goodbye.
Diving with bull sharks is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but having said that, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Thank you to Jamie Price for this interview. Jamie loves to be under the water in his free time, but in his everyday life, he is a Graphic Designer at JNPCreative.
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