LOCATION: The Florida Aquarium. Tampa, FL.
This post is part of my Orlando Birthday Trip Series.
I’ve wanted to dive in the Florida Aquarium shark tank for several years now. Not only do they have a nice program for it, but they are one of the cheapest shark aquarium dives in the US. So when I booked my 30th birthday trip to Orlando, I planned the entire thing around going to Tampa JUST for this dive. The dive was also going to be my birthday gift from my parents.
In September, I went to book my dive and noticed that there were no open dives for the month of October. I called them, and it turns out they were shutting the program down for the month to replace the lighting in all the tanks. I was very sad. I decided to write my story and about my extensive trip planning around this dive to the program director. She was very nice and told me that she would let me know if things improved and would keep me posted. By mid September, the program director wrote and said that they sped up the process on the shark tank lights just to open it up for me. I was completely shocked by the generosity. Just shows how kind people and companies can really be when you don’t see it much anymore.
I arrived at the aquarium and the dive started with a brief education about the tank I was going to dive in as well as the fish in it.
The coral was fake, but there were many species of fish, moral eels, barracuda and 4 big sand tiger sharks. While the sand tiger shark looks vicious, they are actually quite docile and not usually a threat to humans. The aquarium has also never had an incident happen during a dive. To ensure this, the dive master had a poke stick to keep sharks from getting too close.
It was then time for the dive! After gearing up and doing checks, the dive master had me jump into the cage that was lowered into the aquarium. I would acclimate there for a few minutes until the sharks were used to my presence. For some reason, I thought the cage was away from the audience viewing area. But, as I looked around, I noticed that I was the main attraction. There in front of me, were lots of people and Troy taking plenty of my bucket list pictures for me.
At first, the sharks swarmed the tank and the dive master let me know that I needed to wait a minute for them to disperse. After about 5 minutes, I was able to leave the tank with her. During the 30 minute dive, we went to 3 locations and observed the atmosphere. The first location was on the sand in the far left corner. I was told I could look for teeth on the floor, but I was too enthralled by the sharks swimming next to me and above my head. They looked like they could bite at any moment. After my nerves calmed, I really appreciated the beauty of them and that they weren’t mean creatures at all. I felt safe and confident in their presence. Everyone should experience something like this to remove the fear connotation associated with it.
The second location was on a piece of fake coral in the center of the aquarium. The location made me the main focus of the shark exhibit. It was definitely a weird feeling knowing that I was in so many tourist’s photos. The third and final location was on another piece of coral in the far right corner. The coral had small hand attachments to hold on to, but not enough to do so easily. I found myself losing my grip easily and felt more focused on staying where I was than anything. Barracuda stared at me and an eel swam up the side of my face. It was definitely not like any dive I’ve ever done before. All good things must come to an end though, and the dive was over. The dive master had found a shark’s tooth while with me and gave it to me as a souvenir. I also received a “shark diver” t-shirt and a lifetime of memories that I’ll never forget. Along with the 200+ photos Troy took as well.
* Thank you Troy for accompanying me on this adventure.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?: In a heartbeat! Seriously one of the best and most exciting things I’ve done.
HOW TO DO THIS: The Florida Aquarium offers shark scuba dives and regular snorkel trips in a fish tank. Shark dive is $175. http://www.flaquarium.org/explore-the-aquarium/exhibits/dive-with-the-sharks.aspx