Every winter, around November, one of nature’s most amazing animals – the bull shark – arrives to the waters of Playa del Carmen. There will always be mixed reactions to this news and it comes as no great surprise, as unfortunately sharks in general have a much-maligned reputation.
The diving community is not exception, many divers are afraid of diving with these truly amazing creatures. Some divers know a bit more about the sharks as an “average” tourist but many times this does not help at all, since bull sharks have a specially bad reputation as the “most dangerous”, “most aggressive” species. Some years ago a hoax started to spread about how bull sharks have the highest testosterone level among animals – as an explanation to their aggressive behavior – clearly proven a lie.
I am not debating the facts: bull sharks are responsible for the most attacks on humans but this is not due to aggression it is only due to habitat and general behavior. Bull sharks prefer the shallower coastal waters, they enter rivers, lagoons and brackish water. They share habitat with us beach goers, snorkelers and fishermen and due to this the chances of interaction and due to this unfortunate accidents are higher.
Not every diver is afraid of sharks, many of us are fascinated by them, so it is not a surprise that most of the dive shops are now offering scuba diving where you can get very close to the sharks. Some are feeding the sharks (which is a controversial topic for another day) but most of the dive shops only bring you to the area where usually the sharks hang around. They come close to check you out and then they get on with their business. Being underwater in the presence of two to three meter long sharks is one of the most humbling and exhilarating experiences in the world; I think that every diver should give it a go.
We at Encounters believe that to protect our marine environment and all the sharks in it education is the key factor. Getting divers in the water with sharks is a very important step, but it is only the first step. If the dive experience is not supported with sharing knowledge about the sharks and about conservation efforts, then it becomes nothing else than another tourist attraction; where you take a photo or buy a cheesy T-shirt saying “I survived the Bull Sharks” to show off to your friends.
I decided to take the next step. Working together with PADI and some of the leading marine biologists, I developed a Distinctive Specialty course for divers where they can learn about the bull sharks, their characteristics, behavior, habitat and the conservation efforts needed to save the sharks of the world. Also the course concentrates on the steps divers can take toward shark protection and toward protecting our oceans in general.
This is the second season that this new course is available for the diving community. We have already held many courses in the last season, and I believe we will have more and more divers showing an interest in learning about and protecting these magnificent animals, and not just treating them as another activity on a divers ‘bucket list’.
This specialty course counts towards your continuing education with PADI and it can be one of the specialties that can count toward your Master Scuba Diver certification. If you are not planning to take your diving education further you can think of the bull shark certification card as a proactive step toward shark protection to take home from Playa del Carmen. I am also inviting those non-divers, or family members of divers who are interested in learning about the bull sharks, or those who prefer to go home with something more meaningful than just souvenirs, to take part. For non-divers a certificate of completion is also available which does not involve diving.
Learn more at: http://www.encounters.com.mx