Bull shark diving in Playa del Carmen. What adventurer does not have this on their list? Bull sharks are one of the most notorious creatures in the underwater world with a reputation of being heavily aggressive. They are the cause of the majority of near-shore shark attacks. These sharks are big, they are thick, they are ominous and they have the ability to live in salt or fresh brackish waters. Of course they also boast a heck of a profile revealing a few rows of scary-looking teeth. Along with the great white shark and tiger sharks, bull sharks have a low tolerance for provocation and are truly one of the ocean’s greatest predators.
I knew I was going to go scuba diving on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. It was on the top of my activity list. I was hoping to experience something cool, chill, you know, like a whale shark, but much to my surprise I landed in the middle of bull shark season. With a reputation as big as these majestic creatures have, I knew it was something special. Thousands of bull sharks come to this area every year between November and February to breed, and I was just in time.
I wanted to undertake this adventure. Lucky for me I found Jorge, one of the dive masters at Dive Mike Scuba Centre in Playa del Carmen.
A briefing before the Bull Sharks
I arrived at the dive shop in the morning in order to collect my rented scuba equipment and to receive a briefing by Jorge and other “DiveMike” dive masters on how to safely approach this type of seemingly high risk experience.
We sat in a circle while Jorge came out and gave us our instructions. We were a large group so we enlisted 2 other dive masters to come with us. One was there to watch Jorge’s back while he fed the bull sharks, and other was to help us recreational divers. We were told to enter the water and descend quickly as a group. Then we would follow our dive masters to a ‘feeding’ location 25 meters (82 feet) below the ocean’s surface. Here we would find a rope to hold on to as we were instructed to lay flat and still on the ocean floor. From this spot we would observe the beautiful bull sharks in action.
No wiggling of the fins he said, no touching the sharks, no long hair waving in the water, and no obnoxious cameras in their faces; this is a simple observation experience.
Jorge was dressed in 2 layers of metal as to protect him with the food. He would hand feed the sharks themselves while the other dive masters carried tools to protect him and us just in case.
Diving with the Bull Sharks
It happened faster than I could have imagined! We boarded our dive boat, and before we had finished setting up our equipment we were at the dive site. It was located just a few hundred meters from the shore and people swimming (Yup! that close). After receiving a little help both with my equipment and to lift me on to the edge of the boat (I’m tiny and those tanks are heavy)…it was 3-2-1- and Go. As a diver I did not even have enough time to think about being scared. Splash, we were in the water.
I began to immediately deflate my BCD. I was not screwing this one up. In the past I have been pretty slow to descend into the water, so one of the dive masters stayed with me until I was comfortably (and with the proper weight) descending with the others.
This was the coolest part. Due to the fact that it is the ocean and there are currents, we had a few meters of swim time in order to arrive at the feeding site. I could see the great big sharks immediately and as I swam over top of them going in the same direction, it felt like I was in some alternate universe, it felt like I was one of them. As we descended I was no longer swimming above them, but across from them, in front of them, behind them…with them. They weren’t interested in me, they just kept swimming along. How cool it was to feel like one of them.
Finally we arrived at the feeding site where I (for the first time ever) did what I was told. I held onto the rope and laid on the ground perfectly still…watching.
Jorge was already there with a big container full of frozen dead fish. The sharks seemed to know the drill as more and more kept appearing from the deep blue sea. They were everywhere, in front of us, behind us, beside us, and sometimes even just a few feet above our heads. They would swim to Jorge and one at a time he would grab a fish from his container and place it in front of the shark’s mouth. The shark would then take the treat immediately. If we were in the right spot we could even see some teeth.
The 30 minutes of feeding time went by so fast it felt like 5 minutes. The sharks did not bother us, and we could not have been closer. What an experience to see these huge majestic creatures swimming so naturally around us. To see the whites of their bellies, the wrinkles on their noses and the teeth in their mouths was such a treat.
An experience that sounded like the most terrifying thing in the world turned out to be nothing of the sort. It was cool, relaxed, and comfortable, and by far one of the best dive experiences I have ever had. The dive masters from DiveMike were so unbelievably professional and helpful. They created a comfortable situation in which I was able to thoroughly enjoy my bull shark dive and appreciate them for the awesome creatures they really are. DiveMike took excellent care of me; excellent enough for me to head back for a few ocean dives later in the week
While there is some controversy to whether or not bull shark diving is ethical, it was evident to me how much appreciation and love our dive master Jorge had for these beautiful sharks. He was excited to eliminate the idea of fear surrounding bull sharks and to create a new reputation of impressiveness and beauty. A small portion of the cost of bull shark diving with DiveMike went towards bull shark preservation.
-DiveMike kindly hosted this dive in return for an honest review of the experience-
Very cool! I’ve been diving in Playa and Cozumel several times, but have always missed the proper season to see the bull sharks. I’m a little envious!
Thank you for sharing. It’s an interesting point of view. I like that there is a bit of conservation behind it (funding and getting people to love these sharks) but still, I find that feeding wild animals has too much impact on their natural behaviour to be ethical :-/
What an experience! I am a diver myself, but with little short of 40 dives I am not sure I could do this just yet :) My dream is to dive with whalesharks, I guess I need to grow a bit a diver to be able to do this one! Like you, I sometimes have problems descending (and ascending too quickly once the tank is near empty).
Reading about the feeding I was wondering about the ethical part of feeding, as I have heard that feeding is the reason sharks later attack people, as they associate food with humans. So, I hope you are right about this being ok!
Wow, this sounds like an incredible experience, but pretty nerve-racking. Definitely a time I’d follow all the directions too ;)
Brenda Johnson says
I have done this several times. Once with feeding, twice w/o food. They were attracted by the noise. The fishermen in the area have realized that the tourist industry brings in much more $$ than fishing for the sharks. It has been a win-win situation. Sometimes in order to Protect a species we need to provide education. In this case I short the opportunity to dive with the pregnant mommies.
Angela S Hathaway says
This sounds really cool, but to be honest, I think I would be TERRIFIED!
Oh wow!!! This looks insane! I just did the thresher shark dive in Malapascua, sharks are so majestic and harmless when treated with respect. This is definitely going on my bucket list.
Wow that sounds incredible! Not sure I would ever have the guts to try it myself though… :)
Ryan Biddulph says
So neat that it was a chill experience for you. I got nervous reading the words and I have faced some lethal critters in the wild over the years LOL. Thanks much for sharing!
Load of info, great! Is it possible that these shark are so used to be fed that they’re calm and know what to expect?
Kimberly Erin says
To be honest I kinda think so. They do say feeding them brings them closer to shore and makes them commutable swimming near humans/attacks…its pretty controversial in the Scuba world