DIVING PALAU ISLAND, Micronesia:
“Will we be diving with sharks?” is a question asked all too often by people new to diving in Palau. The truth is that while many divers have never seen a shark while diving they have indeed been diving with sharks all along. In many locations around the world you may be lucky to catch even a glimpse of these awesome creatures. Sharks are truly an honor and privilege to observe and in often allow themselves to be seen only when they want to. Surely you have heard before that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be bitten by a shark. Of course our mind seems to tell us differently each time we enter the water. When you dive Palau, plan on diving with sharks and be assured you too will be hooked on the incredible experience.
Palau diving is unique, a rare place in the world where divers come to observe the magnificent shark in a natural environment. Around the globe there are various opportunities to dive with sharks, whether it is cage diving with great whites or a shark feed in the Bahamas, but Palau is different. In most cases organized viewing of sharks requires a “baiting” mechanism of some sort. Whether it is a chum slick or fish from a feeder tube most shark dive operators need something to bring the sharks to their customers. This is what makes diving with sharks in Palau special; No “BAITING” is needed. Palau has done a remarkable job in conserving the marine environment and keeping it as natural as possible. Shark feeding, handling of sharks or chumming are not allowed as that would change the sharks natural behavior. For shark divers from novice to expert, Palau offers a natural experience few can match.
The nutrient rich waters and the currents along the outer walls of the barrier reef allow for large congregations of sharks. At many sites gray reef sharks and whitetips are abundant. Large pelagic species also can be seen including whale sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads, oceanic white tips, silver sharks, bull and silky sharks. Some spots there are too many to count. Palau offers the opportunity to see any shark on any dive without baiting. Of course natural predation happens frequently and this amazing hunt is often witnessed by divers. Sharks are wild animals, while beautiful and amazing they must be respected. By allowing them to act naturally it helps to provide a safer environment to those diving with the sharks of Palau!
While diving in Palau you will have the unique experience of using a reef hook. The reef hook was developed to assist divers where strong currents made it difficult to stay in one place (it’s a Palauan invention allegedly invented by a photographer and which many now seems to claim credit for). Virtually all shark diving in Palau is on the outer walls of the barrier reef where currents can be strong, for example like Blue Corner. These stronger currents provide the nutrients and prey sources necessary to attract large numbers of sharks. The reef hook made it possible and much easier to stay put when “hanging” over a drop off or at the edge of the wall where the currents provide a better experience for observing sharks and other pelagic species. It is a very simple design that is far more environmentally friendly and safer than having divers try to hold onto the reef. At the “hook” end there is a stainless steel hook. It looks much like a giant fish hook without the sharp edge. A line is attached through an eyelet and extends about 3-4 feet up to a handle or clasp. Dive sites where reef hooks are used have specific areas used for “hooking in”. These are rocky areas or rubble patches as we do not want to hook into live coral concentrations. Proper and safe use is explained by the dive master during the pre-dive briefing.
When approaching the “hook in” point the dive master will signal it is time to hook in. It is at that point that the reef hook can be removed from the BC pocket and undone. Upon reaching the “hook in” point the hook is secured in the rocky area. The awesome feeling of “stationary flying” allows for an unbelievable visual experience you will talk about for years! When it’s time to unhook from the sharks you simply join the rest of the fish and fin gently across the reef and off to your safety stop out in planet blue!