I’d just been passionately talking about the WA Shark Cull when the invitation to snorkel with sharks in Sea Life Sydney Aquarium came through. It took about 0.25 seconds for me to go from saying, “Sharks are so misunderstood!” to thinking, “But there’s no way I want to be in the water with one!”
Yes, I know that when I’ve been in the sea they may have been swimming near me without my knowing, but in that case ignorance has been bliss. I’m only relatively new to snorkeling but so far I’ve only seen pretty fish that I’ve adored and have managed to avoid anything that looks like it could kill me. I admire people who can swim calmly after seeing a shark in their midst and wondered if I’d also be able to keep my cool.
Realising this would be the perfect way to face this particular fear, I took a deep breath and said I’d do it. After all, these sharks would surely be well fed and accustomed to humans in their space, so they’d be the best ones to share the water with. Wouldn’t they?
Some people weren’t so sure. When I invited one friend who has always been quite adventurous and up for trying new things to join me, I laughed when he wrote back, “Thank you for the offer but I would rather die a slow death.”
It was only after I’d mentally prepared myself for the idea of snorkeling with sharks in front of tourists in one of Sydney’s most popular attractions (would I die of public humiliation if I did overreact in the tank?) that I read the Shark Reef Snorkel information on Sea Life’s website properly.
That’s when I realised that I was never going to be in any real danger, but instead in a “safe and see-through enclosure” and I felt like a little bit of a goose.
It turns out that while over at the Manly Sea Life visitors really are swimming amongst the sharks in the ‘Shark Dive Xtreme’, here at Darling Harbour’s Shark Reel Snorkel things are a much calmer affair.
My friend Matt (who is much braver than my other friend who shall remain nameless) and I were quietly relieved when we looked into the big Great Barrier Reef tank at Sea Life and saw where we’d be swimming.
It looked, and felt, a bit like a tank within a tank. There were holes in the metal for the water to flow through, so we were sharing the same water as the sharks and the other fish, but there was no way they could actually bump into us or try a little nibble.
One entire side of our enclosure is clear so when we looked out into the main section of the aquarium it did feel like we were swimming amongst them, but as our tank within a tank was only a few metres deep we knew that at at any time we could simply stand up, take our snorkels out of our mouths and breathe.
The snorkel coordinator at Sea Life, Mandy Davis, is lovely and friendly and was with us at all times to help with any questions. You don’t need any snorkeling or diving experience to take part, and the aquarium provides the wet suits and snorkels, and a warm shower afterwards. You just bring your swimsuit and a towel.
As Matt and I swam back and forth past each other, we’d wave at the children looking up at us in the aquarium. Some looked a little baffled as to why there were people in the tank with the fish, which just added to the fun.
While there was a moment when I thought what we were seeing was pretty similar to the view on the normal side of the aquarium glass, except this way we were wet, it was a fun experience. Being underwater and face to face with amazing sea life is different to just looking into the tank, even if that water is relatively shallow and in a safe space.
It was the perfect first step for shark scaredy cats like me. So much so that I now feel ready to snorkel amongst sharks for real. Well fed ones that are accustomed to humans in their space that is. And if I get the courage up I’ll be sure to let you know.
Amanda Woods took part in the Shark Reef Snorkel at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium as a guest of the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium but all thoughts and opinions remain her own.
Looking for more fun Sydney ideas? Check out my list of 20 great tours and things to do in Sydney for every budget.