There are more than 500 species of sharks swimming in the oceans that we dive. And when you dive Roatan, Honduras you have a chance of seeing at least 10 shark species such as hammerheads, nurse sharks and silky sharks.
Shark sightings on dives in Roatan are occasional at best. If you want an (almost) guaranteed encounter with sharks, then you want to do the Roatan Shark Dive.
The Roatan Shark Dive gets you up close & personal with the impressive and elusive Caribbean Reef Shark. The sharks you see on this dive are almost always female. They can be seen in groups of five to 20, and average in size from five to seven feet long. This is due the fact that some species of sharks segregate by sex and females and males only come together for mating purposes.
Pretty impressive, right? There is almost no greater thrill then being surrounded by these sharks who, despite weighing hundreds of pounds, move with amazing speed, agility and grace.
So, what do you need to know to determine if this dive experience is right for you?
Here are five things to know about the Roatan Shark Dive:
It’s run by a third-party operator
When you sign up to do the Roatan Shark Dive, you are NOT diving with Sun Divers.
The dive experience is operated in Coxen Hole on the Southside of the island and has operated the dive for 22 years. The shark dive partners with dive centers like us to recruit divers, provide transportation and equipment if needed, and to collect payment.
Our take is that the dive center is a “no frills” operation, unlike our own concierge approach to diving. This means that the facilities and boats are kept in well-running shape and are safe, but will not have the top-of-the-line feel you hopefully get at our dive center. The facilities do not have personal lockers, but you can safely store your personal belongings there under the supervision of the center’s staff.
The sharks are provisioned (fed)
Provisioning means using food, lures or visual attractants to bring animals closer to a dive/swim site. This is probably THE most important factor to consider about the shark dive. So we’re going to spend a little extra time here, but be sure you read through for all the important details about the Roatan Shark Dive.
There is much debate about the ethics of provisioning, and there is not a clear cut answer. And some divers prefer seeing sharks in more organic settings such as known cleaning stations. But that is not a possibility here in Roatan.
Local word is that the sharks have been coming to the location of the shark dive for as long as can be remembered. But sharks are shy by nature so the shark dive operators feed them to encourage aggregation in one location for the duration of the experience.
Here is what we understand about this activity, so you can determine if the dive is ethical and authentic enough for you:
- The sharks are fed fish heads and bones that are left over from fish processing plants. These are put in a bucket with holes to attract the shark and then fed to the sharks as a “snack” at the end. They are primarily consuming fiber as there is not a lot of meat left on the bones.According to the World Wildlife Foundation’s shark and ray tourism best practices guide, this does constitute chumming and is the highest degree of involvement with the animals as provisioning is defined. However, recommended management actions are taken such as controlling the amount of food and the number of operators. The Roatan Shark Dive operators limits the amount of fish used to chum and is the only operator on the island.
- The sharks are clearly aware of the connection between visiting divers and their snack. However, the amount they are fed is minimal and appears to have limited effect on the hunting behavior or habitat use of the sharks. The primary support cited for this argument is that there are times throughout the year when the dive is not operable because the sharks have migrated away from the area. Some sharks have left for years and then returned according to the Roatan Shark Dive. “There is considerable debate on the effects of shark provisioning with very few studies to refute or support the claims,” says Gabriela Ochoa, co-founder of Ilili a nonprofit dedicated to conducting research on shark and ray populations to support their protection.
“Such studies often require large investments in satellite tags and a large temporal scale. In the shark dive, from time to time these female sharks leave and return with mating scars suggesting that provisioning in not affecting their spatial use. Additionally, if provisioning was attracting unwanted numbers of sharks, we would encounter male Caribbean reef sharks which are a rare occurrence at this site. Although no studies have been conducted in Honduras to assess the effects of provisioning, studies in Bahamas with Caribbean reef sharks reported minimal behavioral impacts.”
- Shark provisioning dives are very common around the Caribbean. In Bahamas, from 1987-2007 the country offered 1 million sharks dives generating an estimated gross of us $800 million. (Gallagher & Hammeschlag 2011)
- The sharks must be provisioned to make the experience happen. If there wasn’t some form of provisioning used, then there likely wouldn’t be a shark dive.
There are other considerations when it comes to assessing the ethics and authenticity of shark dives in any part of the world. These include dive times and number of divers.
WWF’s guide recommends no more than 90 minutes for reef shark interactions. The Roatan Shark Dive is usually a 30 – 35-minute dive based upon it’s depth profile.
And 10 max is the recommended number of people participating in an encounter at any given time (including staff). The Roatan Shark Dive usually averages 10 people.
You must be experienced to do this dive
Due to the depth of the dive and currents at the surface, this is a dive for experienced divers. At Sun Divers, we only allow divers with an Advanced Open Water certification level or higher to participate through us. Divers who have a deep adventure also meet our guidelines to participate. And based upon your experience level, we might ask you to do a regular fun dive with us first so we can assess readiness for this dive. Here’s why:
- The Roatan Shark Dive is conducted at a dive site called Marco’s Place . The mooring line for this site sits at 60 feet, but the dive itself is conducted at 70-75 feet for the duration of the dive which is a depth that you are trained for only once you have done a Deep Adventure Dive or have your Advanced Open Water certification.
- You must assemble and disassemble your own gear.
- You must manage your own safety stop. You are diving at depth for a considerable period of time which means you could need to surface with a buddy sooner than the rest of the group. We require that all divers have their own computer or rent a computer.
- The southside location means there can be waves and strong surface current. Typical conditions for the Southside are choppy. Many times the dive requires the use of a current line and so divers should be comfortable using one and also not be prone to sea sickness.
No GoPros Allowed
That’s right. No GoPros or cameras with yellow housing allowed. Why? It’s believed the sharks can sense electrical fields from the gopros which they can mistake for prey and attack. While this myth has been busted, the electrical field can be detected and affect the shark behavior. And at the end of the day, is the Roatan Shark Dive’s hard and fast rule. So don’t try to be sneaky or your dive could be aborted.
If you want this thrilling experience captured on camera or film, you do have options. The Roatan Shark Dive team has a videographer on staff who is capturing footage of your experience. They preview this video after the dive so you can decide if you want to buy it.
You can bring any other underwater camera that is not a GoPro or does not have yellow markings.
- It is an experience of a lifetime
Everyone who does the shark dive returns raving about it. If you love the thrilling side of diving or if thinking about being surrounded by sharks gives you goose bumps in a good way, then this dive is for you.
If you are ready to dive in, the Roatan Shark Dive operates Monday through Saturday, anytime they have four or more divers. You can contact us to book this experience. And if you do, we ask that you help make this dive as ethical as possible, by not touching or harassing the sharks, groupers or any other marine life you come into contact with on the dive.