Swimming with Sharks | Islands

With Discovery Channel’s Shark Week kicking off this weekend (Michael Phelps is going to race a great white!), chances are, you’re in full-on shark curiosity mode. Some of you may even be up for swimming with sharks — or at least watching the apex predators from the safety of a boat. If so, here are some great places around the world for shark encounters.

Oahu, Hawaii

About 3 miles off of Oahu’s legendary North Shore, it’s common to see Galapagos sharks, sandbar sharks and the occasional tiger or whale shark. You may also find green sea turtles and spinner dolphins patrolling the blue-green abyss. Sign up for a shark snorkel sesh with Ocean Ramsey’s One Ocean Diving, and you might meet Captain Pancakes, Frankenfin and Miss Aloha. (She’s affectionately named some of the repeat shark visitors.) Because Ramsey wants the interaction to be as natural and positive as possible, there’s no chum used and no shark cages either. Instead, these tours are all about promoting shark conservation, research and education.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Whale sharks are the biggest sharks in the ocean, and swimming with them is quite a treat. Hundreds migrate to Isla Mujeres from June through September each year, and snorkeling is the best way to float alongside them since they’re often near the surface. You can even get close enough to the gentle giants to clearly see the perfectly patterned pale yellow dots and stripes on their skin. Don’t worry, though: plankton is their snack of choice.

Guadalupe Island, Mexico

The super clear water here makes it one of the world’s best places to photograph great white sharks. Dive operators will take you out 150 miles offshore to the Pacific Coast for cage diving. If you aren’t quite ready for that much action, opt to just chill on the boat and spot the sharks from above. (Either way is thrilling.) Plus, since you’ll be between temperate and subtropical ecozones, you’ll see yellowfin tuna, super cool zooplankton and butterflyfish.

Moorea, French Polynesia

Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, a 25-minute ferry ride from Tahiti, will arrange for you to snorkel with blacktip reef sharks, octopus, bright-colored coral and stingrays galore. It’s a great way for newbies to get comfortable with dozens of sharks swimming around them. Plus, there’s a good chance your guide will serenade you while strumming the ukulele on the boat ride back.

Bimini, Bahamas

The great hammerhead shark, which grows up to 20 feet long, is one of the more unusual sharks to dive with. In December and January each year, you can find them just off coast of the small island of Bimini. Some people have dubbed the spot as the “hammerhead capital of the world,” and the Great Hammerhead Shark Safari offered by Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina is a great way to encounter them. Plus, you’ll also see bull sharks, nurse sharks and stingrays while you’re at it.

Channel Islands, California

This archipelago 11 miles off the coast of California has been called North America’s Galapagos due to its diverse plant and animal life. Snorkeling or diving in within this National Park is some of the best in the world. Among the impressive underwater kelp forests, you’ll find many shark species like blue sharks, Pacific angel sharks and horn sharks. This stunning location is also home to shipwrecks and sea caves.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, this area has a slew of shipwrecks, which attract loads of fish. And, tiger sharks are on the prowl. This is one of the few places in the world where you are nearly guaranteed a shark sighting with no need for chum or bait of any kind.

The Cove, La Jolla, California

Diving here is easy: You descend directly from the shore, so no boats are needed. Nearby, it’s common to come across sevengill sharks during the summertime. And in the fall season, top sharks, angel sharks, horn sharks and schools of leopard sharks are the norm. For the super adventurous, go 10 miles offshore to find mako sharks, the fastest bad boys in the ocean.

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