I floated on the surface, dark waves roiling around me as I looked below. Blue. All I could see was endless blue. But, I knew that it was misleading. Hidden beyond my site were dozens of sharks. Bull sharks; one of the most dangerous shark species in the world. But, I wasn’t trying to get away. I was here on purpose. This was the famous Fiji’s shark dive and I was headed straight for the sharks below. I exhaled deeply and released the air from my BCD, slowly sinking down into the ocean and the sharks I knew would be at the bottom. For some, this would be a nightmare but for me and my friends Chantae and Moritz, scuba diving with sharks in Fiji was a bucket list experience.
What is Fiji’s Shark Dive?
Technically, Fiji has several shark dives, but the best known the Beqa (which is actually pronounced Benga) shark dive in southern Viti Levu. The Beqa shark dive is actually world-famous and draws visitors from around the world. So, what makes this dive so special? Well, the number of sharks is the main draw but perhaps the most distinguishing factor about the Fiji shark dives is that there are no cages. It’s just the divers and the sharks (and a million or so reef fish).
The Beqa shark dive is famous for the bull sharks though they won’t be the only species that you see during this dive. Lucky divers can see up to eight shark species during this dive: blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, grey reefsharks, silvertip sharks, tawny nurse sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks, bull sharks, and possibly even tiger sharks.
The dive is more of an observation experience rather than a proper dive; you don’t move much other than descending and ascending. There are walls and ropes to hold on to and the sharks are fed tuna heads in front of you as you watch. There are a few guides around as well, with massive metal poles in case any sharks get too curious and need to be re-directed.
There are two companies that offer the dive though we chose to go with Beqa Adventure Divers after reading the reviews and getting several recommendations from others who had been before. They were incredible, and I highly recommend them as well.
What was it like Scuba Diving with Sharks in Fiji?
SHARKBAIT, OOH HA HA!
This is literally what I said to myself as I descended during the first of my two Fiji shark dives. Despite being a comfortable diver and shark enthusiast, I was nervous as hell for this dive and figured a Finding Nemo reference might help (because Disney always has a guaranteed happy ending). After all, I’d never seen a bull shark before and here I was, just dropping on a huge group of them during their lunchtime.
As I descended into the blue, shapes started forming in front of my eyes. One bull shark…two bull sharks… twenty-five, massive, 400-pound bull sharks.
Yet despite the fact that I was surrounded by these 3m long bull sharks, I never actually felt like shark bait. They had zero interest in us (clearly tuna heads are way more exciting) so I just felt like a privileged spectator watching this incredible show. I had my GoPro in hand but aside from making sure that it was, in fact, recording, I paid zero attention to it. I was too busy watching in awe as these massive creatures darted and swam in front of me.
With Beqa Adventure Divers, there are two dives. The first will take you down to 30 meters where you kneel behind a small man-made wall and watch as the sharks swim in front of you. I should clarify that this little wall is not a protective barrier, but rather a marker place for where the divers should stay. Going outside of this wall is forbidden. You’ll spend about 15 minutes on the bottom before slowly ascending and making two more stops where you will be surrounded by smaller reef sharks.
The second dive has a shorter and shallower bottom time, but this time the ‘wall’ is a tiny ledge and you lay down behind it. No kneeling allowed because the sharks come close. Really close. As in I had to duck to avoid fins slapping my face close.
Intimidating? Absolutely. But also one of the most incredible experiences of my life, right along with swimming with the whales in Tonga. When it was time to go, I didn’t want to leave.
Is Diving with Sharks in Fiji Responsible/ Ethical Tourism?
This is a tough question, and both Chantae, her boyfriend, and I were on the fence about this. After all, it is a baited dive. The sharks are fed while divers watch from the bottom. There is no touching or handling, but the feeding is still considered an unnatural behaviour and, while they weren’t used during our dives, the guides do have big metal poles to redirect the sharks if required. It’s not exactly a ‘natural’ experience.
That being said, Beqa Adventure Divers made it very clear that they were shark conservationists first and a dive shop second. The area around the south coast of Viti Levu, the Shark Corridor, is a protected area and the staff are all certified Fish Wardens keen on protecting the sharks and their habitat. Fishing has been banned and this once dying reef has been brought back to life and is thriving with a variety of marine species.
Additionally, they conduct a lot of research here which is sponsored by the Shark Foundation, Save our Seas Foundation, and PADI Project Aware. The company also works with several leading shark experts and scientists from around the world. Those are some pretty big claims which alleviated some of my original stress of potentially being a bad tourist.
Due to the nature of all of the research required to help protect the shark populations, regular human interaction is necessary; for collecting samples, tagging, and for studying behaviour. While it may not be the ideal ‘natural’ shark dive, I left this Fiji shark dive feeling pretty good about the experience. I look at it as more of a teaching experience where the divers are forced to respect the sharks and, due to the fact that they were being fed and we were of zero interest, I think it highlighted the fact that these creatures are not the monsters that they are so often made out to be. I also loved the fact that the proceeds of my fee went right back to the conservation efforts for the sharks and their environment.
Is The Fiji Shark Dive Dangerous?
This is another tricky question with no clear-cut yes or no answer. After all, diving with sharks means that you are dealing with animals and animals are one of the most un-predictive things in the world. There’s also the oh-so-obvious point that sharks are predators and that bull sharks, in particular, have been recognized to be one of the most dangerous shark species. That being said, at no point during my Fiji shark did I ever feel unsafe. We had an amazing team who made sure that we were very aware of the rules and made sure that we stayed in line. While the sharks came very close (enough that I had to duck a couple of fins), I never once felt like I was in danger. They were way more interested the tuna heads than mine.
That being said, the guides didn’t try to sugar coat this at all. The Fiji shark dive does involve being in very close proximity to dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of sharks. This was made very clear to us before we got in the water, and we all had to sign waivers before we boarded the boat.
At the end of the day though, it’s important to remember that sharks are not the monsters that media makes them out to be. More often than not, they are more afraid of us than we are of them. Shark researcher George Burgess once claimed that falling coconuts kill 15x more people each year than sharks do. Ironically, right after our dive as we were getting lunch, a coconut fell from the tree in the seating area. Let me tell you, the thought of that coconut clonking me on the head was scarier than being in the water surrounded by those sharks.
Where is the Fiji Shark Dive?
The Fiji shark dive is on the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu, on the south coast in an area called Pacific Harbour. If you are planning to do a bit of diving around the area, then it’s worth actually staying in Pacific Harbour.
If you are just coming for the shark dive, you can do it as a day trip from Nadi (2 hours away) or Suva (1 hour away). However, it’s an early start so it still may be best to stay in Pacific Harbour for a night or two.
What is the Best Time of Year for the Fiji Shark Dive?
Bull sharks are in Fiji year round, but some months are better for seeing more than others. I went in mid-September and we have about 25 bull sharks with us at any given time. Which seemed like a ton, however, we were told that during July and August there were actually hundreds. The slowest time of year is between November and December which is mating season.
Final Tips for the Fiji Shark Dive
The Fiji shark dive with Beqa Dive Adventures was honestly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. So, if you are a shark enthusiast and a scuba diver, I highly recommend that you add this to your bucket list. With that being said, here are a few things to know before you plan on diving with sharks in Fiji.
- Divers should have their advanced certification as these are deep (30m) dives.
- Full-length wetsuits are mandatory. Most people use 3mm and find those fine. Though the water is warm, because you aren’t really moving during this dive you will get cold. Full gear (in good condition) can be rented from Beqa Dive Adventures if you don’t have your own. I wore a full-length 3mm, gloves, and a long-sleeve rashguard under my suit.
- Book in advance! People come around the world for this dive and while the groups are fairly large, 20 people, they book up quickly. The dives also don’t occur every day, so reach out in advance to plan and confirm your Fiji shark dive.
- At the time of my Fiji shark dive (September 2018), the cost was 325 Fijian for 2 dive (about $150 USD).
- Cameras are allowed! If you have an underwater camera or a GoPro, bring it!
A Note on Travel Insurance in Fiji
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.