“We are not afraid of predators, we’re transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter endlessly about them, because fascination creates preparedness, and preparedness, survival. In a deeply tribal way, we love our monsters…” E.O. Wilson, sociobiologist
I’ve recently returned from my latest shark diving trip in Florida; this was my third time diving with sharks in Florida and my seventh dive with sharks overall.
I had a lot of people ask questions on my social media about shark diving and why lately I seem to be returning to Florida a lot, and why the heck there are so many sharks there. Today I want to address those questions and talk all about diving with sharks in Florida!
Where can you dive with sharks in Florida?
Pretty much anywhere in South Florida. I personally have only ever dived in the Jupiter/West Palm Beach area of Florida – and it’s been nothing short of amazing! However, the Florida Keys are also well-known for being home to more shark species than any other place in the world and if you want to head to the west coast, Sarasota has a few shark species to encounter.
To get to the Jupiter/West Palm Beach area it’s easiest to fly into West Palm Beach airport, but you can also fly into Fort Lauderdale or Miami drive the difference.
What kind of sharks will you see?
Depending on the season, you can see any variety of sharks while diving in Florida. Here are some of the most common species that have been spotted in the state.
Florida has lemon resident sharks year round, so you are almost guaranteed to run into one of these guys during a dive here. The lemon shark is a yellow-gray shark most easily identified by its second dorsal fin. They can grow up to 11-feet and weigh over 200 pounds, but most don’t exceed 9 feet. They are highly attached to the wrecks and ledges in South Florida and are most commonly spotted in these areas. Since 2009, the lemon shark has been protected from harvest in Florida state waters.
Bull sharks are another very common species to find in Florida, though not as bold as the Lemon sharks, the Bull sharks will tend to remain a little lower in the water column and not come as close to divers. They can grow up to 11-feet and a pale to dark gray on top with a white underside. They are quick, agile, and opportunistic hunters, and unfortunately a popular target among sport fisherman.
The Silky shark is an abundant shark found around the world in tropical waters. These guys are very curious and tend to swim really close to your ankles when you’re diving with them, so it’s important to really stay alert when these guys are around. They have a slender, streamlined body and grow to a length of 8-feet.
Dusky sharks can grow up to 14-feet and weight 750 pounds. They’re one of the slowest-growing and latest-maturing sharks, not reaching adulthood until around 20 years of age. The Dusky shark has been a Species of Concern since 1997 and fishing is prohibited.
Black Tip Sharks
The Black Tip shark is most easily identified by its distinctive black tip on most of its fins except its anal fin. They are principally a pelagic species but often come inshore in large schools to feed. Frequently Black Tips are the most common large shark in clear-water cuts along the beaches in Florida.
Great Hammerhead Sharks
The Great Hammerhead is the largest in the Hammerhead family, reaching a maximum length of about 18-feet. It gets its name from its hammer-shaped head, which is nearly straight with a shallow notch in the center, distinguishing it from the Smooth Hammerhead and Scalloped Hammerhead. I’m still trying to find my first Hammerhead in Florida, so if you run into one on your dive consider yourself lucky and consider me very jealous!
Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks
The Scalloped Hammerhead is smaller than the Great Hammerhead and can be distinguished by the curved backside of its head, which differs from the straight edge found on the Great Hammerhead. The Scalloped Hammerhead ranges from 6-12 feet and are protected from harvest in Florida state waters.
If you visit Florida in the winter, you may be lucky enough to run into a Tiger shark. These big animals usually migrate in the winter and can be spotted in Florida October-April. Tiger sharks are one of the larger shark species; the largest individuals are believed to exceed 18-feet and 2000 pounds. While Tiger sharks are much larger, they move much slower than something like a Bull shark, which are a lot feistier than Tiger sharks. Tigers are also protected from harvest in Florida state waters.
Is it safe?
YES! Did you know more people die per year from falling coconuts than sharks? Sharks are beautiful and gentle creatures and swimming with them is completely safe. There will always be safety divers in the water with you keeping an eye out and they’re trained to keep all divers safe. If you’re still worried, check out my last post where I shared some of my best tips for staying safe in the water with sharks and having an unforgettable diving experience.
What do I need to bring?
You’re going to want to bring your basic snorkeling stuff: mask, snorkel, and fins. If you go with certain companies they may have some available for you to rent or borrow, but if you have your own I would definitely recommend bringing it. Fins are especially important to help you swim smoother so you’re not thrashing in the water.
I also highly recommend a wetsuit if you have one. If you don’t you can wear a rash guard or even a long shirt and leggings. While sharks are not naturally looking to eat you, covering up is just a good precaution to take in the event they do accidentally bump into you. Covering up will also help to protect you against jellyfish stings.
If you get sea sick I also recommend bringing some motion sickness medication. Everyone is always surprised to hear about my horrendous sea legs considering the amount of time I spend on boats, but I’ll be honest, I have gotten sea sick on probably 50% of my dives over the years. To make your experience more enjoyable try taking some medication beforehand and if all else fails and you still feel sea sick on the boat, just throw up before you get into the water. Trust me, you will feel a million times better after you throw up and will at least somewhat be able to enjoy your dive. Plus, your vomit will act as chum for the sharks!
Who should I go with?
I have two really great friends out in Florida who run shark diving trips that I highly recommend and they are Ryan Walton and Mike Dornellas. I’ve linked both their Instagram accounts because that’s the best way to get a hold of them and often the best way to find people to go diving with.
A lot of the time many of these “official shark diving companies” you can find on Google are merely out to make money. They will charge you way more than they should and won’t really educate you about sharks, they’ll just throw you in the water with them for an hour and collect their paycheck. These companies also often go in large groups of 10-12 people, making the experience a lot less enjoyable. Ryan and Mike usually take about 4-6 people making the experience a lot more personalized and intimate – it feels more like you’re going for a dive with some friends instead of being shuffled around like cattle.
Ryan and Mike are some of the most passionate shark advocates I have ever met. Ryan spends the entire first half of our boat ride talking about sharks and the dangers they currently face. It’s very clear that he’s a guy not in it for the money, but truly just looking to make more people aware about shark conservation.
Like I said, Instagram is the best way to find people to go shark diving with in Florida. Some other guys that I haven’t personally been out with yet, but have heard great things about are Chris Gilette and Deep Obsession Charters, which Ryan is actually a co-owner of.
Check out more of my posts about shark diving HERE.