A few months ago I wrote an article about why I chose not to ride an elephant while I was in Bali and talked about the harmful and unethical practices of animal encounter tours. You can check out that article HERE.
Since then I have been searching for reputable companies who exercise safe practices in offering animal encounters to tourists. I understand the fascination with getting up close and personal with wild animals and I understand why people are so eager to swim with dolphins or pet tigers. I share the same fascination, I’m just not willing to compromise the safety and well-being of these animals in order to get close to them and I don’t believe anyone else should either.
While searching for ethical animal encounter tours I stumbled across One Ocean Diving. Since I found their Instagram account about 6 months ago I’ve been dying to participate in their cage free shark diving tours and on my recent trip to Oahu I was able to do just that.
Our Oceans Are At Risk
While I am a lover of all animals, I have a deep, deep love of the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it. Ocean conservation and preservation of marine life is a cause that is very dear to my heart, and it’s everything that One Ocean Diving stands for.
Our oceans and marine life are in more danger than ever. With overfishing, pollution, and the slaughter of marine animals threatening our oceans ecosystems, not only are sharks in danger, but we are too. As I said in my Shark Week Recap post, if the oceans die, we die. Yet every day we are endangering one of the vital characters keeping the oceans healthy: sharks. Sharks are critical to marine ecosystems; without them the food chain collapses, and when the oceanic food chain collapses, it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the food chains collapse.
Humans are responsible for the slaughter of 273 million sharks annually. That means we are killing over 11 thousand sharks per hour.
One of the most cruel, yet least talked about issues facing sharks is the slaughter of sharks for their fins; a practice also known as finning. This tortuous practice has only been increasing due to the increased demand for shark fins for products such as shark fin soup.
Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and discard of the remaining carcass into the ocean. The shark is almost always alive when it’s tossed back into the water, and without its fin it can’t swim. This results in the shark sinking to the bottom of the ocean where it will eventually suffocate to death or be eaten by other marine animals.
It’s commonly asked why fishermen don’t just take the entire shark rather than throw it back into the ocean to die. The answer is simple: money. Shark meat is considered extremely low value and not worth the cost of transporting heavy shark bodies to the market. However, one pound of dried shark fin can retail for over $300.
Shark finning operations are typically carried out with long lines; the most significant cause of losses in shark populations worldwide. It is estimated that within a decade, most shark species will become extinct because of long lining. It is also very rare to see sharks in our oceans these days that don’t have scars from long lines they’ve escaped from.
Long lining is the main cause of unsustainable fishing practices that are leading to overfishing. Because long lines catch such massive quantities of sharks and other fish at a time, marine life is being harvested faster than their reproductive abilities can replenish populations. This is leading to the elimination of species thus threatening the stability of marine ecosystems.
How One Ocean Diving is Making a Difference
One Ocean Diving is an Oahu based company founded by Ocean Ramsey; a marine biologist, active conservationist, and advocate for sharks. She founded One Ocean Diving’s pelagic animal research and interaction program, which Logan and I participated in.
The pelagic shark program is an educational program that preaches conservation and speaking up for sharks and other marine life. It is a cage-free shark encounter, in which guests are able to freely snorkel in the ocean with sharks. The goal of the program is to break the negative stigmas associated with sharks and educate people on how to peacefully co-exist with these creatures. This isn’t a tourist trap company that is focussed solely on making a quick buck off their guests. The sole focus of One Ocean Diving is education, research, and conservation. They aim to help people lose the “Jaws” mentality of sharks and learn to love them.
On a tour with One Ocean Diving there are up to six guests on the boat. The small tour sizes allow for maximum time in the water with the sharks and enough opportunity to ask the guides on board any questions. Usually you will get to get in the water with the sharks twice, for about twenty minutes each time.
The guides on board the Pono Kai vessel are very knowledgeable and eager to answer any questions you have before or after you get into the water. It’s quite obvious that everyone on the One Ocean Diving team is passionate about their work and enthusiastic about sharing it with their guests.
On the boat ride out to the dive site the guides will brief you on the different types of sharks and marine animals you’ll be seeing and how to tell the difference between the species on your own. They also have photos of specific sharks they’re studying in that area, so you will be able to clearly identify when you’re swimming with “Miss. Aloha”, which I thought was pretty awesome. It made me feel just like a marine biologist!
They will brief you on different behaviours to look for in the animals and how to react accordingly, as well as how your changes in behaviour will affect the animals. They go over every aspect of how to act safely in water and make sure everyone is 100% confident before they get in. I felt completely calm and safe the entire time and wasn’t worried once, despite being surrounded by a dozen sharks!
There is a line along the side of the boat that you’re encouraged to hold onto in case of a current; just to be sure you don’t stray too far away from the boat. However, provided the conditions are okay, the instructor in the water will allow you to dive down below the surface to get even closer to these incredible creatures!
On our shark encounter tour we spotted 11 Galapagos sharks and 1 shark we couldn’t identify at first, but later discovered was a deep water black tip shark.
On the boat ride back to the harbour after everyone has had their turn in the water, the guides aboard will recap how many sharks you saw, what species were present, and discuss any behaviours you may have noticed, as well as answer any more questions. Education is the real objective on this tour; learning the truth about sharks and breaking the negative stigmas the media has given them.
One Ocean Diving is a company passionate about saving sharks and saving the oceans. They are constantly speaking up for the animals and advocating safe and sustainable marine practices. I cannot say enough good things about this company and my experience with them. I’m counting down the days until I’m back in Oahu and can get back in the water with them!
I highly recommend anyone who is interested in sharks and conservation to check them out for an awesome up-close encounter. Even those who maybe are afraid of sharks, or have that “Jaws” mentality should hop on board with One Ocean Diving to change that mentality and see what exquisite creatures sharks really are.
Check out some video clips from our experience with One Ocean Diving below!
To learn more about One Ocean Diving and their Pelagic Shark Program check out their website HERE
Watch Ocean Ramsey’s Shark TED Talk HERE