Legends of Diving Articles
The Development of
the Shark Dive
Personal Account by Ben Rose
In my years as a scuba instructor and dive guide, the
establishment of the shark dive was one of those things that
simply evolved. UNEXSO had reached a point where there were
many repeat divers and Ollie Ferguson, vice-president,
thought we should try a proper fish feed. He wasn’t so sure
about the sharks and how guests would respond to them. So we
got fish heads and entrails from the local market, but we
weren’t consistent about it. However, fish are no dummies
when it comes to food and divers began to return with
scratches and bruises, because the fish went after the whole
bag. This technique literally created a snapper feeding
UNEXSO then decided that only the instructors would feed the
fish and the dive guests would observe. And wouldn’t you
know, the odd shark started to come to the table. Often, the
shark would swim right through the people, causing a bit of
surprise and even panic. Often you could literally see the
whites of the eyes of some of the astonished guests.
I will never forget the first time it happened – suddenly
the fish vanished and right there, six inches from my face,
was a reef shark. It looked HUGE! And I had a fish in my
hand. Not too good! Well, it seemed to me that I had only
three choices; swim like hell (not such a good idea as I
might become lunch), throw away the fish or give it to
shark. Taking a deep breath, I gave it to the shark and
quickly crossed my arms, hoping that I would not serve as
the main course on the menu. The shark took the fish, swam
out and came right back in for a second helping. Now an
accomplished feeder and shark waiter, I obliged and handed
the big fish what he wanted. He took it gracefully, flicked
his sleek body and was gone. Somehow, after that experience,
it just made sense to try and further develop a shark
feeding program that might, in the long term, help people
understand this incredible carnivore of the sea.
So, it all started. One day a butcher from New York, who was
a guest diver at UNEXSO, suggested we try a couple of chain
mail gloves. We thought that if we wore these and the sharks
nipped, they would give it a bite, and us a shake and then
they’d give up and move on. However, as our understanding of
these beautiful animals continued to develop, we discovered
that if the shark nipped and caught its teeth in the chain
male, we could be seriously hurt, because they would start
to roll their powerful bodies in order to disengage. We were
no match for them and there was no doubt that we were going
along for a rocky ride. We soon discovered that to free
ourselves we needed to shove the trapped arm all the way
into the shark’s mouth so that the shark choked. Then we
could pull out. Not an easy thing to do, considering the
instinctive response for humans is to pull back. To get
loose, you really had to fight panic. Then we got the shark
So, that is how it all started! We found that the big
females loved to be touched and handled. Soon they were
resting in our laps. They loved to be stroked and sometimes
I had three or four lying on the bottom, almost like they
were asleep, waiting to be handled. I was awestruck!
We fed reef sharks, nurse sharks and milk sharks. I have
seen hammerheads circling, but they didn’t come into feed.
One time, we had a huge Jew fish come in. He took my arm
right into his mouth, in order to get the fish. My arm felt
like it was being sucked down a never-ending drain but then
he spit it out again.
I became quite comfortable with sharks and soon, I was
removing fishhooks from their mouths. You had to be very
careful and hold the shark long enough to remove the hooks.
As I developed a relationship with these magnificent
creatures, I always had to remember that the water was their
environment and they were at the top of the food chain. They
demand the highest respect. A couple of times, when one
pulled me off my feet and dragged me for a distance, or when
their teeth got stuck in the chain male, I became scared to
say the least. These experiences were not so gentle a
reminder of who was really was the boss in the water.
The shark dive is the most exciting dive I have ever done.
There is extraordinary challenge in dealing with an animal
that is large and has the potential to hurt you, but I
didn’t find them that way. They are much more intelligent,
they learn, and they appear to have a form of communication
with each other. New sharks that came to the feed were often
excitable, but once they were fed, they were fine. Also,
whenever we went to an area where we had never fed before,
we would have other sharks come in and they seemed to know
just what to do.
The shark is a magnificent predator of the sea. Man has
invaded their environment and without reason or
consideration of consequences man has also worked to destroy
a species so very important to the survival of the living
oceans. My shark feeding experiences have left me profoundly
in awe of these beautiful animals and their place in the
world. We need to tread softly in our oceans and on our
earth or our children and grandchildren will never know true
beauty and they will lose the threads of the inherent
relationships that bind animals and humans together on this
magnificent and fragile planet.
UNEXSO Guide and Marine Expert
At an early age
Ben Rose knew he belonged in the ocean. He came to UNEXSO in
1965 already with amateur experience in diving. There he learned
to dive with sharks. He has expanded his knowledge of sharks to
expert level. He started a marine identification program,
identifying and categorizing species of fish in the Caribbean.
He is an avid writer, sharing his experiences through personal
accounts of diving history and diving with sharks.
(Read more accounts by Ben Rose)
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