As I mentioned previously, shark dives are controversial but ultimately, I personally think they do more good than harm. During my recent trip to Fiji, we did shark dives with 3 dive centres, and each experience was very different.

Aqua-trek

We saw 5 species with Aqua-trek, mostly lemon sharks and tawny nurse sharks.

Indo-Pacific Lemon Shark (aka Sicklefin Lemon Shark)

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Distinguishing features:

  • 2 dorsal fins of nearly equal size
  • large anal fin with a notch at the back
  • appear to be permanently smiling (think Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo), because they can’t draw their lower lip up over their teeth

They grow up to 3.8m (12 ft) long, but typically don’t exceed 3.1m (10 ft).

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

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Tawny Nurse Shark

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Distinguishing features:

  • 2 dorsal fins relatively close together
  • elongated upper caudal fin and small lower caudal fin
  • broad and flat head
  • a pair of barbels in front of the nostrils (like goatfish).

They don’t look like the stereotypical “scary” shark (think Jaws) at all! (For that matter, neither does the angelshark, which is often mistaken for a ray.) Tawny nurse sharks grow up to 3.2m (10 ft).

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

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Silvertip Shark

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As the name suggests, they have a distinctive white tip on all fins. Whitetip reef sharks only have white tips on their dorsal and caudal fins, and are much smaller.

Silvertips are usually between 2 – 2.5m (6.6 – 8.2ft).

I like the hand signal for this shark: you rub your fingers together, like signaling “money”.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

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Bull Shark

We saw a lot more with Beqa Adventure Divers, but we saw 2 here. More about them below!

In this picture are a tawny nurse, a lemon and a bull. Can you identify each of them?

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There’s always a ton of smaller fish hanging around, hoping to get some scraps. It’s interesting how quickly they all dart out of the way when a bigger shark appears, though.

Price: USD160 for 2 dives.

Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD)

The shark dive here is organised slightly differently.

First, you descend to about 30m where they feed the bull sharks, including by hand!

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You may have heard of them before, as they have a reputation for being aggressive and unpredictable. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded (and completely ignored) by 15 of these magnificent creatures! I heard that as many as 40 bull sharks come during peak season.

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Distinguishing features:

  • Quite a stocky build (see the photo above with the tawny nurse and lemon in the same frame)
  • Second dorsal fin is significantly smaller than the first

They grow up to 3.5m (11ft) but average about 2.4m (7.9ft) for females; the males are slightly smaller.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

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This is the highlight of the dive. Where else would you be able to see so many bull sharks at once?

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After that, you ascend to 10m where they feed grey reef sharks and whitetip reef sharks (to avoid the bull sharks shutting out the smaller sharks, as bull sharks typically stay deeper).

Grey Reef Shark

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Distinguishing features: black-tipped tail fin. The other fins are also black-tipped except for the first dorsal fin.

They are typically less than 1.9m (6.2ft) long – so, in terms of size, smaller than silvertips but larger than whitetips / blacktips.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

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Whitetip Reef Shark

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These small sharks (usually not exceeding 1.6m) swarmed around the feeders like excited puppies! It was very endearing.

Their distinguishing feature is the white-tipped dorsal fin.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

This whitetip is totally side-eyeing us, isn’t it?

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Finally, at the safety stop (about 4m) they feed whitetips and blacktips.

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Below: a whitetip in the foreground; a blacktip at the back.

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Blacktip Reef Shark

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Easily distinguished by the prominent black tips on their fins (with a rim of white below the black tip), they are about the same size as whitetips.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

Price: FJD325 (about USD160) for 2 dives.

While all the dive centres we visited seem to be quite keen on conservation, I want to make special mention of BAD’s efforts in this regard.

We visited during the Great Fiji Shark Count, a month where a country-wide effort is made to report the number of sharks seen on dives. It’s supposed to include all divers, but BAD was the only dive centre which actually asked us afterwards how many sharks we’d seen.

Beqa Lagoon Resort

For this, we took a boat over to Beqa Island at about 6.30am. We were hoping to see the elusive Tiger Shark (the biggest shark in these parts), but it was not to be. On the bright side, we were treated to this sunrise:

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There were tons of fish here, which made it hard to see the sharks. It didn’t help that visibility wasn’t great. There’s actually a second diver in the picture below, but you can barely see him:

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However, we did see a tawny nurse, a grey reef, a few blacktips and a lemon. Here’s the lemon:

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Price: FJD440 (USD210) for 2 dives (including boat transfers). It’s naturally cheaper if you’re staying at the resort!

Overall, this dive was the most disappointing as it was the most expensive and yet we didn’t manage to see a tiger shark. Some of Ian’s friends from Projects Abroad did actually see a tiger at this site, though. As always, no wildlife sighting is guaranteed, so I don’t blame the dive centre at all. We’d definitely be singing a different tune if a tiger had graced us with its presence!

It didn’t help that the sea was somewhat choppy so I was feeling seasick during the surface interval. I had bought motion sickness pills but was unable to use them for diving as they were the type that causes drowsiness. Don’t make this mistake!

Hopefully you’ve glimpsed the majesty of these creatures. Check out my previous post on how we can all play a role in saving our sharks (and why it’s important) – even if you’re not a diver!

Do you have a favourite shark or fish?

This post is part of The Weekly Postcard hosted by As We Saw It, Travel Notes & Beyond, A Hole in My Shoe, Selim Family Raasta and Eff It, I’m on Holiday – check out what’s going on elsewhere!

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