Swimming with Sharks – Now Bali
The shark adventure organized by Bali Sharks is best taken before noon when the water in the area is at its clearest.
So at a few minutes after 9am I was all geared up at the Bali Shark’s office, located next to Agus Bar & Restaurant in Serangan. Under a splendid blue sky I took a short boat ride with two staff towards the aptly named, Shark Island, where adrenalin junkies like me can satisfy their need for heart pumping action and confront real live sharks.
Shark Island is a 100 square metre pontoon containing 2 luminous sea water pools,
in which you can observe schools of White and Black Tip Reef sharks patrolling their territory menacingly. The very sight caused me to have second thoughts about what I was about to undertake. Since “Jaws,” the general, if unfair, perception of sharks has been one casting them as vicious, blood-thirsty predators. Unfortunately this perception contributes to sharks being callously treated by fishermen almost every time they run into each other.
That was the scene when Bali Sharks was established in 2011. It began life as a nursery for poached sharks in the vicinity. Owner Paul Friese obtained young sharks from local fishermen who were to profit from their fins and flesh. While the attitude towards sharks in Bali hasn’t changed significantly, more fishermen these days are taking part in efforts to save them.
That’s how Bali Sharks got its latest addition last year. A group of fishermen from Denpasar called in when they netted a 1.6 meter White Tip Reef Shark –who turned out to be pregnant– in Singaraja. The Ibu Hiu (Mama Shark), as they call her, was immediately transported to Bali Sharks facility.
My building apprehension eased up when I got to feed the young sharks before taking the plunge. Much like elementary school kids they gather around for brunch in a lively but benign demeanor. Then one of the staff went into the water before me to guide the whole process. With a little hesitation I followed him into the pool that housed 15 White and Black Tip sharks, and a stealthy Carpet shark (Wobbegong) lying idly somewhere below. I froze for a few seconds. Sharks cruise briskly in the vicinity. But to my relief none of them seem to be affected by my presence. Instead they hover close by, not showing any sign of agitation when I hesitantly rub their soft slippery backs. Besides the excitement; being so close to these often misunderstood creatures has really given me a fresh perspective about them and their fate.
In fact education regarding nature conservation efforts is a big part of the Bali Sharks’ Swimming with Sharks adventure. The 2-hour tour also includes a trip to the neighboring Turtle Conservation & Education Center (TCEC), where you can see and play with the threatened local turtle species.
Like Bali Sharks for the sharks, TCEC was established to rescue and provide care for marine turtles from Serangan area and other nesting spots on Bali. It’s a heartening experience to see them living safely in a sanctuary before eventually being released to their habitat. Before that happy moment I continue to take their pictures and bid them God Speed.
Visit Bali Sharks to take the tour and get a USD10 discount by telling them that you read about the program in NOW! Bali.
Text and Photos by Eric Tiwa