What’s it like diving with sharks? Fulidhoo Island, Maldives

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Grey reef shark. Courtesy: Natasha Leisi

In my last post, I introduced Fulidhoo Island in the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives. One of my readers, Len (lenjourneys.com), asked me what it feels like to be in the water with sharks. I love this simple, direct question. Thinking about it though, the answer is rather complex. In this post, I’ll share my feelings about diving with sharks (coming from someone who doesn’t do this often) and introduce you to the underwater world around Fulidhoo Island.  

The Maldives has over 1000 coral islands, grouped into 26 atolls and spread over an enormous 90,000 . Different atolls hold different marine attractions; some known for manta rays, others for whale sharks and still others, like Fulidhoo in the Vaavu Atoll for  sharks. While Fulidhoo’s water is home to a diverse host of creatures, many divers go there specifically to see the big, sharp-toothed guys.

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Spacious and comfortable Fulidhoo Dive boat

We’re at a dive site called Boamas Kandu (kandu in the local language means channel and it’s in these passageways that sharks are best viewed). The excellent visibility and bright conditions belie the fact that we’ve descended down to 30 m. I look over at Lubab our Fulidhoo Dive guide and catch his shark signal—one hand sticking straight up by his forehead. My heart skips a beat as I see the grey reef sharks in the distance. He signals again indicating we should form a compact group and rest at the edge of the channel. I appreciate his precise and calm instruction. 

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Grey reef shark. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

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Closeup view of grey reef shark at Boamas Kandu. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

I’ve seen sharks on past dive trips and it always comes with a mix of excitement and apprehension. I remind myself to breath. At least a dozen sharks cruise along the channel— all gleaming silver skin, torpedo-like-bodies, intense eyes. They are magnificent and show no interest in us.

It’s a weird phenomenon. When I’m at the surface, thinking about being down with the sharks, my mind can take me to scary places. Statistically, far more people die and get injured taking selfies or falling out of bed than diving with sharks, but my overactive imagination thinks…what if this is the day one of them goes postal—maybe he’s a bad egg, had a rotten life…these thoughts are silly and fleeting, but they’re there.

Then, when I’m down in the water, safely lodged among our little group (yes, I do tend to pick a spot in the middle) a crazy thing happens. I become beautifully calm and feel an overwhelming awe and gratitude for being able to observe these incredible animals. We squeeze out as much bottom time as safety allows, but all too soon we must leave this epic nature show.

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Excited about heading out to the Alimatha night dive

A signature dive in the area is the Alimatha Jetty night dive, where massive schools of nurse sharks congregate. Equipped with torches, we descend to the bottom at about 15 m where we attach ourselves to rocks with grappling hooks so we don’t need to fight the moderate current. Before I can even complete this little task, we are surrounded by nurse sharks—dozens and dozens of them, coming in from the front, the back, the sides. They are so close I can feel the powerful thrusts of their long tail fins. Stingrays dart in and out of the scene and we are sitting right in the middle of the frenzy.

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Surrounded by nurse sharks and rays at Alimatha. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

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Nurse Sharks at Alimatha. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

At first, I feel like a target character in an underwater video game set to hyperspeed. Once I settle down, no longer turning constantly to see what’s coming at me from behind, I’m able to let the action unfold. I train my eyes and thoughts on a smaller field of vision so I’m not completely overwhelmed by the drama. This opportunity won’t last long. I take in their silky skin, taut bodies, tiny eyes and suction mouths (that are deceptively strong). Gorgeous!  

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Enjoying a close-up view of resting nurse shark at Alimatha. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

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Nurse sharks suction their prey with powerful jaws. Courtesy: Natasha Leisi

On the boat ride back, I ask: “So, has there ever been an unpleasant shark/human incident at this site?” The worst anyone can recall was when an over-zealous photographer wielded his stick-mounted camera too close and the shark took a chomp out of it. 

In case you get the impression that  Fulidhoo diving is just about sharks, let me assure you it’s not. Rays are among my favourite marine animals and we see lots, including the spectacular eagle rays. There are loads of moray eels and I’m thrilled to add a new one to my list—the exquisite honeycomb moray. From the prehistoric looking humphead wrasse (Napolean wrasse) to the entertaining clownfish (Nemo), there’s a wide assortment of tropical reef dwellers.

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Graceful eagle ray. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

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So happy to see this honeycomb moray. Courtesy: Natascha Leisi

The shallow reefs themselves are the only disappointment. The coral reefs in the Maldives, like most other tropical regions, have been significantly affected by coral bleaching related primarily to increased ocean temperatures. It’s very sad to see the dead swaths of grey and white that in the past were vibrant, multi-coloured organisms. It’s a complicated subject that requires its own post, but it would be remiss of me not to share my observations.

Seeing the big guys wasn’t the main reason we selected Fulidhoo, it just turned out to be a bonus. Although Mike and I have been diving for many years, we are take-it-easy, tropical-vacation-only divers. My main concern was finding a reputable dive operation on an affordable local island. We chose perfectly with Fulidhoo Dive for our 6-day dive package. The team is professional and friendly, and exercise the utmost safety and respect when entering the habitat of marine creatures small and large.

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Awesome guides at Fulidhoo Dive

So, what’s it like diving with sharks? It’s scary, thrilling, peaceful, inspiring all rolled together. Will I do it again if I get the opportunity? Absolutely!

Special thanks to Natascha Leisi, a fellow diver with Fulidhoo Dive, for her beautiful photos. You can see more of Natascha’s underwater images at https://www.instagram.com/taschaleisi/

For information about Fulidhoo Island and non-diving activities, check out my post: Affordable Maldives: Discovering Fulidhoo Island.

Categories: Maldives, Scuba Diving/Snorkelling | Tags: , , , , | 48 Comments

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48 thoughts on “What’s it like diving with sharks? Fulidhoo Island, Maldives

  1. Diving with sharks seams as a very interesting adventure, hope I try this one day.. Also pictures are astonishing. Great story !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The pictures are amazing. Sharks are beautiful! I definitely want to do this now too! Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. virginiaboone5425

    Awesome post! I love sharks, they are truly amazing creatures. Just posted a blog about my scary experience with a ten-foot Hammerhead shark in the Florida Keys!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Caroline this was quite the dramatic read! Ben is saying “Not for me!!” He scoffs at your description of the sharks being deceptively strong. Nothing deceptive there. Haha, massive beasts and the thought of being tethered, can’t escape, deep way under, with a feeding frenzy of sharks. He could barely manage to get through the story. I am not sure how I would feel about it, I guess tempted to see the beauty but scared of such volume perhaps. Sting rays , quite magnificent creatures can have quite the sting.

    The photos are quite magnificent! Well done you guys.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha…I’ve heard all this before from friends and family who are in the same camp as Ben on diving with sharks. It’s certainly not for everyone. I surprise myself when I’m in the ocean because I’m usually quite a fraidy-cat when it comes to animal encounters (I recoil in terror if a harmless garter snake crosses my path). Hard to explain; nevertheless, sharing the water with sharks and rays was an incredible experience.

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  5. I can only imagine what a memorable experience this must have been. I think I would have done it too, but like you, I would have been quite nervous (and definitely found a spot in the middle of the group). The fact that you became so comfortable around them must have felt magical.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you understand my rationale for finding a spot in the middle. Mike thinks I’m crazy. It probably doesn’t make any difference but it calmed me down. Yes, the transition from nervousness to calm is totally amazing. I’m sure that if I dive with sharks again I will feel the same apprehensions at the start.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I shuddered, looking at the eyes of the sharks. You must have been up and close. I would have panicked underwater, if I could have primed myself to go meet them in the first place. You are brave. But in the same breath, I can quite believe how magical it must have turned out to be. I have to show this post to Adi. He has Maldives on his list and mentions it every now and then. Btw in the first photo of the stingray, the fellow looks like a badass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, I was very close! It actually amazes me (and scares me a bit) when I look at the photos now. I’m not sure I’m that brave…I stuck pretty close to Mike and other divers, making sure I was in the middle of the group. I love rays. They can look very badass but they’re not all aggressive and incredibly graceful.

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  7. Aloha & Arrivederci

    Agreed! The guys and Adele at Fulidhoo dive are the absolute BEST! We loved diving with them (and the sharks) so much a few months ago! Your post made me miss them!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you had a great experience too. We were so thrilled to find a beautiful, affordable local island with such an amazing dive operation. Thanks for your comments.

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  8. I think Jaws is partially responsible for most people’s perception of sharks. One ex-coworker even showed no sympathy when I told her that shark population worldwide is decreasing rapidly. “But they’re cruel!” she said. I had to educate her for a few minutes before she finally understood shark’s importance in the ecosystem. Anyway, that looks like a spectacular dive, Caroline! The only shark I’ve ever come across was a juvenile blacktip shark that I saw in the Komodo National Park. It darted right in front of my eyes while I was marveling at the beautiful colors of the coral reefs and the fish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you were able to educate your coworker about sharks. Unfortunately I think this mistaken perception of sharks and lack of knowledge about their plight is all too common. I am envious that you’ve been in the waters of Komodo National Park (I’ve only been on land).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. How fabulous!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Affordable Maldives? Discovering Fulidhoo Island | Writes of Passage

  11. The picture of the dive boats on Maldavian blue waters is so alluring. And the clarity of the water at 30 m (and even 15 m at night) is just mind-boggling. Your vivid descriptions and Natascha Leisi’s underwater photos made me gasp and feel like I was swimming with the sharks right alongside you. I generally am comfortable swimming with reef sharks but I did have one experience of feeling more like prey when I swam near a cheeky grey in Chagos. He seemed to be looking directly at me rather than out of the corner of his eyes. Everywhere he went, I made sure to go in the opposite direction. Most days I am in the water, I totally get your sense of calm and awe ..although I’ve only managed to snorkel. Working through my ‘diving fear’ is next on the agenda. Wish I had worked through it in the Maldives as you know most of the shallow reefs are graveyards until one gets further south. The bleaching is heartbreaking.

    PS – The Napoleon wrasse are my favorites …can’t wait to see them again when we reach Bonaire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The clarity of the water was among the best we’ve experienced. This makes diving/snorkelling even better. Your encounter with the cheeky shark does sound a little off-putting. I’ve not had this experience with sharks, but have got a little spooked when barracudas do this while I’m snorkelling (seems like common behaviour for them). I’m also a big fan of Napoleans; they are such amazing and odd looking creatures, and their size is astounding. Once you get a few good dives under your belt, you’ll probably be fine. I’m actually surprised I like it as much as I do. I find it very calming, which is strange as I’m not really a person who loves water (not the greatest swimmer) and as I’ve told you, get scared out of my mind on a boat when the wind blows up. I’m in awe of what you do Lisa!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. A very insightful post about diving with sharks 🙂 Love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Mike Hohmann

    Wonderful post, Caroline. Challenging, yet peaceful sport/leisure activity. I have never gone diving; we did some snorkeling in the Caribbean quite a few years ago, but that’s as close as I’ve been. Some of your concerns mimic some of mine when hiking in grizzly country… ‘did that mama bear wake up on the wrong side of her bed, or will I have time to deploy bear spray?’ And the photos were very good! The sharks are so often portrayed in a negative manner -on TV and in the movies… too bad! Thanks for the entertaining post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mike. I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets these thoughts in my head! While I’ve used some light-hearted humour I did want to portray the whole shark experience in a positive way. It’s normal (and probably a good thing) to feel some apprehension, but as you say, sharks do often get a bad rap that’s blown way out of proportion.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. On this busy day, I almost skipped the post since diving is not my thing. But I do find sharks fascinating and eerily beautiful with their creepy skin and scary eyes and mouths, and I’m so glad I read your thoughts on your dive and saw Natascha’s photos. Would it have been possible to see these while snorkeling?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you managed to stop in on your busy day Lexie. Great question and I should have addressed it in my post. Yes, absolutely you can see sharks at snorkelling sites within a short boat ride from Fulidhoo. We did this one morning and saw a large number of nurse sharks. They were close enough to get really good views. It was a little crowded with other boats when we first got there but then cleared out, making it a more pleasant experience. Even while strolling on the reef side of Fulidhoo Island we saw juvenile reef sharks hanging out in the shallows…very cool.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Brian Foster

    Sure wouldn’t want a ‘bad egg’ shark. Exciting to say the least but I get nervous just reading your post. I’d be a wreck in among them. Loved the story though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Brian. I need to keep my imagination in check! Been thinking about you, and Mike has been filling me in. Hope you’re taking care of yourself. All the best!

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  16. Great pictures Caroline, I love your description of the ‘silky skin, taut bodies..’ perfect description. My other comment is, how frequently do people die falling out of bed? Haha, love the contrast of the two ideas of danger.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Amazing how you got to dive with the sharks and other marine life Caroline. What an experience and from start to finish, it sounded like you lived in the moment and savoured every second. The nurse sharks sounded quite friendly and just minded their own business. They do look quite feral with their jaws bared though 😀 Lol at the story of that diver on another trip sticking out a camera on a selfie stick and the shark chomped. Best not to put out distractions out there while diving 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you mentioned living in the moment Mabel, because that’s exactly what it feels like when you’re down there. Your comment about nurse sharks being friendly is a commonly held perception. While they are indeed non-aggressive and can look almost docile at rest on the bottom, it is exactly this perception that can get divers/snorkelers in trouble…they get a little too close with their body or camera, perhaps even try to touch it (never a good idea) and, not surprisingly, the shark feels threatened. Best just to calmly and respectfully observe. Thanks for raising these important points.

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      • The nurse sharks sound exactly like people. Get too close and touch them, they might become aggressive. So similar to how many of us don’t welcome being touched by a stranger. Always good to be respectful everywhere. Hope you get to dive again somewhere at some point again 🙂

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  18. Caroline, thank you for another phenomenal article. Diving with sharks is something I won’t be doing. Unfortunately I can tell a few horror stories of shark attacks in the Mozambican coastline. I am glad that all went well with you and that you enjoyed the diving. TT

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Tony! I respect that diving with sharks is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s true that shark attacks, while rare, do occur. I think it’s important for anyone diving in shark territory to be competent, do their homework about local conditions and dive with a group who know what they’re doing and are respectful of the marine environment. Actually this holds true for diving in general.

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  19. This sounds so exciting. I was with you all the way, and I get the range of emotions. It’s also something I’ll never experience not being a diver, so I’m glad to vicariously share your experience. I love snorkelling and have snorkelled many reefs including the Galapagos and the GBR so it connects me a bit with how it felt for you. Oh and Natascha’s photos are the perfect compliment to your story.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad I could take you on the ride Alison. Snorkelling is a wonderful thing and you can often see just as much as diving. Snorkelling in the Galapagos with penguins, sea lions and other creatures remains one of my best travel experiences.I would love to get to the GBR one day. I’m glad we were diving with Natascha, a very competent diver and photographer.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. “scary, thrilling, peaceful, inspiring all rolled together” – I have never dove with sharks, but this sort of sums up all my encounters with predators on land and kayaks like bears, lions, and whales. It is awesome to be out in nature like this. Thanks for taking us underwater with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true Jeff that this experience can be related to other wildlife/predator encounters. I’ve definitely felt a similiar sense of fear, thrill, awe seeing bears while hiking and whales while kayaking. Now a mountain lion…hmm, I think it would be mostly terror for me (but they are absolutely the most beautiful animals and I’m fascinated by them). Have you seen one in the wild?

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      • I’ve never seen a mountain lion but that would be scary since they are so stealthy and have a propensity to kill people. I’ve seen wolves from the safety of the car but up close they are terrifying.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. Wonderful, dear. You’ re more than brave. I really can’t find the proper word. I think the proper word is “Crazy”, which is wonderful and dangerous at the same time. Thanks, though, for sharing your experience and your amazing pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks; glad you enjoyed the post! I don’t think I’m particularly brave but I did enjoy this crazy, wonderful experience. I was in good hands with Fulidhoo Dive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’ re very welcome, dear. I know i will never have an experience like this since i’m not brave at all, and i admire the people who have this kind of craziness. I wish i could but i can’t, which means i’m a bit jealous, jealous of you. Thank you, dear.

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