Dive 3 of 12…Complete !!!
My Lil’ Road Dog and I have completed the third of twelve aquarium dives in our 12/12 Aquarium Dive Challenge. This one took place at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington.
We ended up flying into the Sea/Tac Airport on SouthWest Airlines and driving a rental car from National into the Tacoma area. This time was a little different for us. Instead of us having to dive on our arrival day, we were able to get a good night’s rest at a Home2Suites, and dive the following day. This was so much better. We didn’t feel as tired. Also, there was no way for us to fly from Texas and arrive in Tacoma in time to do the dive.
Imagine plunging yourself into the warm waters of the South Pacific Aquarium’s Outer Reef with 16 sharks: 10 Nurse Sharks, 3 Sandbar Sharks, 2 Blacktip Reef Sharks, 1 Sandtiger Shark, and 1 Japanese Wobbegong Shark…That’s the experience of the Eye to Eye Shark Dive – Unforgettable! The two of us were able to experience the thrill of getting up close to all of these massive sharks in the Outer Reef habitat, while learning about their biology, and how we can protect them in the wild.
Being given the opportunity to be eye to eye with these beautiful predators – and immersing ourselves in their world, was totally amazing. Sharks may look ferocious – but you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a shark.
The dive was actually a cage dive. You stay in the cage and observe the sharks from inside the entire time. The water is a comfy 74 degrees. You are given a dry-suit to wear that completely seals out water, so you can wear street clothes underneath. This is something that neither of us have ever done. We always wear wet suits. So, getting to try a dry suit was phenomenal.
The dive experts teach you the basics of breathing surface-supplied air, then guide you into a sturdy underwater cage in their 225,000-gallon warm salt-water shark exhibit. No experience is necessary! But, you must be at least 8 years old, in good health, and weigh no more than 275 pounds. The entire experience lasts about 60 minutes, with a maximum of four participants per dive. Approximately 20 minutes of that time is spent in the underwater cage.
You make your reservations online and then your ticket for entrance to the Zoo and the Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive is emailed to you. With that ticket, you can bypass the line at the Zoo’s main gate and scan your barcode through the turnstiles for entry. You meet outside the entrance of the Stingray Cove exhibit 15 minutes before your scheduled dive time. There’s an Eye-to-Eye banner at the meeting spot where you’ll be greeted by a member of the dive staff.
My Lil’ Road Dog and I were met by Michelle, the lead dive lecturer, who checked us in. We turned in all of our signed waivers to her and then were escorted to a classroom. There, she gave us a dive briefing and educated us about the sharks we would see while in the cage. Michelle was extremely knowledgeable and informative. Once she was done, we met our Safety Divers Alex and Lauren. Alex was the one who would accompany us in the cage, while Lauren stayed and monitored things topside.
Then it was time to don the Dry Suits and enter the Shark Cage. Alex and Lauren both helped us with our dry suits. The dry suits are designed to keep your clothes dry, but your head, hands and feet will get wet. They provide towels to dry off after the dive. It’s highly unlikely, but if your clothes do get damp, they can dry them for you. They also can loan you fleece pants and shirts to wear while your clothes dry.
The dry suit seals around my neck, wrists, and ankles, felt pretty snug, but not uncomfortably so. I was actually pleasantly pleased at how lovely the cushion of air that surrounded my body in the dry suit felt. That cloud like feeling quickly dissipated as I descended into the cage. Why?…because the air in a diver’s drysuit is compressible. This meant that as I descended into the cage, the air in the suit compressed and acted like human shrink-wrap. Yet, it never felt uncomfortable.
We both wore masks and breathed surface-supplied air through special mouthpiece. The sturdy cage measured 12 ft long, 4 ft wide and 9 ft deep and is suspended in the South Pacific Aquarium. We remained in the cage during the entire experience. We both stood and/or kneeled (your choice) underwater in the cage with a trained diver (Alex) as a guide.
The 74 degree water felt cool at first, but after the first few minutes, we acclimated. Then, the shark show began. We were able to peer through the bars of the cage and view these magnificent, beautiful, creatures swimming around. Seeing them up close and personal gave us both the opportunity to learn more, and truly understand their majesty.
Before we knew it, our 20 minutes was up. The time had come for us to climb out of the shark cage and rejoin all the land lubbers. We removed our dry suits and only the sleeves of our shirts got a little wet. They handed us towels to dry off our heads, hands, and feet, and then we were able to put our shoes and socks back on.
It was a pretty cool animal encounter, especially for my Lil’ Road Dog. The cage dive for me was “Ok”. I was actually more excited about using a dry suit for the first time. Yet, being able to see him experience a new type of dive made it all worth it.
Our first Shark Cage Dive was officially over. We collected the rest of our things, purchased the video footage they had shot of our experience, and headed off into the vast pacific northwest, in seek of our next LunaSea Adventure.