By Laura Ma
(CNN) — Sharks have been making headlines lately.
There’s the viral photo of a man who climbed inside the shark he killed; there have been stories on attacks on swimmers; and, of course, much has been said about our favorite D-List movie we haven’t seen yet.
But in spite of the extreme news and gory pop culture references, swimming with sharks continues to be a large and growing activity.
The global shark tourism industry makes an estimated $500 million a year, says Patric Douglas, founder of Shark Divers and a shark dive specialist based in California.
Many tout swimming with sharks as one of the greatest diving experiences to be had.
Depending on the diver’s comfort level, options range from observing sharks from underwater cages to participating in feedings.
Here’s where to do it.
Bimini Bull Run
There are around 40 species of sharks in the protected Bahamas waters.
It’s one of the few places where shark sightings are a daily occurrence, due to the marine park’s shark-friendly habitat.
Targeted at non-certified divers, Bimini Bull Run shark dives start in a floating cage attached to the end of the dock at the Bimini marina.
The area, which has been home to bull sharks for 60 years, is strictly closed to swimmers. The only shark encounters are from inside the cage.
Bimini Bull Run, Bimini Big Game Club Dock, Bimini, Bahamas; +242 347 3391; +1 800 867 4764; packages from $120 per person
The Underwater Explorers Society leads shark tours 12 meters underwater.
With bait that can attract up to 20 reef sharks at once, the program’s staff feed sharks while visitors watch.
Divers are encouraged to touch the animals once the shark handler has put them into a state of tonic immobility — a motionless state that occurs while the animal is inverted.
UNEXSO also offers a shark feeder course for those who want feed the beast.
UNEXSO, Royal Palm Way, Freeport, Bahamas; +242 373 8956/+1 800 992 3483; dives from $109 per person
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Aqua Trek Beqa Dive Center
Local Fijian villages that traditionally relied on fishing for their livelihood placed a ban on fishing in the name of conservation.
That means many of these areas are beautifully unspoiled.
Fittingly, marine park fees now to go the villagers.
Sharks are attracted to the shallow lagoons and steep drop-offs in the area.
Species include bull, nurse and reef sharks, as well as lemon and tiger sharks.
On Aqua Trek Beqa dives, guests stay on a perimeter around the reef where the dive master starts the feed, 15 meters underwater.
“Divers will see at least seven shark species each time,” says Mary-Ann Hines, a representative of the program.
Bull shark and tiger shark encounters are the most common.
Aqua Trek Beqa Dive Center, Pacific Harbor, Fiji Islands; +679 345 0324; two-tank Ultimate Shark Encounter dive from $160 per person
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Cocos Island, Costa Rica
In 1994, Jacques Cousteau described the volcanic Cocos Island Marine Park as “the most beautiful island in the world.”
Located 300 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the island is home to hammerheads and many other types of sharks.
Live-aboard boats are the only way to dive around Cocos, as visitors are banned from overnight stays and the continental coast is too far to commute.
“Diving on a live-aboard allows you to sit back, relax and focus on one thing, being awed by the incredible beauty above and below water,” says Shira Katsir of Undersea Hunter.
Undersea Hunter’s dive trips include everything from entertainment to diving and camera equipment.
A 10-day trip includes ground transfer from San Jose and all meals.
Undersea Hunter, +506 2228 6613; packages from $5,145 per person
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Protea Banks, South Africa
Divers may encounter up to eight different species of sharks in one dive at Protea Banks. During high season, hammerheads and sand tiger sharks can be seen in schools of several hundred.
AfriDive is an advanced dive site and a prime location to see bull and tiger sharks.
“It is an adrenaline-loaded thrill,” says Afridive owner Roland Mauz. “Banks is what I call the Himalayas of scuba diving,” he says.
AfriDive, Albert Meyer Drive, Shelley Beach, South Africa; 0824 567 885; dives from $135 per person
False Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
It’s a mystery why shark breaches at False Bay are more frequent and intense than anywhere else in the world.
“White sharks from around the world will breach here, but may not anywhere else,” says Karen Lawrence from African Shark Eco-charter. “The intense predator-prey interaction is majestic to watch.”
Rob Lawrence, owner of African Shark Eco-charter, is one of the first people to have used a decoy to entice a shark breach.
The Air-Jaws tour takes off at dawn, when shark breaching is the most common.
The charter also offers cage diving with great whites.
African-Shark Eco-charter, Boardwalk Centre, St. George’s Street, South Africa; +27 082 838 2309; contact firstname.lastname@example.org for package rates
Shark Cage Diving KZN
Kwazulu-Natal’s unspoiled waters offer sightings of reef sharks, ragged-tooth sharks and giant guitar sharks.
Each guest spends 30 minutes in the cage during the two-and-a-half-hour trip.
Divers may encounter up to 20 sharks.
Shark Cage Diving KZN, 4182 Old Main Road, South Africa; +27 039 976 0336; dives from $100 per person
Red Sea, Egypt
“The Red Sea has some of the clearest waters in the world, offering unparalleled conditions for shark diving,” says Christian Heylen, general manager of PURE Diving.
According to Heylen, the Red Sea is one of the best places to observe curious oceanic white tips, and also one of the few places to see snaggletooth sharks.
Feeding and baiting are prohibited in Egypt, so all shark sightings are “natural” and not man-induced.
PURE exclusively uses closed-circuit re-breathers, allowing divers to be silent and discreet.
“Sharks here are not affected by tourist habits, they don’t associate people with food,” says Heylen, adding that sharks behaving naturally in their natural habitat create unforgettable close encounters.
PURE Diving, Sultana Building, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt; +20 10 733 49 50; contact email@example.com for rates
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Indonesia’s Raja Ampat government recently said 4 million hectares of coastal and marine waters will be conserved as a marine sanctuary for sharks.
Indonesia is a huge market for shark catching according to Paul Friese, founder of Bali Sharks, a nursery for young sharks.
Indonesia was the biggest shark catching country in the world in 2011, exporting 316 tons of shark fin.
Now, concerted efforts are being made to rescue sharks from the shark fin trade.
Fishermen who had previously depended on shark-finning for their livelihoods now bring the sharks they catch to Friese’s nursery, where visitors can dive with sharks and get to watch as sharks are rescued, tagged and released.
“Guests have told me they will never touch a bowl of shark fin soup again,” says Paul Friese. “These reactions push me to see how far the shark conservation nursery can grow.”
Bali Sharks, Agus Bar and Restaurant, Jl. Tikad Punggawa, Serangan, Bali; +62 361 996 5101; tours are $100 per adult, $90 per child, free for children under five
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Thresher Shark Divers
Malapascua’s Monad Shoal was recently made into a marine park to protect thresher sharks.
“This is the only place threshers can be seen every day,” says Andrea Agarwal, owner of Thresher Shark Divers.
Threshers’ tails can make up half their length, and they can grow up to six meters long.
“If you are here for a few days you will almost certainly get a good sighting,” says Agarwal.
Divers will need to be open water certified as threshers are usually found in deep waters.
The best time to see the shy sharks is in the early morning.
Thresher Shark Divers, Bounty Beach, Malapascua, Philippines; +63 917 795 9433; contact firstname.lastname@example.org for rates
Guadalupe’s large population of great whites makes the island an important site for shark researchers.
The clear waters are great for cage-diving.
This six-day live-aboard takes divers from San Diego across the border to Isla Guadalupe.
The tour provides meals, accommodation and beer and wine after the shark encounters.
Both divers and non-divers can participate.
Shark Divers, +1 855 987 4275/+1 619 887 4275; inclusive packages start at $3,100 per person
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Hawaii Shark Encounter
Hawaii is home to more than 40 species of sharks ranging from small deep-water pygmy sharks to bus-sized whale sharks.
Common sightings include reef sharks, sandbar sharks and hammerheads.
At Hawaii Shark Encounter off the shore of Oahu, divers can observe sharks from the safety of a cage.
Guests use a snorkel, so no diving experience is necessary.
The polyglass pane on the sides allows divers to safely rub noses with sharks that bump the cage.
Hawaii Shark Encounter, Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor 66-105 Haleiwa Road, Haleiwa, Hawaii; +1 808 351 9373; dives are $105 per adult, $75 per child under 12
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