I had just walked out of the bird sanctuary at Ocean World Adventure Park, smiling as I wiped the last bits of bird seed off from my hands. Not quite sure of where to head next, I stopped for a moment to lean against a wooden railing and inspect the park map.
Suddenly, a movement below caught my eye. I was standing above a large bean-shaped pool that appeared to hold nothing but rocky corals. Until, I saw it again.
It glided into the centre of the pool, melodically yet forcefully swinging it’s tail from left to right with seemingly little effort. It was at least seven feet long; definitely bigger than me.
As I watched his cryptic dance in the water, he was joined by two more sharks. The three of them circled the surface, churning up bubbles with each move.
Then it hit me. These were the sharks that I would personally be swimming with later.
I looked at the time, remembering that I was meant to meet at the diving centre in ten minutes. I shot once last nervous glance toward the shark tank before turning around and heading to my meeting point.
My shark and stingray experience would begin with a visit to the stingray pool.
Fitted with goggles and a snorkel, I waded into the warm shallow water. As if on cue, I was greeted by a pair of floating rays. They circled me and then darted back to open waters. I submerged myself in the water and followed them.
From beneath the water’s surface I could now see more than half a dozen rays dancing in the weightless blue water. They glided and waved as if they were flying in the warm Caribbean breeze. They swam directly beneath me so I could brush their rubbery skin.
Next, I was instructed to stand on my knees at the edge of the pool, with my toes pointed inward and my arms above the water. I was then handed a small fish and told to place it between my fingers and hold my hand palm-up on the floor.
Immediately, the rays were flying toward me. Holding my ground, I held the fish until the largest ray scooped it out of my fingers.
The smaller rays encircled me, searching for more lunch. One overly curious ray took notice to a tattoo on my thigh and thought that perhaps it was a source of food.
I laughed as it flapped around in front of me, unable to actually bite me, but certainly putting on an amusing show for everyone else.
I gently guided the way away and continued to swim around above them for another five minutes.
Finally, it was time to go back to the shark tank.
Along with four men (apparently I was the only female crazy enough to place herself in a pool of sharks), we lined up on the edge of the water. The public filtered in, filling up the stadium-style seating in front of us, anxiously waiting for the show to begin.
We were the show.
I was up first; my instructor pointed to the third step in the water and told me to be seated.
Suddenly, I had a shark in my lap.
I burst out laughing. I’m not sure if it was the complete randomness of the situation, the fact that it happened so quickly, or perhaps it was nerves. But, here I was.. holding onto a live shark and laughing hysterically.
My shark was named Snapper and appeared to be very well behaved, for a shark. He calmly rested on my knees without a fuss.
There were five sharks in the pool, all together. The other four sharks were female, but Snapper was a lone male. Lucky boy.
I felt Snapper’s rough, sandpaper-like skin and tested the stability of his fins. We flipped him over onto his stomach, where I could view his toothy mouth and razor sharp choppers.
As he obliged so well, I rewarded him with a fish. Holding the fish above his nose and letting go, it disappeared before it even hit the water. In one lashing movement his entire body jolted when he opened his mouth and devoured the fish with one bite. No wonder they called him Snapper.
My eyes widened a bit, as I was about to go swimming with all five of these giant carnivores, and I had only just started to believe that they were harmless. I lowered my knees and let Snapper return to the water.
Once everyone did the same thing with their own sharks, the crowd left and we were invited for a swim in the tank.
I cautiously paddled out into the open water and took one last deep breath as I dove beneath the surface.
I found myself surrounded by a sea of activity. Not only were there sharks in this pool, but there were a school of large Tarpon fish, almost more menacing than the sharks. They darted around me curiously as the sharks glided along the bottom.
Over the next ten minutes the sharks interacted with us, swimming close enough to allow us to touch their backs and almost creating a train as we followed them around the pool.
I floated along the surface, occasionally diving down for a better view and came face to face with the people that were watching us from the windows below.
Surprisingly, my nerves disappeared and I never felt scared for one moment in the water. I knew it would have been a different story in the open ocean, but I thoroughly enjoyed swimming with the sharks in the closed aquarium at Ocean World.
In the end, I reluctantly exited the pool, promising myself that one day I would do it again.