New Englanders want to see sharks; that much is clear from the way they’ve crowded Chatham on Cape Cod in recent weeks, hoping for a glimpse of the sharks preying on the seal colony. There were enough sharks to close some beaches, but not really enough to make shark-watching successful. Few would-be shark tourists realize that New England is starting to have a thriving shark cage-diving industry, with three tour companies, one right on Nantucket.
Bryce Rohrer led shark cave dives off South Africa, the shark cage dive Capitol of the World, then realized he could start Nantucket Shark Divers closer to home. Rohrer grew up fishing in the area, but “that slowly evolved into ditching the fishing rod for a camera.” He knew there was enough sealife tantalizingly close to shore to make a good trip. “Not many people know sharks out there,” he says. “It’s a very attractive spot for people. The bottom line is there’s a ton of wildlife around there, lots of whales, sharks, dolphins–all the things people care about.”
This year he’s lead some free-diving tours–no cage, no airtanks–just a snorkel. He’s got a few warm, relatively shallow spots 10 to 40 miles off shore. Next year, he’ll also have a shark cage, which goes in the water behind the boat. He’ll let divers venture out of the cage at their own pace once they’re comfortable. He also has options for people like me, who can’t swim and are a little chicken; you can always just stay on the boat and see sharks from there.
He mainly sees 3-10 blue sharks, which he describes as “really inquisitive, they come right up to you.” Sometimes his divers see makos, which he says have a completely different, more aggressive personality.
Yeah, he chums the water–throws out blue fish and oil to attract sharks. The practice has gotten many shark tour operations in trouble, especially with surfers, who fear it changes sharks’ behavior. But he says fishermen in the area do the same. And no one is swimming anywhere near 10-40 miles out in the ocean.
The dives can be expensive, but aren’t so bad if you go in a group. Nantucket Shark Divers charges $800 for cage dives and $1,000 for open water dives up to four people. If you’re not vacationing on Nantucket, there are two other shark dives in New England: Snappa Charters in Judith Point, Rhode Island and Sea Turtle Charters, which visits RI from Montauk, Long Island. Snappa offers the option of “playpen” watching: you get on a kind of safety raft for a good view, but you don’t have to go in the water (rates start at $220 for divers and $170 for non-divers). Sea Turtle visits the sand sharks off Block Island, RI, and shipwrecks ($200/person).
Bonus animals: you may see whales, dolphins, sunfish, seabirds, seals and seaturtles.
Photo courtesy of Nantucket Shark Dives