I had the incredible opportunity to scuba dive in the Predator Exhibit and the Kelp Forest at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
While I still feel like an absolute beginner diver, by some triumph of spirit, I possess an Advanced Open Water scuba qualification. This allows me to dive in both the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit as well as the I&J Predator Exhibit.
Watch our video for a peek backstage and to get a feel for the entire experience.
We went ‘backstage’, where I got a glimpse of the inner workings if the Two Oceans Aquarium. For me, the least fun part of scuba diving is struggling into the wetsuit and all the other gear. Iain checked the equipment and helped me get kitted out. I made my way to the ‘jetty’ above the kelp exhibit, did final tests, waved goodbye to Table Mountain in the background and flopped down rather ungracefully. As I hit the water, my wetsuit started to feel a lot more comfortable and very welcome, as the water was a nippy 16 degrees.
We slowly descended past kelp and fish to the bottom of the tank, where I waved at the people staring in awe. Iain presented me with a bag of fish food (squid). I grabbed a handful and, there’s no other way to describe this, but the fish instantly went berzerk. I was grateful for the thick gloves that I was wearing because they were nipping at my fingers!
Iain gave me strict instructions to abandon the feeding mission if I felt uncomfortable, but I felt strangely at ease being bombarded by fish in a confined space. I petted a fish, even though I wasn’t supposed to; I felt that it was only fair considering that the fish was whacking my head enthusiastically with its tail.
The kelp exhibit features some fish that are SASSI red listed, meaning that commercial fishing of their species is prohibited. One of these is the Galjoen, which is also South Africa’s National Fish.
It might seem strange that the qualification required for diving with sharks is lower than that for diving in a kelp exhibition. The reason is that the kelp exhibit is smaller and more delicate than the predator exhibit and divers need to be extra careful to respect the environment. After feeding the fish, we swam around a few times, which felt super relaxing and rather magical; being surrounded by an enchanting forest dotted with colourful and attractive fish.
We took a break before the next stop; the I&J Predator Exhibit, which features Ragged-tooth sharks, affectionately known as ‘raggies’, a loggerhead turtle named Yoshi, rays, a school of yellowtail and more. Iain reassured me that the sharks had been hand-fed recently. I plopped into the water and we descended into the peaceful blue.
The raggies were circling the tank, seemingly oblivious to the divers. We took turns snapping a few obligatory photos, trying to get the ultimate money shot of diver with a magnificent shark in the background. I relaxed, realising that these animals had about zero interest in me, and I began searching for fallen shark teeth at the bottom of the tank; we found a fine specimen, and I was allowed to keep it as a souvenir. We spotted Yoshi the turtle snoozing by a rock and jumped at the petting and photo opportunity.
At the end of the adventure, I received two certificates commemorating my experience. The week after my dive encounter; I felt calm and focused. After swimming with sharks, I feel ready to take on any challenge.
To dive in the Predator Exhibit, one requires an Open Water dive qualification. However, if you are not a qualified diver, a ridiculously easy to acquire Discover Scuba qualification will do. Iain’s Scuba School’s Iain Robertson, the resident dive master at the aquarium, can take you through the short and easy course that will miraculously prepare you to dive with sharks. You do however need an Advanced Open Water dive qualification to enter the Kelp Forest Exhibition.
Read our blog post to learn more about an open water dive experience.
Videography courtesy Gareth van Nelson/HSMimages.com, photography courtesy author