Hawaii Shark Encounters - North Shore 8:30AM Shark Tour
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Schedule and tour details are located at the bottom of this page
Wanna know what it's really like to swim face-to-face with sharks? Read on...
The morning Sun is already climbing in the sky as I drive past the dusty red-clay pineapple fields on my way to Haleiwa on Oahu’s famous North Shore.
Today, I swim with sharks.
Hawaii Shark Encounters, an exciting company operating out of Haleiwa Harbor, specializes in a unique excursion of the toothy kind. They’re experts at introducing guests to one of the most thrilling and feared creatures in the ocean – sharks!
Judging by their list of clients, they’ve been doing an impressive job. They’ve been featured on the Discovery Channel, CNN.com, MSN-NBC Today, Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight, ESPN, Animal Planet, and National Geographic.
I’m excited about today’s adventure as I arrive at the harbor and spot their boat, the Kainani – a sea tested 32 ft Radon built for the open ocean of Hawaii.
Captain Rich Whyte is there to greet myself and the other guests. Captain Rich used to command large cruise ships in Honolulu but missed the more personal one-on-one face time with customers. Luckily for us he found his calling here.
First mate, Phil Oury, helps us get settled. Phil, a born-n-raised Haleiwa native, looks young but has literally been working and playing on the Haleiwa coastline all his life.
When it comes to sharks, experience is everything. Between the experience of Captain Rich and Phil, I feel safer already.
We get comfortable and Phil gives us a safety briefing and a rundown of the types of sharks we can expect to see out at the dive site. Galapagos sharks and Sandbar sharks are the most common but occasionally Hammerheads, Silkies, Makos, and Tiger sharks swim through. A 20 ft Great White has even showed up once making national news.
Phil casts off and Captain Rich steers the Kainani out of the harbor and into the open ocean. The North Shore winds begin to blow in our faces and we can feel the salt spray from the waves splashing against the hull. As Haleiwa Harbor shrinks away, I realize my chance to chicken out has just evaporated.
The 3 mile ride out to the dive site takes a short 15 minutes and Captain Rich uses the time to educate us on the local sea, weather patterns, and marine life.
Before we know it, we’re arriving at the marker buoy that indicates the position of the floating shark cage. In a carefully choreographed dance practiced through countless hours on the ocean, Captain Rich maneuvers us in the current while Phil secures the cage and preps the boat.
When all is ready, we’re given a briefing on how to use the provided snorkel gear, the best way to enter the shark cage, and what to expect while were in it. So far, so good. All straight forward stuff: step directly into the cage, float, relax and enjoy the show!
Just then, a large dark shadow passing under the boat catches my attention. I lean over and peer into the blue. A few feet below the surface I see it again - that slow ominous glide, the menacing sway - definitely a large shark.
So soon? Where’d it come from?
“They’re attracted by the boat engine.”, Phil says reading my puzzled look and anticipating my inevitable question. Phil explains how this area is an old crab fishing lane. At the end of their day, the fisherman would throw their left over crab bait into the water. Over time the sharks in this area learned to associate the sound of the boat engine with a tasty scrap of food. It makes sense why now there are suddenly at least 5 more sharks circling the boat.
It’s time to gear up and get wet. My heart thumps quicker as I pull on my mask and move to the side of the boat.
I suck in a breath through my snorkel and step over the edge of the Kainani. The last thing I see is more fins arriving as I slip down into the cage with a small splash.
Tiny white bubbles from my entry obscure my view. As they clear and my eyes adjust to the blue of the deep ocean, I’m staring eye-to-eye with the business end of a large Galapagos shark.
I gawk wide eyed as 300 lbs of muscle and teeth glide past by no more than a few feet. Out of instinct, I lean back. That dark cold stare and game-face reminds me that this animal is all predator.
Its large grey tail swooshes past revealing at least a dozen more of its closely circling friends. So this is what bait feels like!
The school is made up mostly of Sandbar and Galapagos sharks. The smaller Sandbars are pointy nosed and sleek reminding me of fighter jets. The Galapagos are large, robust, and burly. Their sheer size makes them look menacing.
Two sides of the aluminum shark cage have thick Plexiglas windows that appear transparent in the water. This gives the illusion that the cage is open making for a spectacular panoramic view.
The sharks swim right up next to the bars staring me down as they reluctantly drift by. They’re close enough to touch – if you were foolish enough to stick your arm outside the cage. Hiding behind that poker face is ten times more teeth than I have fingers. I think I’ll keep all ten today, thank you.
I stare down through the bottom of my sanctuary and realize I’m floating in a cage that’s hovering in 500 feet of open ocean. The abyss of blue makes me feel more like an astronaut than a diver.
Small fish called opelu race inside the bars to join me in safety. Between the taste of the ocean water, the in-your-face view, and the frightened bait fish darting around me, I feel as if I’m no longer watching what’s happening around me - I’m part of what’s happening around me. I am now a participant in the oldest drama on earth.
I’m a partaker in an adventure that most people have only seen on television. You know how people talk about lifetime memories – yeah, this is one of those!
Time in the cage flies by and before I know it, I’ve been watching these amazing animals circle me for over 30 minutes.
Captain Rich signals it’s time to go. Before we leave he drops a special microphone in the water that’s wired to the boat’s speakers so we can hear the baleen whales singing. The marine topography between Kaena Point and Sunset Beach acts like a big acoustic reflector bouncing and amplifying their songs for the rest of their pod.
As we’re taking our hot shower, we listen to some of the largest mammals on the planet sing to each other. By the way, if you don’t do a lot of diving, believe me, a hot shower is a special luxury on a boat.
Because of all the excitement, the journey back seems quicker than the one coming out. We even spot a group of whales spouting. Perhaps they’re the same ones we heard singing? Smiles abound.
As if someone pressed the slow motion button, life slows back down as we enter Haleiwa Harbor. My heart beat slows, I can hear the call of the sea birds, and the calm stillness of the shoreline air. Regular life seems a little more serene when you’ve just snorkeled with a school of Hawaiian sharks.
Thanks to the knowledge of Captain Rich and Phil, I’ve been circled in the open ocean by over a dozen hungry sharks. Thanks to their experience… I’ve lived to write about it!
Nothing you do this vacation will compare to swimming face to face with sharks!
Do something amazing on your trip by booking a reservation with Hawaii Shark Encounters at the top of this page – The most heart thumping, breath taking, cant-stop-talking-about-it Hawaiian adventure!
Schedule and Details _____________________________________
Time: Daily from 8:30AM - 10:30AM. 2 hours total. 1 ½ hours at shark site. 15 minutes to and from Haleiwa Harbor to shark site.
Boat: Kainani, 32 ft Radon
Departs: Haleiwa Boat Harbor (map and directions)
Check in: At least 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure time. All reservations subject to non-refundable cancellation if guest not checked in at least 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure time. (map and directions)
Details: No prior diving experience required. Everyone 5 years old and up are welcome. Shark site is 3 miles off shore from Haleiwa Boat Harbor in approximately 500 feet of water. The sharks typically seen are Galapagos and Sand Bar but sometimes Hammerhead, Silky, Blue, and Mako. The shark cage is 8 ft x 8 ft x 10 ft with two large ¼ inch thick Plexiglass viewing windows. Once in the water, the Plexiglass become transparent giving the illusion the cage is open making for great for picture taking. The cage is pulled up next to the boat and you simply climb down a short ladder directly into the cage. There are hand rails completely around the inside. Mask and snorkels are provided. There is a hot shower on board!
Advice: Plan this tour early in your trip in the event it must be rescheduled due to the North Shore weather (especially during the winter and spring). Because this is an open ocean excursion, if you think you may be prone to motion sickness, please take your motion sickness remedy in advance.
Fare: Adult (12yrs-up): $102.50, Child (5-11yrs): $68.50
Transportation: Pick up available at all hotels in Waikiki at 7:15AM. Your reservation for pick-up must be made at the time of booking. $40.00 per person, round trip. Please be waiting in your hotel lobby for the shuttle van before the scheduled pick up time. The driver will call out your name in the lobby. Return to Waikiki is between 11:30AM - 12:00PM.
Book your exciting Hawaii Shark Encounter at the top of this page now! Please make your reservations early as this tour fills quickly!
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Please make your reservations early as this tour fills quickly!