Legends of Diving Articles


The Development of
the Shark Dive

Personal Account by Ben Rose

In my years as a scuba instructor and dive guide, the establishment of the shark dive was one of those things that simply evolved. UNEXSO had reached a point where there were many repeat divers and Ollie Ferguson, vice-president, thought we should try a proper fish feed. He wasn’t so sure about the sharks and how guests would respond to them. So we got fish heads and entrails from the local market, but we weren’t consistent about it. However, fish are no dummies when it comes to food and divers began to return with scratches and bruises, because the fish went after the whole bag. This technique literally created a snapper feeding frenzy.

UNEXSO then decided that only the instructors would feed the fish and the dive guests would observe. And wouldn’t you know, the odd shark started to come to the table. Often, the shark would swim right through the people, causing a bit of surprise and even panic. Often you could literally see the whites of the eyes of some of the astonished guests.

I will never forget the first time it happened – suddenly the fish vanished and right there, six inches from my face, was a reef shark. It looked HUGE! And I had a fish in my hand. Not too good! Well, it seemed to me that I had only three choices; swim like hell (not such a good idea as I might become lunch), throw away the fish or give it to shark. Taking a deep breath, I gave it to the shark and quickly crossed my arms, hoping that I would not serve as the main course on the menu. The shark took the fish, swam out and came right back in for a second helping. Now an accomplished feeder and shark waiter, I obliged and handed the big fish what he wanted. He took it gracefully, flicked his sleek body and was gone. Somehow, after that experience, it just made sense to try and further develop a shark feeding program that might, in the long term, help people understand this incredible carnivore of the sea.

So, it all started. One day a butcher from New York, who was a guest diver at UNEXSO, suggested we try a couple of chain mail gloves. We thought that if we wore these and the sharks nipped, they would give it a bite, and us a shake and then they’d give up and move on. However, as our understanding of these beautiful animals continued to develop, we discovered that if the shark nipped and caught its teeth in the chain male, we could be seriously hurt, because they would start to roll their powerful bodies in order to disengage. We were no match for them and there was no doubt that we were going along for a rocky ride. We soon discovered that to free ourselves we needed to shove the trapped arm all the way into the shark’s mouth so that the shark choked. Then we could pull out. Not an easy thing to do, considering the instinctive response for humans is to pull back. To get loose, you really had to fight panic. Then we got the shark suits.

So, that is how it all started! We found that the big females loved to be touched and handled. Soon they were resting in our laps. They loved to be stroked and sometimes I had three or four lying on the bottom, almost like they were asleep, waiting to be handled. I was awestruck!

We fed reef sharks, nurse sharks and milk sharks. I have seen hammerheads circling, but they didn’t come into feed. One time, we had a huge Jew fish come in. He took my arm right into his mouth, in order to get the fish. My arm felt like it was being sucked down a never-ending drain but then he spit it out again.

I became quite comfortable with sharks and soon, I was removing fishhooks from their mouths. You had to be very careful and hold the shark long enough to remove the hooks.

As I developed a relationship with these magnificent creatures, I always had to remember that the water was their environment and they were at the top of the food chain. They demand the highest respect. A couple of times, when one pulled me off my feet and dragged me for a distance, or when their teeth got stuck in the chain male, I became scared to say the least. These experiences were not so gentle a reminder of who was really was the boss in the water.

The shark dive is the most exciting dive I have ever done. There is extraordinary challenge in dealing with an animal that is large and has the potential to hurt you, but I didn’t find them that way. They are much more intelligent, they learn, and they appear to have a form of communication with each other. New sharks that came to the feed were often excitable, but once they were fed, they were fine. Also, whenever we went to an area where we had never fed before, we would have other sharks come in and they seemed to know just what to do.

The shark is a magnificent predator of the sea. Man has invaded their environment and without reason or consideration of consequences man has also worked to destroy a species so very important to the survival of the living oceans. My shark feeding experiences have left me profoundly in awe of these beautiful animals and their place in the world. We need to tread softly in our oceans and on our earth or our children and grandchildren will never know true beauty and they will lose the threads of the inherent relationships that bind animals and humans together on this magnificent and fragile planet.

About the Author

Ben Rose: UNEXSO Guide and Marine Expert

At an early age Ben Rose knew he belonged in the ocean. He came to UNEXSO in 1965 already with amateur experience in diving. There he learned to dive with sharks. He has expanded his knowledge of sharks to expert level. He started a marine identification program, identifying and categorizing species of fish in the Caribbean. He is an avid writer, sharing his experiences through personal accounts of diving history and diving with sharks. (Read more accounts by Ben Rose)

Ben Rose

Archive Library

Visit the Archive of Vintage Articles

© 1993 Originally Published in Historical Diver Magazine
All Rights Reserved.

Portage Quarry Recreation Club, Inc.
12701 South Dixie
Bowling Green OH, 43402

©1999-2021 International Legends of Diving
All Rights Reserved


free hit counters