Dive with Kelly Tarltons Sharks

By Dave Moran

A white belly passed within millimetres of my head. I’m sure my hair swayed in the passing turbulence!

I glanced up to see the beautifully crafted tail of an underwater Boeing737 slowly gliding into the seemingly never ending depths of Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World shark tank.

Wow that was close! But I knew I was as safe as sitting in a bath tub full of blow up plastic sharks! But that Boeing did have teeth!

I’ve had a long association with Kelly Tarlton’s being part of Kelly’s team when he built the aquarium back in 1983-84/85 and as GM after Kelly’s sudden, unexpected death on 17 March 1985.

I thought of how Kelly would have loved to be diving in the shark tank today. It’s full of sharks, massive rays and chubby hapuka.

Many people have a primeval expectation of what a shark looks like: menacing, a mouth full of jagged teeth and a body that is graceful yet exhibits power and control.

A shark that fulfills these expectations is the sand tiger shark, commonly known in Australia as grey nurse. They also have another major quality that enhances their suitability as aquarium sharks. They do not have to continually swim to stay suspended in the water column thus preventing them sinking to the sea bed. They have their own built in buoyancy compensators so they can just hang around in a slight current and look dangerous. Fantastic for aquariums. They also have another wonderful quality! Ask any underwater photographer and you’ll be told that these sharks are as shy and less dangerous than a puppy dog! Great to dive with!

I believe it is a privilege to dive with any shark. The experience for most is a turning point in their expectations of sharks. They realize sharks are not the indiscriminate killing machines often portrayed in films and media.

When Catherine McLaughlin, marketing manager at Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter /Underwater World, asked if I would like to experience their Shark Dive Xtreme with some people who had never dived with sharks I though, you bet! To dive in the 45 metre tank with the seven sand tigers imported from the USA (see story Feb/Mar 2011 issue #122), eight local broadnose sevengill, eight school and a wobbegong shark, imported from Australian in the late 1980 (he’s the boss), is an opportunity not to be missed!

The two ladies who were brave enough to dive were Emily Malthus (Manager Club Marine NZ) and Nicola Parsons (sales at Performance Diver). It was fantastic seeing these two slowly overcome any apprehension they had to the point where they just relaxed and watched the passing parade of sharks, rays, fish and of course people in the viewing tunnel who were, I’m sure, very impressed at how calm they appeared!

Their experience in their own words:

Emily: When Dave and Tony from Dive New Zealand magazine asked if I would like to go shark diving in Kelly Tarlton’s I became instantly nervous. After considering the invitation, I digested a tough pill and said yes!

The morning of the dive arrived! My friends thought it amusing to phone and ask if I had a current life insurance policy. Very funny … not! On arriving we were given an educational tour of the aquarium and learnt about the number and varieties of sharks. My nerves weren’t easing at this stage! We were then given a safety briefing and a refresher on scuba diving disciplines. After completing a medical questionnaire and a liability waiver we were all go to gear up and take the plunge!

We were accompanied by two staff, one instructor and one safety person. One by one we descended to the bottom of the shark tank. Wow, was all I could think at that point, the visibility was amazing and the sharks were really close and quiet mellow. Large and small, they swam around and over us allowing us to admire their beautiful and ancient physiques. Despite being close to their large fang-like teeth I felt very comfortable and safe, well almost! The time flew by and it was time to ascend. Suffice to say I was buzzing for the rest of the day, not because I was still alive but because it’s great to be alive and experience shark diving up close and personal with Kelly Tarlton’s sharks.

Nicola: The whole shark dive felt very interactive, I enjoyed every minute. We were surrounded by sharks, rays and large hapuka. They all seemed pretty comfortable having us in their tank. We were told the sharks had right of way – so when a big sand tiger was swimming straight at me I moved aside! Though I noticed after awhile they really just swam around us!

To be diving with heaps of sharks only a few kilometres from the heart of Auckland city is very ‘cool’! Yes it is very cool to be able to dive with sharks and know that you will survive the experience. It’s a two and a half hours experience you will treasure for the rest of your life. Plus you will have a certificate to prove you survived.

If you’re over 18 either a certified scuba diver or never dived in your life (training given) gather a few mates or suggest it to your dive club to make a booking and take the plunge into a shark’s world that can only be experienced at Kelly Tarlton’s Shark Dive Xtreme. You won’t be disappointed!

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