Sharks are big and dangerous animals! Hahaha well that’s okay. Of course there are species where you have to watch out, such as the tiger shark or the Longimanus. But most shark species are afraid of us and that’s probably a good thing.
Most species are not at the top of the food chain and that means that they have a lot of enemies and so everything that is weird, splashes and makes a lot of noise, preferably avoid. Diving with sharks is therefore not necessarily dangerous, especially if you know how to behave with which type of shark.
You have probably heard or read the whole drama surrounding the Egyptian Brother Islands with the Longimanus. This famous pair was temporarily closed to divers due to some incidents, incidents between divers and sharks, where the divers got the short straw. Now I have been on countless trips to The Brother Islands as a guide and therefore responsible for the safety of our guests when they dive. In addition, I may from time to time and the late Dr. Assisting Elke Bojanowski in teaching shark workshops in our shark project weeks. So I’m really not a world-renowned shark specialist, but an experience expert and I would like to share my experience with you.
The Brother Islands
The Brother Islands are two offshore islands located 7 hours offshore in the Egyptian Red Sea. There is a large one with a lighthouse and a small one that is connected to the large one by a deep ledge. They are so far from the coast that there is nothing else to see and so these two brothers are only 1 km apart. The islands are military terrain and next to the lighthouse there is really nothing but rock. Well, almost nothing, above water at least, underwater it is a paradise. With its deep, lushly overgrown walls, it forms a meeting place or residence for many animals. And if you come at the right time of year you can find many shark species, including the fox shark, the silk shark, the gray reef shark, the white tip reef shark, the tiger shark, the hammer shark, the whale shark and the longimanus. And the latter is for many the reason to visit The Brothers, since there are only 2 locations worldwide where you can dive with them. But why the Longimanus? Well, I think that this shark’s behavior allows many divers to feel who is the strongest. She is extremely interested and likes to check out the divers, where it is not uncommon for her to come within a few meters or even swim against cameras. Exciting dives. But is it dangerous to dive with the Longimanus? No, but there is a condition to this, which is that you as a diver know what you are doing.
Last year there were 4 incidents on The Brother Islands, in which a diver collided with a Longimanus. At a momentous moment, a video of one of them ended up on the internet and it went viral. In that video you could see that the divers behave as you should not with a Longimanus. It is and remains a wild animal, an animal that is at the top of the food chain and therefore a king below the surface of the water. Consequence of this wrong behavior in such a king? One of the divers lost his calf in the animal’s jaws, a movie that went viral with heaps of negative wails and bad publicity in its wake. The shark is said to be aggressive and life-threatening according to some. Fortunately, the other incidents did not end so badly with some bite marks on the hip of one and on the lower leg of another and a broken vest that was bitten. But reason enough for agencies here in Egypt to step in and temporarily close The Brother Islands before things get out of hand. Good decision I think.
Now after more than four months of opening The Brothers again in mid-March, but something has changed, quite a bit. Boats are no longer allowed to park overnight on The Brothers, organic garbage must be dumped at least 5 miles from the island, a time limit has been set for diving, all crew and guides have had a special shark course, there is now a special license that everyone must have and the number of boats that can come per day is limited. Are you as a diver now safe with a Longimanus in the water? At least safer. Keeping boats away at night, the 5 mile waste limit and the limited diving window reduce the sharks’ incentives and make visiting the boats less interesting. Training all crew and the special permit raises awareness and limits access to trained personnel only. Yes, I can hear you thinking, they don’t care much about that in Egypt, well that will surprise you. Every safari boat with guests needs permission to set sail from the coastguard, that was already the case. The papers and licenses of all crew are checked and no crew member without the correct permit is allowed on board and there are serious penalties and every boat is checked.
In addition, all guides are also trained in how to dive with these sharks, so it is about rules of conduct for the diver and the explicit request to clearly brief the guests. Of course it’s not that the guides for that training were all silly, no, of course not, the important thing is that we all have the same starting point now. For you as a visitor of The Brothers, as a diver in the water with the Longimanus, it is important that you know how to best dive with this animal. So ask your guide for clear information or book your first Longimanus diving trip on a ship that offers shark workshops. So that you know what not to do and there are attentive guides to help you with that.
But how should you dive with the Longimanus?
First of all, you have to realize that it really is a wild animal that is at the top of the food chain. So it has few enemies and that’s how the shark behaves, like a huge macho with big jaws who is not afraid.
They like to hang out around the boats because there is always something going on there, the divers in the water, a zodiac passing by, lines moving on the surface and of course the ship itself. By nature, the Longimanus likes to approach everything from behind and they almost always do.
In addition, they can often be found under the boats at 5-10 meters in the beautiful blue water. And because they are at the top of the food chain, they have an important job to do, which is to strengthen the species below by preying on the sick or misbehaving animals. They therefore react to deviant and flight behavior and is it important that you as a diver avoid that behavior. Realize that you as a human do not belong to the food chain of the Longimanus and therefore show what you are by hanging vertically.
Keeping your eye on the shark shows that the shark is not your enemy, so turn with the shark as it passes you. Stay in a group with other divers, do not isolate yourself from the group and keep a good buoyancy. Make sure you stay at depth and don’t keep bouncing up or down, this could be seen by the shark as uncontrolled behavior, a sign of weakness. Make sure you don’t fin too much, so again good buoyancy. Do not just swim away from the shark and do not circle the animal to avoid it, this can be seen as flight behavior. And flapping movements under water are synonymous with distress or flight, something a Longimanus is stimulated by. Do not make any noises that can startle the animal and make an unexpected movement, every frightening wild animal is dangerous. Don’t get between the shark and something that really has its interest, for example a source of food, because then the animal will defend it. And limit your time at the surface of the water as much as possible, because the shark can hardly see what that is up there and everything that flounders there is of course a food source.
In short, do not act like potential food but be calm, balanced, stay in the group and show yourself, then nothing is wrong and you as a diver can safely and fully enjoy this beautiful animal. The Longimanus is a shark that you don’t have to be afraid of, she is not our enemy, but a fellow resident. With her elegant movement, long fins and above all interest she gives a diving experience to remember. It is beautiful, challenging, powerful and natural and like any special dive I can only advise you to prepare and be aware of the situation you are stepping into.
Love life… Blow bubbles… Anke