Hawke's Bay Adventure: Swimming with sharks

By Anna Ferrick

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SIGHTS: Anna Ferrick (top right) swims with sharks at the National Aquarium of New Zealand. PHOTO/ PAUL TAYLOR HBT134115-07
SIGHTS: Anna Ferrick (top right) swims with sharks at the National Aquarium of New Zealand. PHOTO/ PAUL TAYLOR HBT134115-07

Even armed with two weeks mental preparation before my shark swimming dip it was still unnerving to turn up at the aquarium and be greeted by a 2.8-metre shark called Sarah.

"Think of the sharks like dogs," I was told by Napier's National Aquarium of New Zealand aquarist Steven.

"They might come up and sniff you, check you out a bit, but they're not all going to bite you."

Sarah turned out to be rather placid and distinctly uninterested in me.

Earlier this month my moral support companion, Anita Cowan, and I were greeted at the front counter by Steven, who walked us very patiently through our shark swimming experience.

He said the worst injury they'd ever had as a result of the shark swim was a stubbed toe.

We were led through the bowels of the aquarium, handed our wetsuits and told the rules.

No touching anything, no diving down, minimal splashing around and only friendly waving at the children below.

Fair enough.

From there we traipsed up the stairs to the top of the oceanarium.

The oceanarium contains five sevengill sharks, eight school sharks and 11 spotted smooth-hound sharks as well as stingrays, eels and a variety of fish.

Turns out 16 degrees is cold and I felt very grateful for my wetsuit.

I would be lying if I said I didn't have a minor panic at the first sight of a shark, although it could not have been less interested in me.

These sharks are obviously pretty used to humans and didn't seem to think twice about darting underneath or in front of us.

After overcoming the initial panic, I was calm enough to actually look around.

Stingrays appeared to be flying through the water, paying very little attention to the two wetsuited observers swimming just metres from them.

The oceanarium is divided into a snorkelling area and an off limits area, giving the marine life somewhere to go that swimmers cannot. It was within this off limits area that I caught sight of Sarah.

The 10-year aquarium veteran was relaxing against the far wall of the tank, seemingly without a care in the world.

There were at least five metres between me and her at all times and that was definitely close enough.

Despite the dog comparison I found it hard to keep the Jaws tune out of my head as she looked towards us.

A relatively small shark managed to position himself between me and the metre-wide exit which caused a little bit of commotion on my end when I realised the flash of silver right by my head was in fact not my swimming companions flipper but this little shark's tail.

The shark seemed to panic a bit too and we both diverted off course in opposite directions.

Him, I assume, to hide at the bottom of the tank away from any intruders to his space and me to a nice hot shower.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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