Leave Shark Week to the couch potatoes – take the plunge with these amazing creatures for a real adrenaline encounter
Fun fact: hammerhead sharks are named after their unusual shaped heads which they use to full effect, pinning their main source of food – stingrays – to the sea floor before devouring them. And if you ever harboured dreams of diving with one of these magnificent creatures, then one of the best places to catch them is in our own backyard.
Layang Layang, the secret shark haven
Located 300km North West of Kota Kinabalu, smack middle of the South China Sea is Layang Layang island. Measuring at 7.5km long and 2km wide, Layang Layang is an atoll with an airstrip, a resort on one end and a Naval Base at the other. It’s so tiny that even finding it on Google Maps is next to impossible, which is a good thing too because its exclusivity as one of the best diving experiences on this side of the world has remained intact. The resort on the island operates its own chartered flight service out of Kota Kinabalu Airport so accessing it is relatively easy.
Most divers in the know, however, make the trip to Layang Layang for the main purpose of seeing Hammerhead Sharks. Every year from March to August, the waters surrounding this atoll also becomes home to schools of Hammerheads. Belonging to the family of Sphyrnidae, the Hammerhead is the only shark of its kind that boasts enhanced 360-degree vision similar to that of birds. They average between four to five metres in length and can weigh up to over 200 kilos.
As always, seeing these magnificent beasts isn’t a straight up guarantee but if you plan your trip between the months of June and July, the odds in your favour. Also, due to the nature of the surrounding waters, which is rife with currents, only seasoned Advanced Open Water divers should attempt dives at Layang Layang. Hammerheads tend to be visible more than 25 metres down, which is a depth that could prove a tad testy for newbie divers.
AQUARIA: SHARKS IN THE CITY
Located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Aquaria KLCC hosts a Shark Cage Diving program allowing visitors to step into a cage forming part of the centre’s 2.7-million litre Living Oceans tank. Once inside, you’ll be treated to a fisheye view of the aquarium and rub elbows with all 5000 marine species of Aquaria KLCC, including several Sand Tiger Sharks and a Tawny Nurse Shark.
PORT LINCOLN: JAWS ENCOUNTER
There are a few places on earth where you can dive with the Great White Shark but in terms of abundance and ease of connection, Port Lincoln, South Australia is easily your best bet. Accessible via a short one-hour flight from Adelaide, Port Lincoln boasts a vibrant tuna farming industry that also ranks as one of the best places on earth to witness JAWS in action. To see them up close, you’ve got to stomach a three-hour boat ride on the open seas to Neptune Island before stepping into a 2×4 foot steel cage immersed in hypothermic-inducing waters. You won’t worry much about the cold, though, as the emergence of the Great Whites will be more than enough to keep you occupied!
OSLOB: SWIM WITH GENTLE GIANTS
Whale Shark Interaction is big business in the Philippines, with a number of destinations offering the encounter. Oslob in Cebu virtually guarantees the experience due to a number of creatures that congregate in the area. Although there have been protests against residents who've taken to feeding the Whale Sharks to keep them in the area, it has been a boon for tourism in Oslob since 2011. Visitors are also guaranteed the opportunity to swim alongside these gentle giants, which is certainly a huge positive considering the journey it takes to get to Oslob. You can get there either by bus from the main Cebu Bus Terminal or fly in from Manila to Dumaguete City before hopping onto a cab to Sibulan Port where you need to board a boat for Port Liloan. Once there, a bus will take you directly to Oslob.
Photo credit: Main