Diving with sharks in an aquarium is dramatically different than scuba diving amongst sharks in open water. I've done both and must confess this land-locked aquarium dive turned out to be one of my favorite dives ever.
Sitting quietly underwater, my back against a wall in the Sunken Shipwreck pool in Denver's Downtown Aquarium, the 10-foot sand-tigers, brown and zebra sharks swam toward me so slowly that I could count their teeth. For almost an hour, the divemaster, another diver, and myself, slowly moved along a three-foot trench, our backs to the wall, watching the sharks swim toward and past us, often closing to just a few feet away.
And then, when we were least expecting it, a sawfish sleeping on the sand woke up and drifted lazily toward us. As the five-foot-long sawblade-like snout came close, I sank down below the top of the trench. At times, while staring googley-eyed at all of the underwater activity, a sleek, silvery great barracuda flashed by, moving at twice the speed of the sharks. Near the top of the pool, a 400-pound green sea turtle staked out his territory.
Why an Aquarium Dive With Sharks Is Fun
I've known about the Dive With The Fish and Dive With The Sharks program in Denver for years, but never thought it could be as interesting – or as much fun – as an open water dive. I was wrong. Aquariums must stay at certain temperatures and be kept clean, so the visibility is excellent. With no current to push them along, the tangs and other smaller inquisitive fish hover five inches from your face for minutes at a time, providing an experience that is incredibly difficult to replicate in the wild.
Get Scuba Certified in an Aquarium
The most common route to becoming a certified scuba diver in Colorado is to learn the basics in a pool and head to warm-water locations for the final open water certification dives. A-1 Scuba, which runs the dive program at Downtown Aquarium, offers several options. If you want to learn to dive, or need a refresher course. The company offers a PADI Scuba Diver Certification, a "Try Scuba Diving" experience, and a Scuba refresher course.
Dive With Fish, Dive With Sharks, Learn Underwater Photography
A-1 Scuba has the Swim With The Fish, Dive With The Fish and Dive With The Sharks programs, plus a PADI Adventure Diver program that include three dives, and an underwater photography dive class. The owner, Scott Taylor, is a trained instructor for the Handicapped Scuba Association and has special equipment to lower persons with disabilities into the water to snorkel or scuba dive too.
Booking Dive With Sharks, Dive With Fish or Other Programs
To make reservations for Dive With The Sharks or the other scuba programs at the Downtown Aquarium or for additional program information, call A-1 Scuba & Travel Center at 303-789-2450, or visit A1 Scuba.com. Dive with Fish programs start at 11:30am Saturday and Sunday. Dive With Sharks programs are offered Saturday and Sunday starting at 1pm.You must be certified to participate in the Dive With The Sharks experience.
While you may bring your own dive mask (especially if it has prescription lenses), you cannot bring your own wetsuit. Due to exhibit contamination and animal safety concerns, the rest of the equipment is provided.
Snorkel With The Fish
If you don't scuba dive but want a similar experience, anyone from age 6 and older can Swim With The Fish in the Under The Sea Exhibit. Half the fun of this snorkeling experience is waving to the people watching you from the far side of the aquarium glass.
Dive or Snorkel With Fish In Aquariums Around the Country
Several other aquariums around the country offer programs where you can either snorkel or dive with fish. You'll find a list in Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Aquariums.
If you think scuba diving might be fun, visit How to Start Scuba Diving. If you already love scuba diving and are looking for special places to explore underwater, visit Top Picks for Scuba Diving Off the Shore. If you'd like to snorkel or swim with whales and sharks during open-water dives, visit Snorkel With Whales and Sharks.