Found throughout most of the world’s oceans and ranging in size up to the largest fish in the ocean (the whale shark!), sharks are an incredibly diverse group of animals!
Though they are often portrayed as villainous in Hollywood movies and dramatic “documentaries,” sharks actually deserve cheers not fear, because they play an essential role in keeping the ocean food web balanced. As oceanographer and Oceanic Society board member Dr. Sylvia Earle so eloquently puts it, “Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you're lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you're in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don't see sharks.”
In celebration of Shark Week, we’ve compiled a list of expeditions that will give you the best chance to see these special animals in the wild.
Raja Ampat is home to "walking" epaulette sharks, wobblegong sharks, whale sharks, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, and grey reef sharks.
With Raja Ampat declared a sanctuary for sharks and manta rays in 2013, the opportunity to see these wonderful animals will be assured well into the future.
Palau is a great place to see reef-associated species including zebra sharks, grey reef sharks, blacktip (pictured) and whitetip reef sharks.
Palau’s decisive efforts to ban commercial fishing, to create a shark sanctuary, and to set aside fully protected marine areas are combining to help fish populations thrive. And while in most areas of the world it is becoming increasingly rare to see sharks, Palau’s approach to conservation means that it is not unusual to see four or more shark species on your expedition.
Off the Eastern coast of the Baja California Peninsula lies the Sea of Cortez, where snorkelers can come eye to eye with whale sharks, the largest fish on Earth. These filter-feeders can reach lengths up to 40 feet and weigh around 40,000 pounds!
Whale sharks are protected in Mexico, and the federal government has established regulations for tourism operators and visitors, designed to protect the endangered whale sharks and allow tourism that supports local communities.
Endangered scalloped hammerheads are recognizable by their wide, wavy heads. They are not known for being aggressive towards people, and have even been described as shy!
The Banda Sea is home to “Hammer Island,” a remote location where endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks are known to school in large numbers. Since 2013, Indonesia has declared 5 species of shark species, including the scalloped hammerhead, as protected species.
Amanda Townsel is an Oceanic Society communications strategist, copywriter, and community coordinator. Amanda earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of San Diego and a Master’s in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She is an avid traveler with a professional career that includes diving, marine ecotourism research, and strategic communications for conservation organizations.