Last year, only five humans died because of shark-related attacks — but that'd hardly stopped people from fearing the ocean's most vicious-looking predator.
For those brave enough to encounter these toothy beasts up close, there are plenty of options, ranging from the undeniably cool (gently gliding alongside a 50,000-pound whale shark) to the straight-up terrifying (cage-diving with fearsome great whites).
There's only one way to find out if you have what it takes to conquer your fears. You may just need a bigger boat.
Watch Great White Sharks Breach in Gansbaai, South Africa
Often to referred to as “Shark Alley,” the Gansbaai coast offers extraordinary encounters with the mighty great white. Odds are good you’ll see more than a few — these waters are home to one of the world’s largest populations of great white sharks, who flock here to feed on the abundance of fur seals.
The largest predatory fish is recognized by his gray skin, white belly and sharp triangular teeth. The shark's bullet-shaped body can grow to an average of 15-20 feet, and reach 5,000 pounds.
In “Shark Alley,” adventure seekers can cage-dive for thrilling brushes with this awesome specimen. You don’t even have to be scuba-certified to enjoy the unforgettable experience.
If that sounds too audacious, you can still get pretty close to the great white on a boat, thanks to their preference for surface feeding. Lucky spectators may even see a great white breaching, a true spectacle.
Dive Cage-Free with Tiger Sharks at Tiger Beach, Bahamas
Located an hour away from Grand Bahama Island, Tiger Beach is one of only two locations in the world where you can dive cage-free with tiger sharks. With a maximum depth of 20 feet, the waters here allow you to come within a fin’s length of these majestic sharks, as well as reef sharks, nurse sharks and giant hammerheads.
Growing up to 16 feet and weighing 1,300 pounds, the tiger shark is the fourth largest in the shark family. Like the great white, it has been involved in fatal human attacks, but is known to prefer man-made objects like paint cans, rubber tires and license plates to people. The tiger sharks at Tiger Beach are so used to humans that they pose little threat, and will often even playfully pose for the camera.
During your dive, look out for two famous sharks: Hook, who has a bent lower jaw, and Princess, known for her graceful demeanor.
If swimming with tiger sharks isn’t your thing, head over to the Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island and try out the Serpent Slide, a five-story water slide that ends with floating through a clear tunnel in a shark-filled lagoon.
Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres, Mexico
If there’s a shark that defies stereotypes, it’s the whale shark. The world’s largest fish can grow as big as a school bus and weigh a staggering 50,000 pounds. For the exceptional experience of snorkeling with these colossal creatures, head to Mexico’s Isla Mujeres from May to July.
An easy ferry ride from Cancun, the island’s crystal-clear waters are ideal for viewing whale sharks. You may even get close enough to count their spots. (Fun fact: Whale shark spots are arranged in unique patterns, similar to human fingerprints.)
And don't worry: Though whale sharks have over 300 rows of teeth, they are not predatory and don’t eat humans.
See the Shark that Inspired "Jaws" at Beqa Lagoon, Fiji
In breathtaking Fiji, a section of protected reef in Beqa Lagoon known as the Shark Reef Maritime Reserve houses tiger sharks, grey reefs and more. But the star attraction is undoubtedly the incredible bull shark.
Though it may be intimidating to swim cage-free with the aggressive sharks that inspired Peter Benchley’s “Jaws,” tour operators put safety first by instructing divers to respect the bull shark territory and keep their distance. Most of the sharks do the same — yet watching their 400-pound frame glide through the water is still a terrifying thrill. Perhaps even more jaw-inspiring is the site of a massive bull shark eating out of a (trained) feeder’s hands.
The reserve is dedicated to the conservation of sharks and works with Fiji’s government and villages to sustain its economy.
Have a Sleepover with Sharks at The National Aquarium in Baltimore
Sure, Baltimore is famous for being home to Edgar Allan Poe and the Orioles, but shark-enthusiasts should sink their teeth into the National Aquarium. Located next to the famed Baltimore Harbor, this aquarium brings you close to sand tiger sharks, black reef sharks and the obscure largetooth sawfish shark, among others — all from behind a safe shield of protective glass.
In addition to greeting creatures in the circular 225,000-gallon tank, you can opt for a “shark sleepover.” This kid-friendly experience includes informative lectures, behind-the-scenes tours and a thrilling shark catwalk, where you can walk over an open tank as the aquarium’s largest sharks swim below. Talk about sleeping with the fishes!
Go Ocean-Floor Cage-Diving with Great White Sharks in Neptune Islands, Australia
For another thrilling diving encounter with great whites, head to the Neptune Islands in southern Australia. Tours here are only accessible via one tour company, Rodney Fox Great White Shark Expeditions — but you’re in good hands with Fox, a longtime shark conservationist who has dedicated his life to dispelling the myth of the great white human killer.
Fox's advocacy may come as a surprise, considering he was was nearly killed by a great white during a spearfishing competition in 1963, an attack that necessitated 462 stitches in his chest and 92 in his right hand and arm. But after recovering and conquering his fears, Fox tested out cage-diving and learned that the sharks can actually be safe in controlled circumstances, where they are more interested in bait than humans in cages.
Today, he is the only tour provider in the world to offer ocean-floor cage diving, a captivating experience that involves descending 66 feet into our your own living aquarium to view colorful fish, stingrays and an assortment of sharks, including the great white. Surface cage dives are also available to watch the majestic creatures glide effortlessly above and below you.
Learn About Shark Conservation in Oahu, Hawaii
In the beautiful blue waters of Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaii Shark Encounters provides an eco-friendly dive experience for all ages. Swim and dive with galapagos, sandbar and tiger sharks, while learning about their importance in the ecosystem.
Diving cages are fitted with poly-glass windows and hover just below the surface, so you’ll have stellar views with just a mask and snorkel. The 10-foot galapagos shark will often press his or her nose up to the glass and expect you to return the favor, creating a moment that’s both heart-pounding and serene.
Safety for both human guests and sharks native to the area is a priority for Hawaii Shark Encounters. The tour doesn’t travel over reefs or drop anchors, and sharks are never baited into view. At the end of the tour, you’re invited to become a part of ongoing shark research to help with conservation efforts.
See a Shark Walk on Land at The Aquarium of the Pacific in Los Angeles
The Los Angeles area is home not only to superstars, but to supersharks...and there’s no better place to view them than in Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific. The main attraction here is the 10,000-square-foot Shark Lagoon, which features more than 150 sharks.
Guests are encouraged to touch the gentle bamboo and epaulette sharks — the only shark that can, amazingly, walk on land — while sand tiger, zebra and whitetip reefs sharks swim safely behind protective glass. Various interactive displays highlight sharks’ senses, sizes, teeth and reproduction, as well as their importance in the ocean’s food chain.
Swim with Basking Sharks in Oban, Scotland
The Loch Ness Monster may be Scotland’s most infamous resident, but the country’s west coast has another notable local — the basking shark. The world’s second largest fish is, on average, 30 feet long and weighs about four tons.
Though basking sharks are larger than great whites, and their mouths look big enough to swallow a car, they aren’t a threat to humans. These gentle giants live off plankton and krill and don’t use their tiny teeth for feeding.
In May-August, tour companies in Oban offer day trips or multi-day expeditions that include boat tours and opportunities for swimming with these behemoth beauties. You might also see seals, dolphins and puffins. Just be warned: Seeing a 30-foot shark with its large mouth agape might be horrifying, even if you logically know you have nothing to fear.
Want to go in search of Nessie too? Oban is less than three hours away from the Scottish highlands.
Dive with Lemon Sharks in Moorea, French Polynesia
To experience the lemon shark diving capital of the world, head to Moorea. Tahiti’s sister island brings you the opportunity to safely swim with one of the world’s brightest sharks in their natural habitat.
Known for their distinct yellow-like skin, lemon sharks average 11 feet and can weigh about 400 pounds. Fascinatingly, they have electroreceptors to help find food, which make up for their poor vision.
Moorea’s protected reefs are the perfect spot to see these sharks, who love shallow water and often travel in schools. During your diving expedition, you might also observe green turtles, barracudas, dolphins, clown fish and rays.
After a swim, you can channel your inner landshark on one of the island’s stunning beaches.
Host a Shark-Themed Wedding at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey
If we say “sharks” and “New Jersey” in the same sentence, the cast of “Boardwalk Empire” or “Jersey Shore” may come to mind — but did you know that Adventure Aquarium in Camden houses the East Coast’s largest shark collection? It’s also the only aquarium in the United States to feature great hammerhead sharks on exhibit.
Here, you can put on a wetsuit and snorkel with sand tiger and nurse sharks, take in 180-degree views in the “Shark Tunnel,” and walk inches above a 550,000-gallon shark tank on a 81-foot suspension bridge. If you’re feeling romantic, Adventure Aquarium also hosts prom, engagement and wedding packages.
Swim With Sharks in a Ship Graveyard near Wilmington, North Carolina
The Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina serves up dramatic stories with its sharks. A world-class diving site, these waters are often called the “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” due to the volume of shipwrecks that have occurred here. Divers can swim through history, passing a World War II German submarine (the U-352), and see dozens of sharks in the same breath.
It’s hard not to channel your inner pirate as you look for buried treasure with stingrays, sea turtles and sand tiger sharks. Not to be confused with the tiger shark, the sand tiger can average 6-10 feet in length and weigh up to 350 pounds, and has rows of pointed, protruding teeth that make it look ferocious — yet it is a docile creature.
In July and August, hundreds of sand tigers congregate near the wreckage, making for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Go Night-Diving with Grey Reef Sharks in Maaya Thila, Maldives
Swimming with sharks in the stunning Maldives feels like a no-brainer. After all, it does have the word “dive” in its title. One of the islands’ best spots is Maaya Thila, where grey reef and small white tip sharks swim alongside other creatures like eagle rays and octopuses. Whale sharks and hammerheads have also been known to show up here.
Though there are a variety of sharks in Maaya Thila, grey reefs are the most prevalent. Known for their amazing sense of smell, these sharks grow to about eight feet and can weigh as much as 77 pounds. Sometimes mistaken for the larger great white, grey reef sharks have a distinguishing grey mark on their fin. Just be warned that caution is advised: Grey reefs can attack humans, though they typically only react when they feel threatened.
Cited as one of the world’s top dive sites, Maaya Thila is an established and well-protected marine area for divers of all experience levels to meet-and-greet these sharks. If you’re more advanced, you can explore caves around the site, meeting barracudas, batfish, dog-toothed tuna and millions of other fish.
Weather permitting, you can also dive at night, a rare opportunity to experience a shark in the dark.