What Are The Chances Of Seeing A Shark While Scuba Diving?

What Are The Chances Of Seeing A Shark While Scuba Diving?

Sadly, due to over fishing and shark finning, the chances of actually seeing a shark whilst scuba diving are incredibly slim. I say sadly because the scare stories are wrong, they are beautiful, intelligent animals.

If I said you would be diving with the potential to see sharks, what would your reaction be?

I remember seeing my first shark on a dive, and I was completely blown away! Since then, I suppose you could say I have the ‘shark-bug’. 

Before you started diving, you may have had a different view of sharks, and particularly their interactions with humans.

No thanks to the media and the famous movie “Jaws”, human perceptions of sharks have changed, and 46 years later, people are still scared to go into the ocean, let alone go diving with them. 

In this article, we will talk about why sharks are not so scary, what sharks you are most likely to see, and what to do if you encounter them. 

So What are the Chances of Meeting one of These Incredible Creatures Underwater? 

Unfortunately, sharks are becoming rarer and rarer to see diving due to the fishing industry.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute, The shark finning trade kills around 73 million sharks every year, so seeing a shark while diving is a rare pleasure and very much a privilege.

Famous American Marine Biologist and Oceanographer; Sylvia Earle once said:

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.” 

Sylvia Earle

So with that, let’s dive straight into learning more about sharks, and possibly encountering them underwater!

I Want To See Sharks – What Are The Chances?

This depends on where and when you dive, and if it is a “shark-specific dive” or not.

Dive centres usually know where and when to find sharks, so it is always recommended that you go with a dive centre to increase the chances of seeing them. 

For example, if you want to see hammerheads then the Banda Sea or the Galapagos Islands is where you want to plan your next dive holiday. 

Even on dives where sharks are not common, luck may be on your side and you may encounter one of these beautiful beasts. If you are reef diving, always check overhangs as reef sharks and wobbegongs love to hang out there!

Scuba diver surrounded by sharks

What Types Of Sharks Might you see While Scuba Diving.

There are 400+ species of sharks but below are the most common to see diving. 

  • Basking Shark
  • Blue Shark
  • Bull Shark
  • Cow Shark
  • Great White Shark
  • Hammerhead Shark
  • Lemon Shark
  • Nurse Shark
  • Oceanic Whitetip Shark
  • Reef Sharks (Caribbean, Grey, Blacktip, Whitetip)
  • Tiger Shark
  • Thresher Shark
  • Whale Shark

What are the Best Dive Destinations To See Sharks?

Hopefully, you are now excited to go for a dive and see some sharks!

So where can you see these animals?

Well, it depends on what sharks you want to see! Below is a list of diving destinations that are very well-known for seeing sharks when scuba diving. 

  • Bajo Alcyone – Cocos Island, Costa Rica: Hammerheads
  • Monad Shoal – Malapascua, Philippines: Thresher Sharks
  • Gordon Rocks – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Scalloped, Great & Smooth Hammerheads
  • Tiger Beach – Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas: Tiger Sharks
  • Pipín – Jardines de la Reina, Cuba: Caribbean Reef Sharks and Silky Sharks
  • Isla Guadalupe, Mexico: Great White Sharks
  • Shark Dive – Beqa Lagoon, Fiji: Bull Sharks
  • Gladden Spit Whale Shark Dive – Placencia, Belize: Whale Sharks
  • The Canyons – Rangiroa, French Polynesia: Great Hammerheads and Grey Reef Sharks
  • Pyramid Rock – False Bay, South Africa: Cow Sharks
  • San Diego, California, USA: Shortfin Mako Shark & Sleek Blue Shark
  • North Queensland, Australia: Grey Reef Sharks, Silvertips, & Wobbegongs
  • Jupiter, Florida, USA: Lemon Sharks

What Should You Do If You Do Encounter A Shark?

The chance of a shark attack is very small, however, they are apex predators, so should always be treated with respect – you are in their home after all! 

If you are lucky enough to see a shark while diving, we have put together our top tips on how to behave around them.

  • Always stay calm
  • Observe from a distance and never chase them
  • Remember they do not usually attack unless provoked – they do not like the taste of humans and generally only hunt at the surface
  • Take lots of pictures and videos to share with friends and family
  • ENJOY seeing these incredible marine animals

What Should I do If I’m Scared of Sharks?

I Am Terrified Of Sharks!

I hear this ALL THE TIME amongst new scuba divers that have never encountered these beautiful marine creatures.

Sharks should be scared of humans!

Approximately 73 million sharks are killed every year by the shark finning industry.

Imagine someone coming into your home to only cut off your arm and then put you back thinking you will survive – this is basically what we as humans are doing to sharks around the world. 

whale shark

Shark Attack Statistics

In 2020 there was only 129 global “alleged” shark to human interactions – 39 of which were provoked. Most of the attacks occur when surfers and other board sports ignore the beach rules and surf at dawn and dusk when sharks are likely to be in that area hunting for food. 

In terms of scuba divers, over 57 years, only 62 people have been victims of shark attacks. For example, jellyfish are more likely to injure or kill a human than sharks. 

What To Do In The VERY Unlikely Event You Get Attacked By A Shark.

You may have provoked the shark in some way and it is now displaying signs of aggression:

  • Swimming directly at you with some speed
  • Hunching its back
  • Lowering its pectoral fins
  • Swimming in a zig-zag pattern with its head slightly down
  • Swimming rapidly in an up and down motion

If a shark displays any of these behavioural signs it is more likely to attack. 

If you can back up against the reef or a structure, if in open water go back-to-back with your dive buddy and slowly ascend to the surface to reach your boat, or gradually descend to the bottom if you are on a shore dive. 

If the shark approaches and you can fend off the shark, use equipment such as cameras or spearguns – this is only if the shark is going to attack, never provoke a shark.

In the very unlikely event that a shark grabs onto you, hit the tip of the nose, the eyes, or the gills as these are the most sensitive parts of the shark – “playing dead” does not work, always act aggressively defensive. 

Despite this, as mentioned before, fatal shark attacks are very tiny (~10 per year) compared to other animals such as mosquitos (killing up to 1 million humans every year) or even death by coconut!

Coconuts kill an average of 150 people every year.

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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So, are you ready to experience diving with sharks? – I know I would be (and am quite jealous if you do see one).

To increase your chances of seeing sharks, book dive trips when they are in season and go with a dive centre that does shark-specific trips, or knows where to find them. 

Remember, if you do see a shark while scuba diving, always remain calm, maintain your position, keep some distance, and most importantly – ENJOY SEEING THEM!

They may not be around for ever!

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Darby Bonner

Darby is a marine biologist and PADI scuba diving instructor from the UK. With over ten years of diving experience, she has visited some of the best dive destinations in the world. Currently, Darby is living in Bali, Indonesia and regularly dives at some of the most beautiful dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Her passion for the ocean led her to study seals, publish a paper, and become a marine mammal medic. In the future, she hopes to complete her master’s in marine science, and of course, continue her love for teaching and diving!

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