Snorkeling with Sharks in Hawaii

A little more than ten years ago, I went sky diving on Halloween. I was looking for a thrill. This Halloween I went snorkeling with sharks in Hawaii.

As you approach the Haleiwa wharf on the North Shore of Hawaii, you’ll have a lot of shark snorkeling options. While in Florida I reserved a spot with Hawaii Ocean Adventure Tours – sight unseen. As I walked to the boat at 6:45 AM, I saw people crammed in boats like sardines with bulky shark cages hanging over the stern. I bypass them, and board Captain Ryan’s boat. He is the only crew member today and there is a total of 5 guests. His boat doesn’t have a shark cage.


A Hawaiian sunrise, welcoming the opportunity to snorkel with sharks.

In a quick 15 minute ride we are 3 miles off the coast of Hawaii where the ocean floor gradually drops. Galapagos sharks are what we are in search of. They are found throughout the waters surrounding Hawaii, but the North Shore is the best chance of spotting a lot of them. Their underside mouth location gives a clue to their diet. They are benthic feeders, typically predating on crabs, octopus, and fish found on the ocean floor.

Soon after our boat reaches its destination, sharks begin to surface. From the safety of the boat these peak predators are intimidating. Perfect for a Halloween fright. Their dorsal fin slowly rises from the undulating waves. Like Captain Ryan says, you hear Jaws music in your mind and start recalling every horrible news article about shark attacks. You start thinking to yourself, why am I voluntarily going in the water with them? But once in the cerulean pelagic waters off the gorgeous Hawaiian coast, the sharks stop appearing devilish and start looking purposeful. With decades of Pavlovian conditioning, these sharks have grown accustomed to getting an easy meal from the byproducts of crabbers and fishermen when they hear the boat propeller vibrations.

Captain Ryan enters the ocean first. I am voluntold by the other guests to go second. I place my feet on the stern’s ladder and quickly place my fins and mask on. I slip in the warm water. Placing my masked head down into the water I see a half a dozen sharks orbiting the boat and us. They are not interested in us, they are cruising for a seafood snack.

Floating behind the boat, I quickly redirect my attention from the 7 to 11 feet sharks looping around me and focus on a six-inch crocodile needlefish. The fish is either very aggressive or very friendly. Wherever I go, this tiny fish follows.


Crocodile needlefish, called ‘aha, can reach over 3 feet in length!

Captain Ryan says that the sharks can be identified by their unique scarring patterns. A large female, who he has seen for almost ten years, sadly once got too close to a boat’s propeller. Another shark has a fishing hook in its mouth. These are some of the challenges facing the world’s population of sharks.

When sharks are murdered for their fins, their populations do not rebound quickly. Captain Ryan says that Galapagos sharks reproduce through vivipary. This is where the developing embryos are fed by a placental connection formed by a yolk sac. Female Galapagos sharks can have young every 2-3 years and their gestation period is up to 13 months. Captain Ryan says that sometimes the pups inside the mother will perform siblicide on their littermates! Talk about scary!

In addition to snorkeling with sharks in Hawaii, Hawaii Ocean Adventure Tours is great if you want to customize a tour. Here are some of their offerings which you can consider on your next Hawaii vacation.



Time of Year

Fishing Charter 4-9 hours Year Round
Pelagic Shark Snorkel 2 hours Year Round
Snorkel with Sea Turtles 2 hours April – September
Sunset Cruise 2 hours Year Round
Whale Watching 2 hours December – April

Here is a video that I took with a cheap action camera. Captain Ryan took the camera for a few minutes to get us in the shot.

Sharks aren’t spooky – they are vital to having healthy oceans. Here’s how you can help. 

4 Tips on Being a Shark Steward

1. Do Not Eat or Purchase Shark
(shark meat, white shark teeth, shark jaws, shark leather)

2. Be an Informed Consumer
(sometimes chondroitin – used for osteoporosis is made from shark cartilage)

3. Tell Your Friends How Vital Sharks are and Defend Them!
(Don’t share shark stories that are hyperbolized)

4. Eat Seafood Responsibly
Over ½ of sharks that are caught yearly is due to by-catch. Purchase fish from sustainable companies. Get the Sea Food Watch card to help you make choices for a healthy ocean.

Thank you Hawaii Ocean Adventure Tours for the great experience.

I’ll leave you with a quote from marine biologist Sylvia Earle.

See the source image

To learn how to conserve resources by growing your own food check out my book “99½ Homesteading Poems: A backyard guide to raising creatures, building features, growing opportunity and cultivating community” which is now on sale. 



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