Nothing sends ocean swimmers fleeing for shore faster than a fin sighting. The word "shark" alone is enough to scare most people, immediately calling to mind the menacing theme song for the movie Jaws -- and, of course, all the gruesome attack scenes therein. But some people look past the Shark Week-induced sensationalism and all those razor-sharp teeth (up to 15 rows of them!) to see sharks for what they really are -- streamlined, beautiful animals that are fantastically adapted to their environment (there's a reason they've been around for 64 million years) and, for the most part, aren't too interested in eating humans.
For those brave souls, the thrill of floating alongside these big fish far outweighs the fright. And in truth, many sharks pose a bigger threat to plankton than to surfers or other fish -- though swimming alongside them still lends plenty of bragging rights! In order to do it, you'll need a boat (in most cases, anyway) and local knowledge to find the fish. The surest bet is to hire a local guide service or naturalist who can take you out, outfit you with snorkels or dive gear, and -- perhaps most important -- let you know how close is too close.
We scoured the globe to come up with some great guide services that offer you a glimpse inside the watery world of the oceans' most-feared fish. They'll take you on daylong dive and snorkeling charters, set you up on a live-aboard yacht for extended, all-inclusive trips, and even load you into a deep-sea submersible to get a Cousteau-style look at some seriously creepy (and rare) creatures. That underscores another fascinating fact about sharks -- more than the much-maligned Great White, there are 470 species of sharks prowling the world's oceans. There are bus-sized, plankton-eating whale sharks that you can snorkel up to and touch; little lemon sharks that you can lift out of the water (literally, but we don't recommend it...their "nibbles" can cause serious injury); streamlined makos that blast through the water at upwards of 25 mph; bottom-dwelling nurse sharks who are sort of like catfish of the sea; and, yes, 5,000-pound apex predators called Great Whites.
It's up to you what shark you want to see, and how close you want to get. Some you can reach out and touch, others are best kept on the other side of a thick steel cage. With that in mind, click through to our slideshow to see the best places in the world to get nose-to-snout with sharks.
-Andrea Minarcek, The Active Times
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