During my recent trip to Fiji, we went on shark dives with 3 dive centres, and saw a great variety of the sharks of Fiji. Apart from the more common whitetip and blacktip reef sharks, we also saw sicklefin lemon sharks, tawny nurse sharks, bull sharks, and more!

This is a quick guide to these different types of sharks and my experience with the dive centres.

I just need to acknowledge the elephant in the room first. As I mentioned previously, shark dives are controversial. I personally think if done right, they do more good than harm. You’re naturally free to disagree, and I welcome discussion. My only request is that you check out my reasoning in the link above before jumping in.

Why?

This post is just about the sharks of Fiji, and doesn’t go into detail on why I support shark dives when done right.

Aqua-trek

We saw 5 species with Aqua-trek, mostly lemon sharks and tawny nurse sharks.

Indo-Pacific Lemon Shark (aka Sicklefin Lemon Shark)

Sicklefin lemon shark - sharks of Fiji

Distinguishing features:

  • 2 dorsal fins of nearly equal size
  • large anal fin with a notch at the back
  • appear to be permanently smiling (think Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo), because they can’t draw their lower lip up over their teeth

They grow up to 3.8m (12 ft) long, but typically don’t exceed 3.1m (10 ft).

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

Sicklefin lemon shark - sharks of Fiji

See what I mean about the permanent smile?

Sicklefin lemon shark - sharks of Fiji

Tawny Nurse Shark

Tawny nurse shark - sharks of Fiji

Distinguishing features:

  • 2 dorsal fins relatively close together
  • elongated upper caudal (tail) fin and small lower caudal fin
  • broad and flat head
  • a pair of barbels in front of the nostrils (like goatfish).

They don’t look like the stereotypical “scary” shark (think Jaws) at all! (For that matter, neither does the angelshark, which is often mistaken for a ray.)

Tawny nurse sharks grow up to 3.2m (10 ft).

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

Tawny nurse shark - sharks of Fiji

Tawny nurse shark - sharks of Fiji

Silvertip Shark

Silvertip shark - sharks of Fiji

As the name suggests, they have a distinctive white tip on all fins.

Confused with the more common whitetip reef shark? Here’s how to tell them apart: the latter only have white tips on their dorsal and caudal (tail) fins, and are much smaller.

Silvertips are usually between 2 – 2.5m (6.6 – 8.2ft).

I like the hand signal for this shark: you rub your fingers together, as in “money”.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

Silvertip shark - sharks of Fiji

Bull Shark

We saw a lot more with Beqa Adventure Divers, but we saw 2 here. More about them below!

In this picture are a tawny nurse, a lemon and a bull. Can you identify each of them? (Sorry, I know the picture quality leaves much to be desired!)

sharks of Fiji

There’s always a ton of smaller fish hanging around, hoping to get some scraps. It’s interesting how quickly they all dart out of the way when a bigger shark appears, though!

Price: USD160 for 2 dives.

Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD)

The shark dive here is organised slightly differently.

Bull Shark

First, you descend to about 30m where they feed the bull sharks, including by hand! (Therefore, you need to have at least Advanced Open Water certification.)

Bull shark - Beqa Adventure Divers, Fiji shark dive

You may have heard of bull sharks before, as they have a reputation for being aggressive and unpredictable.

Here, though, they completely ignored us. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded (and ignored) by 15 of these magnificent creatures!

I heard that as many as 40 bull sharks come during peak season. I can’t even imagine!

Bull shark - sharks of Fiji

Distinguishing features:

  • Fairly stocky build (see the photo above with the tawny nurse and lemon in the same frame)
  • Second dorsal fin is significantly smaller than the first (although in the photo above, the second dorsal fin is being blocked by a photo-bombing fish!)

They grow up to 3.5m (11ft) but average about 2.4m (7.9ft) for females; the males are slightly smaller.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

Bull shark - sharks of Fiji

Bull shark - sharks of Fiji

This is the highlight of the dive. Where else would you be able to see so many bull sharks at once??

Bull shark - sharks of Fiji

After that, you ascend to 10m where they feed grey reef sharks and whitetip reef sharks. This is to avoid the bull sharks shutting out the smaller sharks, as bull sharks typically stay deeper.

Grey Reef Shark

Grey reef shark - sharks of Fiji

Distinguishing features: black-tipped dorsal fin. (The other fins are also black-tipped except for the first dorsal fin.)

They are typically less than 1.9m (6.2ft) long – so, in terms of size, smaller than silvertips but larger than whitetips or blacktips.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

Grey reef shark - sharks of Fiji

Whitetip Reef Shark

Whitetip reef shark - Beqa Adventure Divers, Fiji shark dive

These small sharks (usually not exceeding 1.6m) swarmed around the feeders like excited puppies! It was very endearing.

Their distinguishing feature is the white-tipped dorsal fin.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

The whitetip reef shark below is totally side-eyeing us, isn’t it?

Whitetip reef shark - Fiji shark dive

Finally, at the safety stop (about 4m) they feed whitetip reef sharks and blacktip reef sharks.

Whitetip and blacktip reef sharks - Fiji shark dive

Below: a whitetip in the foreground; a blacktip at the back.

Whitetip reef shark ad blacktip reef shark - sharks of Fiji

Check out the photo-bombing fish!

Blacktip Reef Shark

Blacktip reef shark - sharks of Fiji

Easily distinguished by the prominent black tips on their fins (with a rim of white below the black tip). They are about the same size as whitetips.

Conservation status: Near Threatened.

Price: FJD325 (about USD160) for 2 dives.

Conservation

While all the dive centres we visited seem to be quite keen on conservation, I want to make special mention of BAD’s efforts in this regard.

We visited during the Great Fiji Shark Count, a month where a country-wide effort is made to report the number of sharks seen on dives. It’s supposed to include all divers, but BAD was the only dive centre which actually asked us afterwards how many sharks we’d seen.

Beqa Lagoon Resort

For this dive, we took a boat over to Beqa Island at about 6.30am. We were hoping to see the elusive Tiger Shark (the biggest shark in these parts), but it was not to be.

On the bright side though, we were treated to this sunrise:

Fiji sunrise

There were tons of fish here, which made it hard to see the sharks. It didn’t help that visibility wasn’t great. There’s actually a second diver in the picture below, but you can barely see him!

(If you can, you have better eyesight than me!)

Fiji shark dive

However, we did see a tawny nurse, a grey reef, a few blacktips and a lemon. Here’s the lemon:

Lemon shark - Fiji shark dive

Price: FJD440 (USD210) for 2 dives (including boat transfers). It’s naturally cheaper if you’re staying at the resort!

But no tiger shark

Overall, this dive was the most disappointing, as it was the most expensive and yet we didn’t manage to see a tiger shark.

Some of Ian’s friends from Projects Abroad did actually see a tiger at this site, though. As always, no wildlife sighting is guaranteed, so I don’t blame the dive centre at all.

We’d definitely be singing a different tune if a tiger had graced us with its presence!

It didn’t help that the sea was somewhat choppy, so I was feeling seasick during the surface interval. I had bought motion sickness pills but was unable to use them for diving, as they were the type that causes drowsiness.

Don’t make this mistake – check before you buy them!

Hopefully this post has helped you to glimpse the majesty of these creatures. Check out my previous post on how we can all play a role in saving our sharks (and why it’s important) – even if you’re not a diver!

Do you have a favourite shark or fish?

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Sharks of Fiji - A guide to these awe-inspiring sharks | Bull sharks, tawny nurse sharks, lemon sharks, silvertip sharks and more | Diving in Fiji | MichWanderlust

This post is part of The Weekly Postcard hosted by As We Saw It, Travel Notes & Beyond, A Hole in My Shoe, Selim Family Raasta and Eff It, I’m on Holiday – check out what’s going on elsewhere!

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21 Comments on "The Sharks of Fiji: A Quick Guide for Divers"

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Lyn aka TheTravellingLindfields
Guest

You’re a lot braver than me. I have seen the odd reef shark when snorkeling and they always give me the shivers.

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

I think the movie Jaws is largely to blame for how people view sharks (as well as reports of shark attacks – they do happen but they’re usually due to the shark mistaking the human for something else like a turtle). I think the common reef sharks (whitetips etc.) are much too small to even consider attacking humans – it would be unnatural for them to go for humans when there is much easier prey available, so I’m quite sanguine about it.

galanda23
Guest

Wow, Michelle! You are very brave. First of all I am afraid of diving because I am claustrophobic. Secondly, I am afraid of sharks. Even though I’m sure you were in no particular danger during the dive, it’s still scary to see these monsters up-close. My husband, who is a diver, encountered many sharks during his dives, some of them quite big.

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks, Anda! Diving is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. I have friends who’ve tried to learn but just couldn’t get comfortable with it for various reasons. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also heard of people who can’t even swim trying to learn to dive (which is like trying to run before you can walk)!
Some of the other guests on the shark dives were understandably nervous about safety as well, but I just personally figure that it would be highly unnatural for sharks to go after us if there are much easier prey (i.e. smaller fish) available!

California Globetrotter
Guest

Such an amazing experience but I don’t know if I would have the guts to do it! #TheWeeklyPostcard

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

If you ever get the opportunity and manage to get comfortable with it after doing your due diligence (reading reviews, asking the dive centre questions, etc.), I think it’s truly the experience of a lifetime πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by, Lolo!

Anisa
Guest

Wow wow wow!!! Your pictures are amazing! Better than ones I have taken in aquariums. I don’t think I would be brave enough to do these dives though. #theweeklypostcard

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks, Anisa! I think these grainy and greenish pictures don’t do it justice (thanks in no small part to my lack of photo editing skills), but I’m really glad that you like them πŸ™‚ Yeah, even some of the other guests were understandably nervous, but they asked lots of questions before the dive and I think they really enjoyed it πŸ™‚

Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats
Guest
Hi Michelle, I like sharks although I don’t think I’d be brave enough to dive right next to them! I personally think it is OK for those who are professional divers or those in a cage to swim with sharks or watch them from the bottom of boats, etc. but I don’ t think it is right for people to feed them like this. Research is one thing and tourism is another and I don’t think chumming or shark baiting is appropriate. There are other ways to get close to them without baiting them. They are wild (and endangered animals)… Read more »
Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jessica! I really appreciate you taking the time to reply and am glad that you have a view on this – apathy and ignorance are two of the biggest challenges to shark conservation, I think, so I’m very glad we’re having this conversation. I understand where you’re coming from and have met many people who share your views – it used to be my view too actually. In an ideal world where sharks are not endangered by human activity, I’d definitely support a hands-off approach. The ideal solution, I think, is something that maximises protection… Read more »
seizetheday20
Guest

Love your photos of the sharks Michelle, but I don’t think I”d want to swim with them. We snorkeled in Fiji, which was lovely, but didn’t get to dive πŸ™‚

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks Lyndall! Yeah it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea! Snorkeling is way more affordable too haha =)

Sally-Ann Brown
Guest

Beautiful photos Michelle, though I’m not sure that I have the guts to go down and feed them myself or I think I would be hoping the whole time that this is one dive where you don’t get to experience the wild life πŸ˜‰

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Thanks, Sally-Ann! The feeding is done by professionals, not the guests

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

Sorry, I hit send too fast! Definitely don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with. Glad you enjoyed the photos anyway!

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[…] many divers visiting Fiji would probably be most interested in the shark dives, the more conventional dives are nothing to sniff at […]

RobRob @TravelLatte(.net)
Guest

Wow – those are some pretty impressive dives! I think you’re right about shark dives being (mostly) beneficial. It takes them out of the unknown and makes them something you’ve interacted with, something you have a history with, and understand. And people are much more likely to preserve that which they understand, even if only a little. That said, not sure I’m ready to be in the water with that many bull sharks! Yikes!

Michelle | michwanderlust
Guest

“People are much more likely to preserve that which they understand, even if only a little” – well-put, Rob, and I couldn’t agree more! Yeah, it was a little hard to be impressed by the much smaller whitetips and blacktips after seeing the much bigger bull sharks up close πŸ˜› thanks for stopping by!

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