A tiny island off the coast of Mexico is fast becoming the destination to dive with Great White Sharks.
Guadalupe Island hosts one of the most prolific populations of White Sharks on the planet. It offers warm (65-75 degrees) and sky-blue waters with an incredible visibility (about 100 feet), and an abundance of these impressive creatures.
It is located 150 miles off the west coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula—about 250 miles southwest of Ensenada.
Divers who come to this island in search of Jaws’ cousin usually find themselves choosing from a number of diving companies. Most provide small group jaunts with submersible shark cages in various sizes, some double-decker and some large box styles.
“Guadalupe Island has become one of the best spots to go to—even next year there are spots sold out,” said Sheri Lewis, a travel agent with Incredible Adventure.
Lewis said that as shark diving grows in popularity, more and more Americans are heading to Guadalupe Island – foregoing traditional shark diving hotspots like South Africa or Australia because they are so cost prohibitive.
Although there are spots to shark dive in the U.S., travel experts say nothing else in the Americas beats the waters and sharks of Guadalupe Island.
“San Francisco is murky and protected as a sanctuary. For your dollar you can see a lot of sharks at Isla,” Lewis said. “In the community of the shark world, it’s known as the hot spot for shark divers. It’s exciting for those folks.”
As Shark Week rolls out its numerous graphic, horrifying episodes this week, attempting to scare the bejesus out of TV fans, the truth about sharks is that more than 100 million sharks were killed by humans last year – mostly for shark fins, a delicacy.
While Shark Week is a commercialized way to expose people to sharks, it also educates people about an amazing fish that gets a bad rap, said Cindy Michaels, communications director for Shark Diver, one of the tourism companies that promote the island.
“Shark Week is a huge craze and phenomenon, bringing down a lot of people who’re interested in shark diving with us,” Michaels said. “… Our staff is dedicated to educate people who dive here and to protect these amazing creatures.”
A recent study by the University of British Columbia and Pew shows sharks are now worth more alive than they are in a bowl of shark fin soup, according to Fox Business. Global shark fisheries produce $630 million annually, but their value has been declining for the last decade.
At the same time, shark ecotourism is generating $314 million annually, and continues to rise – it’s expected to be worth more than $780 million by 2033, according to Fox Business.
And one of the places benefiting from this growth is Guadalupe Island, a rough, rugged landscape formed from two ancient volcanoes and a volcanic ridge that rises to over 4,000 feet above sea level.
Although the island itself is hardly inhabited –it has a handful of abalone and lobster fishermen who live in a small camp on the west side of the island, and sometimes a few researchers– the increase in tourists shark divers in recent years is benefiting travel companies that have recently started popping up all over the island.
Guadalupe's sharks migrate beginning as early as Dec. 21 to a vast pelagic habitat in the mid-Pacific, where they spend an average of 140 days diving, at times, to 3,000 feet in an apparent search for food.
Great White sharks can be as large as 20 feet long, weigh an upward of 5,000 pounds, and live for 30 years.
There are ways to dive with 18-foot-long Great Whites, the size of small station wagons, that help with their preservation, experts said. One outfit offers what they call “conservation shark diving.”
August through October is peak season for seeing Great Whites – but few places on the globe are as prime a destination as Guadalupe Island for adrenaline junkies.
Freelance writer Jenna Rose Robbins, who recently visited the island, said the beauty and majesty of the fish make shark diving an exhilarating, thrill-seeking adventure.
“And then it appeared. Like a phantom shadow, the shark approached from below, slowly swishing its massive tail side to side as if it had all the time in the world,” Robbins wrote in AOL Travel. “This was nothing like spotting a shark confined in an aquarium's tank.”