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Shark Encounters

Rachel Flynn finds out about diving with sharks at Blue Planet Aquarium

Published on November 24th 2008.


Shark Encounters

However you feel about sharks, few can deny their fascination. At Blue Planet Aquarium they understand this well, and they're making the most of the fact that they have the largest collection of sharks in Europe by giving visitors a chance to scuba-dive alongside them. The aquarium is a National Geographic Dive Centre and a PADI 5 Star IDC Centre – which means that it's a reassuringly safe place to dive, and also a great place to learn about diving, marine conservation, and of course, the fish themselves.

In here, there's all manner of colourful creatures, from the yellow and black Pork Fish which gets its name from the grunting noise it makes when excited, to the pink Big-Eyed Squirrel Fish which has a penchant for swimming upside down.

Before visiting Blue Planet Aquarium, I never really understood the attraction of scuba-diving in a man-made pool; surely the best thing about diving is having the freedom to explore a strange, wondrous underwater world, which isn't something many indoor baths can imitate. However, the vast tank at Blue Planet Aquarium is large enough to thrill even a seasoned diver. The aqua-tunnel below is one of the longest in the world at 230ft and they do a convincing job of replicating a reef environment with more than 400 fish darting about between the rocks and coral.

There's also the big draw that in this pool, you're guaranteed to get up close to a lot of very spectacular fish – not just the sharks. I went scuba diving once in Greece and saw three, small beige tiddlers in the 20 minutes we got underwater. In here, there's all manner of colourful creatures, from the yellow and black Pork Fish which gets its name from the grunting noise it makes when excited, to the pink Big-Eyed Squirrel Fish which has a penchant for swimming upside down.

And then there's the sharks; there are ten different types at Blue Planet Aquarium including seven large Sand Tiger Sharks, a Lemon Shark, a mysterious Wobbegong and Nurse Sharks (which suck in their prey with great force, said to be the equivalent suction power of seven hoovers).

You can scuba dive here as a qualified diver or as a complete novice. Beginners are taught basic dive techniques by a qualified, experienced team, before coming face to face with the sharks. Many people do one of these 'Shark Encounter' dives for charity – or give them as a gift to a thrill seeking friend or relative. This course is also popular with companies who want a team-building day with a difference (I know a few ex-bosses who I wouldn't mind pushing into shark-infested waters). The whole experience includes equipment hire plus entry for two spectators, and usually costs £199 – but if you’re quick Blue Planet Aquarium have 50 tickets at a special rate of £149.99 if you book and pay before 31 November.

Click here to find out more about their amazing shark dive offer.

If you're already a qualified diver, you can dive for £125 – sessions last about three hours. There are several speciality courses including a Shark Awareness course (£225) which teaches about shark conservation, their biology and special techniques for diving with them. There's also a two day National Geographic Dive course (£299) which includes a dive in an off-site location as well as one in the reef tank, and a Digital Underwater Photography course (£225).

You have to be over 16 to do any of these courses, but youngsters aged 8-15 who are keen to learn underwater breathing, can do the Bubblemaker session which costs £30 and runs during the school holidays.

Many people (myself included) are happy enough gazing at the fish from the aqua-tunnel and aqua theatre; a giant window into the tank. The reef is just one part of the aquarium – there are lots of 'zones' to discover; each designed to replicate the environment of a different part of the world. As well as fish, there are otters, tropical frogs, and creepy crawlies. If you're wondering what to do with the children on a dull Saturday, this place will keep them, and you, entertained.

Clickhere to find out more and book a Shark Encounter. Blue Planet Aquarium is near Ellesmere Port, Junction 15 off the M56 (Junction 10 of the M53) .

Click here to find out more about their amazing shark dive offer.

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