Monday, March 28, 2011

Shark Diving in Busan

          Over Christmas one of my girlfriends Jenna, got certified with her Open Water scuba diving certification in the Philippines. When she got back to Korea, she was infused with the fresh enthusiasm of a brand new diver. Diving is a sport that most people don't have the pleasure of trying out in life and even those who do, tend not to get 'out in the blue' that often. I ended off my trip to India last year in Indonesia and probably spent the better half of a month under water diving. I've had the pleasure of diving around the world, in 10 different countries and I am coming pretty close to my 100th dive. I love it. Diving a few times a year is fun. But getting the opportunity to do a lot of diving over a consecutive period of time is out of this world. Just like anything you do, with practice you become better and your comfort levels increase. Diving in the Gilli Islands, just off the island of Bali was so much fun. It is known for it's world class diving environment, but it was just a blast to be able to spend so much time under water and see so much. Because I finally got around to getting my advanced certification, there were fun things to do in the water like orientation drills, fish identification, learning underwater photography, night diving and drift diving. So when my girlfriend came back to Korea having loved her dives, it put the bee back in my bonnet. We were researching where, when and how quickly we could get back into a wetsuit and 30 metres below the surface in Korea. And so the plan hatched to head to Busan.

On a cold and snowy January night we found an advertisement for Shark Diving (all year round) in Busan, which is on the opposite side of the country, and we jumped on it. So a few weeks back Jenna and I, plus another girlfriend Jess (who had never been diving before) were all booked in.

We left Osan late Friday evening and arrived in Busan via the KTX (cross country fast trains) even later on Friday evening. I love Korea, it took us less than 4 hours to get from the Northwest side of the country to the Southeast, just like that. We found a cheap love motel and got a decent nights sleep and then set out for Hyundai Beach.

The Busan Aquarium is situated pretty much right on the beach, so we grabbed coffee and sandwiches and had breakfast overlooking the sea. The temperatures were much nicer down in the south compared to up in Osan. After a cold winter it felt so great to be breathing warm sea air. Even at 10 am the beach was full of Korean tourists feeding the wretched seagulls and just strolling about enjoying the morning.

Ok, the actual dive. We met our Dive Master and host for the day (a fellow Torontonian), and got the news that everyone else has canceled and it'll be just the 3 of us and him all day, sweet! We went through a brief intro, rules, regs, and an outline of what was about to go down.

This wasn't a normal dive on so many different levels. The max depth we hit was 5 metres, because obviously we were in an aquarium. The weird part was we were diving without fins. So you basically drop down (we were heavily weighted) to the bottom and navigate with a type of hop/jump/step kind of movement. It was like a moonwalk, and I would imagine this would be similar to how zero gravity feels. So keeping our limbs nicely tucked in we hopped around the shark infested waters. The aquarium held about a dozen sharks all way bigger than us. There were nurse sharks, black tipped sharks, white tipped sharks and hammer heads. There were also groupers that could've swallowed Jessica (granted she is 5 foot nothing, but these groupers were masssssssssive!), sea turtles and sting rays. Swimming amongst the big fish were hundreds of schools of little fish as well. What an adrenaline rush.

The aquarium has (safely) been doing shark dives for 9 years, so these fish are accustomed to seeing people strolling around their territory. Saying that though, we were advised to keep all ourselves tucked in and obviously take any other precautions not to piss these guys off. For example if a shark is headed for you just stay put and it will go around you. Yeah, easier said than done when an 8 ft shark is staring you down and headed your way. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing a gnarly toothed carnivorous fish headed straight for you. We had a camera but the pictures do not do any justice. The size of the fish is really skewed underwater and, and with movement and no flash most of the shots are blurry.  There is a great 10 second video on their website that gives you a quick peak of the underwater environment.

Our dive time was less than an hour and for parts of it we just chilled in one spot, absorbing the world around us. Our dive master had told us ahead of time to check out the aquarium floor for sharks teeth. Apparently sharks shed their teeth all the time, and can have about 35,000 in one lifetime. They are not attached to the jaw, they are in their flesh and when one falls out, like on a conveyor belt, the next one moves into place. Sharks have multiple rows of teeth too, which made them plentiful along the bottom. They camouflaged really well into the pebbled floor but we each managed to scoop a handful as souvenirs.

Oh and one of the funniest parts of the experience were the people visiting the aquarium while we were in it. Massive fish, huge sharks and stingrays are surrounding us every which way you look, but the people apparently found us the star attractions. All the kiddies (and most of the adults) had their eyes glued on us hopping about.  Forget Jaws..... look at the crazy foreigners!

After our shark dive we spent a while going through the rest of the aquarium. There were some awesome varieties of fish to look at and fun things to do. All in all  the experience gets a 9 out of 10 for me (10's are only rewarded for being out in the REAL ocean).

This is the view people got of us looking into the aquarium. 
It also gives a better perspective of the size of the fish.
The big one on the bottom was one of the massive groupers.

Saturday night consisted of dinner at the Wolfhound and a few drinks out. Unfortunately we woke up to a dismal and rainy Sunday. Our plan was to stay dry and take the 2 hour city tour bus of Busan, but that was a flop because apparently everyone else had the same great thinking as us. We eventually got on a bus but it was so steamy and gross; all the windows were fogged making for a not so interesting site seeing day. We opted to visit Jagalchi Fish Market. Saturday we watch them in their (somewhat) natural habitat, then Sunday watch people pick 'em out for dinner. Jagalchi was actually an amazing experience. Row after row of ladies decked out in full makeup and pink rubber smocks hollering here and there trying to sell their goods. Such a colorful place.

We killed a few more wet and soggy hours having lunch and shopping and then finally headed back to the station to catch a fast rain home. Great weekend! I highly recommend, even for new divers to check this out. A really interesting way to spend a Saturday, hanging out with sharks.


Yelena Lim said...

OMG! there are real sharks?! real?!! wasn't you afraid of being eaten? lol

Travelling Chick said...

love this post - wow sharks!! crazy!!! ... and totally dig the beach shot of Busan .. ohhh so many times spent there..sober and not so sober ;) ... and the market!!! so amazing eh? Makes me hungry for some Korean sashimi! ;-))))