Got a budding Jacques Cousteau or Shark Week enthusiast? Luckily, you don’t have to venture to the ocean to get up close and personal with these toothy friends. At Sharkmania, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s latest exhibit, landlubbers can touch real live sharks, learn about buzz saw sharks, and walk through a life-size replica of a megalodon jaw. But for the real adventurous ones in your crew, it’s the Eye-to-Eye Shark Cage Dive that’s the main attraction. Read on for the scoop on this heart-pumping thrill—no experience needed.

boy-diving

Helen Walker Green

A School of Sharks
Before taking the plunge, it’s time for shark school at the Dive Center. Your instructor will give you a talk on the rules of the cage dive and an introduction to the sharks you’ll meet (all 17 of them!). The rules are easy to follow, and the whole experience is carefully coordinated and safety-conscious. Psst! The instructors are brimming with shark facts and even have a way of keeping energetic 8-year-olds engaged.

shark-school

Helen Walker Green

Shark Fact: Sharks have been around for 400 million years. They were here before the dinosaurs!

Getting Suited Up
After your get the important shark deets, the instructors will help you put on your dry suit, dive boots, and goggles. (Be forewarned: Letting the air out of the suits will cause much laughter). No need to worry about packing a swimsuit for this journey. The dry suit zips up over your clothes – the only things you’ll need to take off are your shoes and socks. Good to know: Your head, hands and feet will get wet during the dive.

boy-goggles

Helen Walker Green

Shark Fact: Sharks have a sixth sense called electroreception. They can sense electricity in other living things (this comes in handy when they’re looking for their next snack).

Davy Jones’s Locker
When it’s time to head into the dive cage, your instructor will show you how to breathe through your scuba mouthpiece as well as add weights to your suit (to make sure you sink!). When everyone in your crew masters breathing like Darth Vader, it’s time to climb down the ladders and into the cage with the instructors by your side. Psst! If you don’t want your mouthpiece to fill with water, don’t smile on your way down – glug!

cage-dive

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Kris Sherman

Shark Fact: Sharks lose thousands of teeth in their lifetime! Bet they make a fortune from the Tooth Fairy!

Shark-Infested Waters
Plunging into the cage is an exhilarating experience for kids and grown-ups alike. Not only will you come face-to-face with these fascinating fish but you will get a shark’s-eye view of the aquarium – with friends and family looking at you through the glass. Don’t be surprised if the lemon shark playfully buzzes your cage a few times or the nurse sharks bask in a pile right by you. This is a great opportunity to try to spot the different sharks—can you see the blacktip reef shark with its signature blacktipped fin, and the unusual-looking Japanese wobbegong?

sharks-aquarium

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Kris Sherman

The dive team will take video of your cage dive and will get a shot of each person waving to the camera (you can buy a copy on a shark-shaped USB drive). The cage dive lasts about 20 minutes, with the entire experience lasting an hour. Good to know: The instructors will continually check on you during the dive and can easily send you back up if you feel uncomfortable.

boy-diving-wave

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Dive Staff

Shark Fact: Shark babies are called pups.

Save the Sharks! 
When you’re back on dry land, you will have the opportunity to find out even more about sharks and how important they are to our oceans. The dive instructors love sharks and they want you to love them too!

shark-dive

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Dive Staff

Good to Know
1. You don’t have to cage dive with your kids, but you are welcome to attend the pre and post dive talks with them.

2. Friends and family can watch the cage dive in the South Pacific Aquarium.

3. Although the shark tank is heated to 75 degrees, it can be chilly standing in the cage. The aquarium has fleece under-layers to loan divers – or you can bring your own.

lemon-shark-nurse-sharks

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Dive Staff

4. Everyone gets a free souvenir towel. T-shirts, baseball caps, and a video of your dive are also available for purchase at the Dive Center.

5. Certified PADI divers age 15 & up can go on a scuba dive with the sharks.

6. Allow time to enjoy all that Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has to offer – there are many wonderful animals to see, including polar bears, red wolves, Sumatran tigers, and elephants. You can also take a camel ride during the summer months and during the holiday season (that’s if you’re energetic enough to handle riding a camel and cage diving with sharks all in one day!).

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
5400 N. Pearl St.
Tacoma, Wa 98407
253-591-5337
Online: pdza.org/sharkmania
Reservations: pdza.org/dive (online reservations are required)

Rates
Members: $60
Non-members: $75
(Includes admission to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and souvenir towel)

Ages
8 and up

Cage Dive Times
Daily, 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 3:30 p.m.

Would your kids like to go cage diving with the sharks? Let us know in a comment below.

— Helen Walker Green