Beyond the Cage: An Underwater Adventure for Little Shark Lovers

Read next

There’s something fascinating about sharks—the toothy fish with a bad reputation. Last year, we showed you how you could go eye-to-eye with sharks in a cage dive, but now there’s a new experience that gets you closer than ever to the 16 resident sharks at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Dive in to learn all about Beyond the Cage—an adventure your kids can sink their teeth into!

shark-divers-aquarium

photo: Kris Sherman

Close Encounters of the Shark Kind
Northwest shark fans, you’re in luck! Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium now offers the USA’s only shark encounters for non-certified divers ages 10 and up. You must complete the Eye-to-Eye Cage Dive first – it’s a prerequisite for going one step beyond. Once you’ve done the cage dive, you’ll know the basics and be ready for more underwater adventures. “Beyond the Cage is the fun and exciting next step for making a profound connection with our shark ambassadors,” said Heidi Wilken, one of the aquarium’s dive safety officers.

sharks-beyond-the-cagephoto: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Shark Fact: Sharks have conveyor belt teeth that are replaced every one to two weeks.

Shark Scoop
Before you enter the water, the dive guides will let you and your young diver in on some shark tidbits. For example, did you know that the smallest shark is the Dwarf Lantern shark at just 6.7 inches long? Or that a Great White shark can fast for as long as three months before needing a snack? You’ll also learn all about the five different species of sharks you’ll be sharing a tank with, so you’ll be able to spot them as they swim around you.

shark-lesson

photo: Helen Walker Green

There’s a few extra safety precautions to bear in mind when going beyond the cage (mostly it’s to keep the sharks safe from you). The dive guides will go through it step-by-step, so you’ll know what to expect and will be able to enjoy your time in the water. Just remember… breathe slowly, in and out. If you sound like Darth Vader, you’re doing it right!

Shark Fact: Sharks have tiny teeth called “denticles” on their skin. They act like a suit of armor to protect the shark and help it glide smoothly through the water. This design from nature is now being used on Olympic athletes’ swimsuits.

Suiting Up
After your Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive, you should be an old hand at putting a dry suit on (it just zips up over your regular clothes). We recommend wearing a sweatshirt, thermal shirt or fleece – it gets cold down there! If you forget extra layers, the zoo can loan you a fleece underlayer. The dive guides will help you put on a comfortable mask and hook you up to the air supply. You’ll breathe surface supplied air through a SCUBA regulator, so there are no tanks to worry about.

shark.dive.writer

photo: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Dive Staff

Take the Plunge
When it’s go time, you’ll go down into the cage and the guides will make sure you’re comfortable and breathing properly. Then, once everyone is ready, it’s time to open the cage doors and take the plunge! It’s one small step for a grownup, one giant – and amazing – step for a kid.

The sandy aquarium floor is about four feet below the cage—at a depth of 12 feet. Everyone will kneel on the floor and hold on to a bar to keep themselves steady. The entire underwater experience will last 30 minutes. Psst… don’t worry; if you want to go up sooner you can. The guides will check in with you frequently and make sure you’re breathing well and are warm enough – this is where that extra layer is important – you don’t want to have to go back up from being too cold!

shark.dive.divers

photo: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium/Dive Staff

Shark Fact: Tiger Sharks will eat anything from boat cushions to license plates and even baseballs! It’s very rare for sharks to bite humans, but it’s definitely not “safe to go back into the water” when this guy’s around.

Spot the Shark!
While at the bottom of the aquarium, watch out for Nurse, Blacktip reef, Sandbar, Sandtiger, and Japanese Wobbegong sharks. They’ll swim all around and may even brush up against you! You might also find yourself being nibbled by Damselfish – they want to protect their territory. And the dive team will take video of your dive (which you can purchase on a cool shark USB drive).

sharks-pdza

photo: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Just the Shark Facts
While kids 8 and up can participate in the Eye-to-Eye Cage Dive, they need to be at least 10 to go Beyond the Cage. And it’s not just about maturity (your child has to be able to resist touching the sharks and other creatures). Also due to biology, young ears are still developing. It’s not recommended that a child under 10 spend more than a few minutes at a depth of over 10 feet until their ears can equalize the pressure properly.

Show Sharks Some Love!
It’s no secret that sharks get a bad rap. Through this experience, your dive guides hope you’ll get out of the water with a new knowledge and appreciation of these misunderstood creatures. After you take the plunge, you can take the pledge – sign your name in support of sharks.

boy-sharks-aquarium

photo: Helen Walker Green

Good to Know
1. You don’t have to 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 dive in the South Pacific Aquarium.

3. 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.

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

5. Allow time to enjoy all that Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has to offer – from meerkats and big cats to penguins and polar bears. Check out pdza.org to plan your day.

Rates
Members: $80
Non-members: $95
(Includes admission to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and souvenir towel)

Shark Deal
Register for the Eye-to-Eye Cage Dive and Beyond the Cage at the same time and receive a $25 discount. Enter the discount code Dive2Day before checkout.

Ages
10 & up

Gear
All gear is supplied. Prescription masks are available. No personal cameras allowed.

Program
75 minutes (30 min. underwater); maximum of 4 participants per dive.

Requirements
Must be in good health and complete a health questionnaire. Pregnant visitors may not dive. Maximum weight is 275 lbs.

Beyond the Cage Dive Times
Sunday, Monday & Friday, 11:15 a.m., Thursday, 11:15 a.m. & 3:15 p.m.

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

For more information on shark conservation, visit pdza.org/savesharks.

Would your little shark lover like to go Beyond the Cage? Tell us in the Comments below.

— Helen Walker Green