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April 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When Diving Disappoints

and big animals are a no-show

from the April, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Back in 1992, I got a dive guide job on a British-run Red Sea liveaboard, but before I joined the vessel, I found myself at a dive show enthusiastically selling trips to the coast of Eritrea that the vessel's owner had just managed to get permission to dive. I boasted of untouched diving and the fact that there were reputed to be some never-dived Italian wartime wrecks in the Dahlak islands.

Stuart Cove, in the Bahamas, boasts you will get your money back if you don't get to see a shark on one of his shark dives.

When we finally got there, we did not get permission to dive in the Dahlak islands and discovered the only other attractive sites were Fawn Reef and Saunders Reef near the border with Sudan. The rest was the endlessly featureless sandy seabed of the Dahlak bank. We compensated passengers either by slogging north to the Sudan or east to North Yemen. We should have done better research.

Nowadays, people sign up for trips to dive specific marine life phenomena, often forgetting that, for example, the Blue Planet II crew went to record the spawning of the grouper at Fakarava in French Polynesia, but it did not happen -- so they were forced to return a year later. They had sufficient budget and the discipline to do that.

Dive tour operators promise schooling scalloped hammerheads. They don't always turn up. They promise great hammerheads in Bimini, but the season for that is short. Even the Sardine Run off the east coast of South Africa doesn't always happen to order. On my initial trip to Malpelo, Colombia, I never saw a shark, proof that you cannot rely on the marine life phenomenon to coincide with the short trip you might book.

British diver Kevin Monaghan, from Blythe in the northeast of England, went on a liveaboard trip in 2013 hoping to dive with the massed mantas at Hanifaru. It's a small bay about the size of a football field that, when the wind is right, tends to collect vast quantities of plankton that in turn attracts hordes of mantas. It's a phenomenon that had become so popular, the Maldives government was forced (in 2012) to introduce strict rules regarding the number of boats allowed there at any one time and breath-hold diving only.

But the wind had not been blowing in the right direction for many days before their arrival, and there was little plankton, and consequently, few mantas. On hearing this from other boats already waiting at Hanifaru, the captain decided on a totally different route to known manta cleaning stations. Monaghan decided to sue the boat owner and the tour operator. He went away with a deal made on steps of the court!

In the Maldives, I signed up for a trip, which the Eurodivers dive center prudently called "Searching for Whale Sharks." We saw and dived with several animals, but had they called it a "whale shark trip" and we'd been unlucky, would I have had grounds for compensation?

Marine life rarely turns up as ordered, and operators take an educated guess that can sometimes be misplaced. It's the same with the weather. A boat is at the mercy of the ocean, and if sea conditions aren't right, the trip might need to be adjusted or even postponed.

Then again, Stuart Cove, in the Bahamas, boasts you will get your money back if you don't get to see a shark on one of his shark dives, but he's been training them by feeding them in the same spot for years.

However, on most trips, we're looking for certain animals that haven't been orchestrated. So, what do you think? If you expect to dive with certain species and they're a no-show during your trip, do you have grounds for a refund? Have you ever been disappointed in that way? Did you ask for compensation or did you take it on the chin? Write to, not forgetting to add your town and state.

-- John Bantin

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