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October 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Shorter Dive Times at Cocos Island?

from the October, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

An unfortunate encounter happened last December, when a diver had her legs bitten by a tiger shark off Manuelita Island, off the larger Cocos Island, and lost her life (see the January 2018 issue for details). Since then, the operator of MV Sea Hunter and MV Argo have put new rules in place to avoid that happening again. (A similar shark encounter in April caused a fright to a lone diver, but no real damage was done.)

Scalloped hammerhead sharks, for which Cocos Island is famous, are very skittish, and sport divers' exhaled bubbles will send them into retreat. Galapagos sharks are equally timid. Not so tiger sharks. They move ponderously but appear fearless -- and they tend to sneak up on lone prey.

That's why Undersea Hunter Group, which operates those two liveaboards, put this announcement on its website: "We have implemented several new procedures to enhance the safety of all our passengers, including: having all our divers enter and exit the water together; increased training for the dive guides; and equipping our dive guides with specially constructed aluminum sticks that can deter close encounters if necessary. We strongly believe that by following the above procedures, any kind of serious incident with sharks can be avoided. This is a reminder to all visitors to Cocos Island how important it is to follow the safety guidelines of dive guides at all times."

So now on every Cocos trip, the 20 divers on board are divided into two groups. But getting a group of divers to exit the water together bring its own problems. Because conditions are not always easy, and divers' experience and abilities can vary widely, bringing up a group of 10 divers at the same time means dive times are determined by the least able in the group. More experienced divers will not be pleased to have to surface after only 35 minutes, which might be the maximum amount of time a novice diver can get from a tank of air.

While these rules seem suitable while on paper, Undercurrent subscriber Catriona Steel complained of them in her recent reader's report: "In our 10-person group, we had a few people who were pretty inexperienced or hadn't dived for years, and others who were very experienced and frustrated by the dive times. We had divers out of air after only 30 or 35 minutes." It's a long way to go, at not inconsiderable expense, for such short dive times.

Another change: Undersea Hunter boats' night dives, which typically featured diving with the whitetip sharks at Manuelita Island, are no longer offered.

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