Now anyone age 9 or older can swim with the sharks at Florida Aquarium, not just certified scuba divers.
A new 30-minute experience at 1:15 and 3:30 p.m. daily called Shark Swim gives visitors an introduction to diving in an artificial reef home to massive sand tiger sharks, a sea turtle, barracudas, eels, stingrays and more than 1,600 fish.
A small scuba tank, regulator and flotation device keep four swimmers at a time just below the surface, guided with a long pole near the well-fed and uninterested 7-foot sharks.
"It does make you want to become scuba certified because it's so incredible to see," said aquarium marketing manager Katie Edmiston, who tested out the Shark Swim recently. "And that's the goal, to make people want to dive more, to become more aware of what's down there and become advocates of the ocean."
The shark bait, er, guests, will start off on the shallow side of the reef with stingrays, puffer fish, lobsters and tropical fish before heading over to the deep side to join the sand tiger sharks and other animals. That's when the guests will become the main attraction for visitors looking in from the gallery.
The divers get a mandatory education session to learn the do's and don'ts of diving with the ocean's predators. Basically, if you stay calm and leave them alone, they will do the same. And aquarium personnel are there with tools that can be used for defense if things get dicey.
The aquarium has been running its Dive With the Sharks program for more than 10 years for certified scuba divers, ages 15 and older, with no injuries, but this is the first time the program has been extended to those without certification.
It costs $100 per person, which includes aquarium admission for the diver.
For information about the aquarium, in Tampa's Channel district at 701 Channelside Drive, see flaquarium.org.