by Nick Lakoff, Certified Dive Instructor
One of the best parts of diving is by far the marine wildlife. It’s exciting to encounter a turtle, an Eagle Ray or even a shark and be able to approach it without scaring it off. Although there are no guarantees, keeping the following in mind when encountering an animal of interest will over time make you more successful at getting close to them in a way that is non-threatening to them.
- The first thing when initially spotting something you want to get a closer look at is to slow right down almost to a stall. If you speed up to get closer, the animal will sense your excitement and the increase in noise from the exertion will surely scare them off. Once an animal has decided to leave there’s not much point in pursuing them. More often than not however you may encounter the animal again as some are actually curious and will want another peak at you. Obviously if they don’t feel threatened they will just view you as another fish in the sea.
- It’s better if you can avoid using a noise maker to get the other divers attention but if not try not to make too much noise for too long a time. Noise does scare animals away so try to keep it to a minimum.
- If you’re on a night dive try to use a noise maker rather than flashing the light in circles as the movement of light at night can frighten animals. When under a direct stream of light nocturnal marine animals have a tendency to freeze to avoid detection.
- Keep your arms tucked in or crossed to make a smaller profile and avoid jerky rapid movements, the calmer you are the calmer they are.
- Try to not keep constant eye contact with the animal, looking disinterested seems to help the animal relax in your presence
- Swimming parallel to the animal rather than directly towards it is another great technique to gain its confidence.
- Nice slow controlled breathing always improves your overall chances of proximity during encounters.
- If it’s possible and the animal is on a sandy bottom, start by kneeling a cautious distance away and slowly come forward hugging the bottom. The animal usually perceives that you are foraging for food just as they are and will not feel threatened.
- Never ever try to touch or pet an animal as they do not like to be touched even from their own kind in general.
In the end I always let the animal decide if it will tolerate my proximity to them. Some animals I call players because they are relaxed and don’t mind you being close. Some however, no matter what you do, are not interested in sticking around. Some species such as the Longsnout Butterflyfish are notoriously nervous and skittish and it’s nearly impossible to get close. Others are perhaps pregnant or are protecting a brood of young and will leave no matter what. Use these tips to increase your appreciation of these magnificent animals in their natural environment.