Project Shark with blue o two

Liveaboard itinerary with shark expert along for the ride

Author: Pat
4th February 2012

Touring Red Sea reefs by liveaboard offers a real chance to get up close and personal with large pelagics.

Sharks. By now you’re probably groaning at yet another dive feature on these top predators of the sea. While magazine editors and commissioned photographers do seem obsessed by them, with the exception of the Basking Shark, Porbeagle and a few others, the chances of running into a shark during a UK dive are generally remote.

Luckily Egypt is only 5 hours away. Dive safari outfit blue o two runs numerous Red Sea itineraries and has created an add-on to its ‘Simply The Best’ tour, known as ‘Project Shark’. What could be a corny sales ploy is in fact a seven-day series of dives and lectures in the company of Dr Elke Bojanowski. Elke has been studying Red Sea sharks – the Oceanic Whitetip in particular – since 2004 and is considered an expert in the field, making her a uniquely knowledgeable liveaboard companion. Not to mention a friendly and expert dive guide into the bargain.

The blue o two fleet has recently expanded to four vessels and we sailed on MV Blue Melody from Hurghada. She’s a hugely impressive ship with great thought gone into her design and a highly proficient crew. Nitrox is available as a supplement and since sharks seem to favour the 35-40m range, has to come highly recommended. After check-out dives and a thrilling night dive in the shallow waters off Hurghada, first port of call was the Brothers.

the best time of day to see sharks is at first light

The Brothers islands are a pair of rocks in the middle of nowhere. Big Brother is roughly the size and shape of a WW2 battleship, albeit with a lighthouse for a superstructure. The surrounding reef plummets away to god-knows-what (a common theme on all sites throughout the week) but has a healthy coral growth all around at recreational depths. If you’re a wreck fan the Numidia is one of the most gorgeous imaginable, lying vertically on the reef covered in soft and hard corals and surrounded by large fish. Lying nearby is the smaller and less impressive Aida, a lighthouse resupply ship.

As per Elke’s instructions the best time of day to see sharks is at first light, calling for pre-breakfast 6am dives. Descending into the blue at 30 to 40 metres provided sightings here of Grey Reef Sharks and Whitetip Reef Sharks.

Nearby Little Brother island is about the size of a basketball court yet can hold its own with an impressive reef covered in stunning Gorgonian ferns. Much excitement came courtesy of a visiting Thresher Shark, which swam swiftly in circles, flicked its tail, and was gone.

Overnight Blue Melody steamed south and guests awoke to find the boat moored at Daedalus Reef. Similar to The Brothers, here the landmass is reduced to a tiny lump of sand hosting a lighthouse, with a much larger reef system that stretches out into the sea. Divers were dropped into the water on the northern side via one of the liveaboard’s four Zodiac inflatables, and sighted a scalloped Hammerhead shark, Grey Reef Shark and a Silky Shark. The latter circled the diving group several times, a fishing line clearly visible trailing from its mouth a good six feet.

Following afternoon tea and shisha with the lonely lighthouse keepers of Daedalus – with topics including Manchester United – we sailed inland once more towards Elphinstone. Unlike earlier sites here the reef is completely submerged, made up of a series of steps at around 6m, 15m, 40m and beyond. Our group swam the wrong way and made do with a picturesque wall dive but the half who made it to a plateau spotted several hammerheads. Elphinstone has been known in the past for its Oceanic Whitetip Shark encounters, although Dr Elke said these have decreased in recent years.

Afternoons on the hugely well-equipped Blue Melody are a comfortable affair, with large beanbags, bar, a sun deck and air-conditioned lounge. Were these not enough, the bonus for ‘Project Shark’ participants is a series of lectures from Elke on identifying sharks, their habitats, behaviours and conservation efforts. Few liveaboards are likely to provide a similar experience, given her credentials as an authority on sharks in the area and many years of studying them.

For me personally whose only run-in has been with Dogfish on the bottom of Studland Bay, ‘Project Shark’ has given new impetus to dive again with these amazing apex predators.

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