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Shark Feeding course in Chainmail w/ Cristina Zenato
VicFLA - 12/04/2012 10:40 PM
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Category: Travel
Comments: 8
Shark Feeding course in Chainmail w/ Cristina ZenatoEver wonder what it’s like to hand feed sharks in chainmail? Well this was on my bucket list and I poked around the internet and found 2 "local" shark feeding programs. Both were located in the Bahamas, just a puddle jumper of a flight away from my humble abode in southeast Florida, Fort Lauderdale’ish to be exact.

One was Stuart’s Cove which was a 2 day course and the other was a 3 day course run by UNEXSO. I have never seen the Stuart’s Cove operation so I can only compare from what I’ve read online about Stuart’s Cove to what I experienced at UNEXSO.

Given limited information, why did I chose UNEXSO over Stuart’s Cove?
1) It was a 3 day course (as opposed to 2 days)

2) I saw Cristina Zenato’s famous video on YouTube -> google "333 zenato", it’s the first video on youtube that comes up - blocked from view on mobile devices though :(
3) Found out Cristina was a shark feeding instructor and where ever she taught I was going to go
4) She has quite the credentials (google is your friend once again) - started diving at 22, instructor by 23, and cave diver by 24! 15000+ dives & inductee into the scuba diving hall of fame, I knew I was in good hands !!!

This curriculum consists of 1/2 day of private lesson on shark biology & physiology from Cristina followed by an observation shark feeding dive. You are not feeding but are watching along with other divers watching. The only thing you need to bring is your mask and fins, and some throw away socks, and towel (maybe your hotel has beach towel you can borrow) everything else is provided - and the wetsuits are Cressi and in excellent condition. I would also suggest throw away clothes, so you don’t need to deal with wet clothes. UNEXSO has 3mm and 5 mm full wetsuits to chose from and if you are just watching the shark feeding, you are basically kneeling on the bottom at 45ft for 25 minutes. Participants in 3mm were indeed cold (I wore my own 3mm and was freezing towards the end). Don’t bother with the hassle of bringing your own wetsuit if all you are doing is the shark feeding, the UNEXSO supplied Cressi wetsuits are excellent.

Day 2 is an intense day starting at 8:30 meetup and has 3 shark feeding dives (2 in the morning and one in the afternoon). You have the boat all to yourself, with captain, a private videographer, and Cristina. I was eating dinner by 5 pm and asleep by 7 - I was that exhausted. You will be donning on the Neptunic C chainmail full suit plus Feeder sleeves for 2 layers of chainmail for protection on your arms. With the 5mm wetsuit, you won’t feel much when a shark chomps on your arm. Waters in late November were 75F so I would suggest 5 mm since you are not moving much.

Day 3 consists of 2 morning dives. Now that I’m more comfortable, I asked Cristina if I could don on a chest mount GoPro, based on my performance yesterday as well as being calm for all the dives. The chest mount GoPro is definitely a different perspective from the UNEXSO video of your dives that you receive at the end. If you are using a GoPro, don’t forget to have a flat lens housing to correct for the distortion, as well as red filter to add a little more color.

If you have any questions, drop me a line. I whole heartily endorse this if you are looking to feed sharks, trying to place them in tonic immobility, learning a ton from Cristina, just have an experience of a lifetime.

Here’s a video from my chestmount GoPro while shark feeding:

UNEXSO produced video of the entire session:



VicFLA - 12/05/2012 6:27 PM
I realize I am horrible at typing on my iPad ...
VicFLA - 12/05/2012 6:25 PM
Since sharks’ teeth are angled inwards, you are taught to push you limb INSIDE their jaws rather than pull out. It causes a sort of gag reflex in the shaks and they open their mouths. In terms of pressure, squeeze your wrist as if you were holding a tennis racket - a shark’s bite felt only about 1/4 father pressure surprisingly and then they release very quickly because the chainmail doesn’t sate like food.

Chainmail was almost 20 lbs and I had an additional 6 lbs since all I was doing was walking on the sea floor. With the 5 mm wetsuit, I had no problems going up - And i normally wear 4lbs with my 3mm full wetsuit. With a full tank of air at the start of the dive and air in my BC, I had no problems staying at the surface without kicking.
VicFLA - 12/05/2012 3:25 PM
Also, Stuart’s Cove shark feeder program uses a long feeding stick rather than hand feeding. I wanted to get much closer and know the sharks. Yes I got bite a few times but barely felt it with 5mm and 2 layers of chainmail. Adhering to Cristina’s instructions are very important!
Greg - 12/05/2012 3:26 PM
So what was the pressure like when you got bit? Did they bite down hard or try to tear away?
VicFLA - 12/05/2012 3:22 PM
Thanks Greg. The course cost was just shy of $2k, which included concierge treatment and the 5 shark feeding dives are on a private charter at Shark Junction a little over a mile from the Lucaya resort area inlet. Definitely not your everyday dive.
Greg - 12/05/2012 3:14 PM
How much did the chainmail weight? Was your BC able to provide some lift with all the extra weight OR did you start sinking as you entered the water?
Greg - 12/05/2012 3:09 PM
Great article. That’s amazing that you did this. What could one expect to pay for an experience like this?
Greg - 12/05/2012 3:19 PM
Btw, I love the video with the chest mounted camera. It’s cool to see the shadows of the sharks on the sandy bottom as they swarm around you.