For shark lovers living in Europe, you will be forgiven for thinking that your next shark diving holiday will involve a long-haul flight to the tropics. While it’s true that many of the world’s most celebrated shark dives take place from distant shores, there are still plenty of excellent opportunities to dive with sharks within European waters. So, next time you have a spare week, and the tropics seem too far for a short visit, consider jetting out to one of these closer European destinations to get your next shark-diving fix.
While the west coast of Scotland may be a far cry from Palau or the Cocos Islands, if you want to see big sharks, July and August see the world’s second-largest fish—the basking shark—congregate around the Hebrides. The small town of Oban, in the shadows of Ben Nevis, is set in a horseshoe-shaped bay and serves as the departure point out to the Isle of Coll. The Isle of Coll is part of the Inner Hebrides group, and though the water may be chilly, adequate exposure protection will ensure you stay warm enough to enjoy the basking sharks.
The basking shark is the colder-water cousin of the whale shark and shares the same feeding habits. Both are filter feeders, and you can see the basking sharks hoovering up the plankton in the water close to the surface. The basking shark is protected in UK waters, and organised trips to see them will be limited to snorkelling only. However, if you are in the water at dive sites away from the main congregation areas, you may be lucky enough to have one cruise by.
The Azores, Portugal
The Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean and is one of two autonomous regions of Portugal. The offshore island group is about 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) west of Lisbon and, at the right time of the year, offers the chance to dive alongside sleek blue sharks and speedy makos, in addition to manta rays!
The Azores is often vaunted as the best diving within Europe, and if you like big fish, you will probably find yourself agreeing. The best time of the year to head to the Azores in search of sharks is June through October. The Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands, and if you’re looking for big fish, you will want to head out to Formigas Bank and Dollabarat Reef. The diving here is spectacular—in addition to the blue sharks, there’s a wreck to explore, and there are high chances of seeing manta rays too.
The island of Pico, to the west of the archipelago, is another shark hotspot. The island is dominated by the imposing Mount Pico, Portugal’s highest point, and a trip out to Condor Seamount will reward you with blue sharks. If you are lucky, the world’s fastest fish, the shortfin mako, may make an appearance too.
The Canary Islands, Spain
Sitting around 1,200 kilometres (800 miles) southeast of the Azores is the Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands. The islands are located closer to Africa than Europe, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Morocco, but as an autonomous community of Spain, they are politically European and part of the EU. The island group is made up of eight main islands—Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, and La Graciosa—and the waters surrounding them are home to the endangered angel shark.
The angel sharks are often seen resting on the sandy seabeds, and it’s possible to dive to see them from each of the main islands. Angel sharks are characterised by having flattened bodies and broad pectoral fins, which makes them look like elongated rays, but they are indeed sharks. The busier islands, such as Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, will have more dive centres than the smaller islands. If sharks are your main reason for visiting the Canaries, maybe one of these two islands will be your best bet to encounter the angel sharks.
The most south-westerly county in England is Cornwall, and its location makes it one of the sunnier areas within the United Kingdom. The county is shaped like a wedge, and it splits the North Atlantic Current, pushing it into the English Channel to the south and up towards the Irish Sea to the north. Divers and snorkelers who head to the region can be rewarded with sightings of blue sharks and basking sharks.
Blue sharks can grow to around 2 metres in length, and they prefer cooler water. The trips out to see the blue sharks venture into choppy waters at times, and you will be happier if you have your sea legs and are not susceptible to seasickness. You can be out on the water for a few hours before they show up, but when they do, you will forget about the sea conditions and be happy to see these sleek and photogenic sharks. The best time of the year to encounter the blue sharks is from late June through mid-October, with August being the peak season.
For the basking sharks, the best time of the year to head to Cornwall would be between the months of April and October. The basking sharks prefer areas with headlands, islands, and bays where different masses of water meet and there is lots of plankton, so it’s best to visit the northern coast of Cornwall if you are planning on encountering them. Diving around this area may also reward you with a sighting of a porbeagle shark. Porbeagles prefer to hang out where their food source is rich—close to the banks near the continental shelf—but occasionally venture closer to shore. So, keep your fingers crossed, and a trip to Cornwall may enable you to swim with three different species of shark.
Maybe it’s a little sneaky, but our two honourable mentions are technically European, if not geographically so. The two destinations in question are classified as European, thanks to the French system of governing its overseas territories. Both of these two locations are classified as overseas departments and regions of France, and both offer the opportunity to dive with sharks.
Guadeloupe is an archipelago on the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. Don’t get this mixed up with Guadalupe Island, which is a volcanic island off the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. If you do mix the two names up, you will find yourself outside of Europe and in the water with a whole different type of shark. Guadalupe Island is famous among shark enthusiasts as being one of the world’s top great white shark diving locations!
‘European’ Guadeloupe (with an “o”) is part of the Lesser Antilles, and you can encounter some of the reef sharks which frequent the waters where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. While not the sharkiest diving location within the Caribbean, Guadeloupe does offer the chance to dive with sharks in warm water whilst still technically being in Europe.
Known in French as L’Ile de la Réunion, or La Réunion for short, this island sits approximately 950 kilometres (590 miles) east of the island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The island is 63 kilometres (39 miles) long and 45 kilometres (28 miles) wide, and it is a volcanic island, with geologists labelling it a hotspot above the Earth’s crust. The volcanic nature of the island ensures the waters are rich in nutrients, and the island’s location on the so-called Shark Highway makes it a good spot for spotting sharks.
The species of shark which can be encountered off La Réunion include whale sharks and white-tipped reef sharks, but also tigers and bulls. La Réunion diving may not be for the faint of heart; the island is a shark attack hotspot, and swimming and surfing are prohibited in most areas along the island’s coastline. But they say fortune favours the brave, and the reward of diving alongside some of the ocean’s most notorious predators makes a trip to La Réunion a must-do for many shark photographers.
Our Final Thoughts
So, next time you find yourself with a bit of time off work and in need of a shark fix, you can check out one of these top shark diving locations within Europe. Admittedly, our honourable mentions need a longer flight to reach them, and they may not be an option if you only have a week to spare, but they are both doable with a ten-day or two-week break. The other locations on our list are more convenient to mainland Europe, and you may even be able to reach a couple of them for a long weekend break.
Be sure to check the water temperatures for the time of year you plan to travel, and make sure you dress appropriately for the sea conditions. There’s nothing worse than missing out on a shark sighting because you had to surface early due to being cold. Aside from that, get your trip booked up and enjoy encountering these wonderful shark species within European waters.
Check the other posts on the “Best Shark Dives” series.
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