IN PHOTOS: Coast’s new cageless shark dive experience
When you say the words "I'm going diving with sharks" the initial response is fear.
But as you jump into the tank at Sea Life, any remaining anxiety is replaced with wonder at the creatures few get to see in such close quarters.
The Mooloolaba tourist attraction is launching the cageless Shark Dive Xtreme, giving people a guaranteed face-to-face encounter with sharks, stingrays and giant cod.
It is a surreal experience when a 300kg cod is as intrigued by you as you are of it.
With no previous diving experience necessary, you're given half an hour in a swimming pool to get comfortable before entering the 3m deep aquarium.
You're briefed on how to use the equipment, as well as useful things to know when you encounter the animals close up.
"Stingrays enjoy the bubbles, it's like a jacuzzi for them," you're told, but be careful, the sharks don't like them.
The scuba diving experience was relaunched after the arrival of 3m grey nurse sharks Healey, Patches and Pallas from Manly Sea Life.
Curator Kate Willson said the aquarium featured nine shark species including black tip and white tip, grey reef, leopard and tawny nurse.
She said the relaunch was great timing given COVID-19 restrictions easing, after it was stopped due to renovations three years ago.
"It was really popular," she said.
"It helps people get over their fears, because you are guaranteed to see sharks, and you're able to get up close to an animal that a lot of people do fear."
She said in the past the experience had been used as surprise birthday presents and even a great bucks party activity.
Ms Willson, who spends plenty of time in the tank, still gets a thrill out of it.
"I love getting up so close to them, and to see their personalities … and when those teeth come out," she said.
The sharks arrived in 2018 in a purpose built tank on the back of a truck.
She said it was a "massive operation" and included vets, truck drivers and divers.
Ms Willson said having the larger sharks and a bigger variety of species would also help Sea Life's research initiatives.
She said there was opportunity for grey nurse shark breeding and for underwater ultrasounds.
"I know what we learn in the tank we can share and it can help minimise our human impact on the wild populations," she said.
The Shark Dive Xtreme will launch on December 10 and bookings have opened online.
The experience takes two hours, including about 30 minutes of dive time in the oceanarium.
You must be aged 14 years and over and pass a quick medical questionnaire before taking part in the dive.
The journalist experienced the dive as a guest of SEA LIFE.