The protected waters surrounding Cocos Island, located 340 miles off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, are home to more than nine shark species — of which zero want to eat you. Sharks here are completely uninterested in snacking on scuba divers with big clunky tanks. Instead, they much prefer to eat fish, rays, turtles, and – occasionally – smaller sharks.
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
A star attraction, scalloped hammerheads gather by the hundreds near Cocos Island, slowing down at “cleaning stations” where schools of king angel and barberfish pick parasites off their bodies. With eyes on both sides of their heads, they must thrash their bodies an incredible 180 degrees from left to right just to look forward – contorting and squirming like floating worms. Their frown- shaped mouths are designed to eat small bony fish, although they can go months without eating.
Considered the second most dangerous shark in the world (after great whites and before bull sharks), tigers are infamous for being non-picky eaters. They’ll devour just about anything – including junkyard tires and paint cans. Tigers were reported trolling the island hundreds of years ago, but the species disappeared entirely from these waters until the late 20th century when they mysteriously returned. Juveniles feature dazzling stripes that become more honeycomb-like with age.
Whitetip Reef Shark
Whitetips are so plentiful at Cocos Island that scuba divers come to regard them as ordinary as house cats. They are one of the few shark species that can breathe without being in constant motion, and often amass here in enormous quantities. At night they hunt en masse, scouring the rocks like slithering snakes. Over the years, whitetips at Cocos Island have learned to use divers’ flashlights for extra light – evolution in action.
One of the most visually stunning shark species, blacktips are identified by their torpedo-shaped bodies and distinct muscle lines running parallel along their flanks; in addition to the black tip on their fins. This species of shark is extremely shy and usually disappears quickly when divers get too close.
Despite being the largest sharks in the world, whale sharks are actually slow, filter- feeding creatures that dine on plankton and microscopic plants alone. They are admired for their gorgeous dot patterns and passive temperament.
With wide noses and long, stretched-out bodies, Galapagos sharks are some of the largest and most intimidating looking sharks at Cocos Island. The name Galapagos is arbitrary – these exquisite predators roam ocean waters all over the globe.
Smaller and more brownish in color than the other sharks at Cocos Island, silkies get their names for their slender, graceful bodies and long, pointy noses. They usually prefer to be out in the open water, away from rocks or reef. Silky sharks are generally quite curious creatures, and often swim very close to scuba divers.
Silvertips used to be pretty common at Cocos Island – they even have a dive site named after them: Silverado. For unknown reasons, silvertips have been making fewer appearances of late – most likely because they are being edged out as more tiger and Galapagos sharks arrive at Cocos.
Deepwater sharks, like the sand tiger shark and the prickly shark, were completely unknown to exist at Cocos Island until it they were discovered by the DeepSee submersible.
Avi Klapfer of the Undersea Hunter Group