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By: Sue Richter

Las Vegas has many oxymorons … but scuba diving in Sin City may take the cake. Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium scuba program opened in June 2009, to certified divers for a down under experience like no other.

In the 1.3 million gallon saltwater aquarium, you can enjoy a private dive with 30+ sharks, green sea turtles, green sawfish, rays and reef fish. Many of the sharks are large, over six feet long.

Diving with these sharks is a bit of shark therapy. You will learn the behavior of sharks while in a safe surrounding. Not only is the environment safe but extra safety features including chain maille, a high-tech metal suit that sharks are unable to bite through, helps to ease the mind. Also, there are two dive instructors swimming with you, watching and guiding you through the tank. Prior to the dive, there is an extensive briefing, for an educational overview and proper protocol while swimming in the aquarium.

Once in the 74-degree Fahrenheit water, the turtles will swim up close and a shark may rub against you, but will not bite you. Sharks are mostly inquisitive creatures. These sharks are fed well and aren’t out for a tasty human snack. They basically lose interest once they realize the divers pose no threat.

While diving amongst the fish, you can hunt for buried treasure, mostly shark’s teeth. You can recover these keepsakes and take them home with you for a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Onlookers touring the facility will wave at you and take photos of you swimming with the fish. It’s like you’re a celebrity for the day.

The Shark Reef Aquarium dive lasts approximately 45 minutes, which is enough time to get really comfortable with the animals. The maximum depth of the tank is 22 feet so you don’t have to go very far to get to the bottom.

Shark Reef has a nice collection of sharks including nurse sharks, white tip, sandtiger, gray reef, Galapagos, sandbar and zebra sharks. The three green sea turtles each weigh in around 300 pounds.

This experience includes general admission for up to four people and provides a behind the scenes private guided tour of the entire aquarium. Here you will find a giant Komodo dragon, golden crocodiles, giant pacific octopus, and a petting area to get up close and personal to rays, horseshoe crabs and small sharks.

Another nice keepsake you will receive from your underwater adventure is a video of your experience at Shark Reef. With only two paid divers allowed at each dive, you’ll get plenty of good footage to show-off your experience at the Mandalay Shark Reef Aquarium to friends and family.

The Shark Reef dive visits are only offered on select days of the week (Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday/Sunday) and limited to Mandalay Bay guests only. If you’re interested in diving with the sharks, you can go online and inquire or call the Shark Reef Box Office at 702-632-4555. Prices are $650/person or two people for $1,000. The total experience takes approximately three to four hours. Click here for more ticket information.

With over 2,000 animals to look at and 15 species of sharks, you won’t get bored at the Shark Reef Aquarium. And, if you decide to dive with sharks, you will get an experience of a lifetime; diving with over 30 sharks in one dive, experiencing diving with chain maille, guaranteed sawfish and green sea turtles plus the educational knowledge you will take home with you forever.

The aquarium is open from 10am to 10pm daily.

In order to dive with the sharks you do need to be a certified scuba diver. Dive courses are offered everywhere and take about two weekends. I recommend PADI. Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV 89119.

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