Oregon divers volunteer to swim with sharks

Oregon divers volunteer to swim with sharks »Play Video
Marybeth Head, dive intern at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, takes a final look at the camera before dropping herself into the Passages of the Deep exhibit. She would later call the dive her most exciting ever. (Photo by Jessie Higgins)

NEWPORT, Ore. - Vallorie Hodges and her intern are ready to dive.
The two sit perched above the one million gallon tank of seawater, snorkels in place, air tanks strapped on and fins grazing the water.
Below, sharks circle.  
To anyone else, this could be an intimidating place to dive, but the volunteer divers at the Oregon Coast Aquarium are used to it.
“Our volunteer divers can get in and assist with health checks, targeted feeding, helping to clean the acrylic tunnel… vacuuming the sub straight and the bottom, a whole variety of tasks,” says Hodges, the Aquarium Dive Safety Officer.
The aquarium in Newport, Ore., hosts a volunteer dive program, which gives anyone with scuba certification the opportunity to come and swim in the various Passages of the Deep exhibits including Open Sea — with the sharks. 
You’ll need some training, of course.
“There’s a training program that we call a habitat diver course and it teaches people how to dive in captive animal environments,” Hodges says. “And they slowly get trained to dive in Open Sea with the sharks.”
Volunteers flock from all over the Northwest to participate. There are currently around 150 volunteer divers, with around 15 staff divers at the Aquarium.
“We provide (divers) with… all the very clear waters and animal encounters they can stand,” Hodges says.
To become a volunteer diver, certified divers must submit an application then attend several training sessions. For more information contact Hodges at (541) 867-3474 or send at email to volunteer@aquarium.com. | >>> Photo Gallery