Want to swim with sharks? You can, just a short drive from Wichita

It wasn’t enough just to see the sharks.

Aquarium visitors here wanted to be among the sharks.

Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, the popular attraction that opened in Springfield, Mo., last September, will on Monday open “Out to Sea: Shark Dive.”

The experience, which starts at $130 a person, lets guests don a wetsuit and spend about 20 minutes inside a cage while various sharks, grouper, barracuda and colorful reef fish swim around.

No diving experience is necessary, as professional safety divers are nearby at all times.

Shelby Stephenson, spokesperson for the aquarium, said the experience has been planned since the aquarium’s opening — “it was just a matter of bringing it to life.”

The aquarium has brought in Sea Trek, a company that provides underwater diving experiences, to manage the shark dives.

It’s the farthest inland experience of its kind, according to Stephenson.

“They’re all along the coast,” she said of Sea Trek’s other aquariums. “We were really excited to bring this immersive ocean experience to the middle of Missouri.”

It costs $130 to dive with the sharks — or $155 if you want to book a special “feeding frenzy” dive. The cost includes same-day admission to the aquarium, all equipment necessary for the dive, a commemorative T-shirt and the use of a GoPro HERO6 camera to take photos during the dive.

An Eagle reporter took a test dive with the sharks and survived to relay this dispatch:

What is it like?

To do the shark dive, all you need is a swimsuit (and a chunk of change).

Staffers guide you to a changing room, where you’re instructed to put on a wetsuit and underwater “booties” for your feet.

After donning the scuba gear, you’ll sit through a safety briefing — remember to keep hands, feet and everything else inside the cage!

From there, you’ll walk down a ramp into some chilly water (around 68 degrees or so), and at the end of the ramp, Sea Trek will place an approximately 75-pound helmet on your shoulders. It’s not a complete seal, but as long as you don’t bend over, water will stay out of the helmet.

Then you drop into the cage, where at most you’re a couple feet below the surface.

You can walk about in this cage or drop to your knees to see more, but there’s no actual swimming involved. As long as you can walk, you can do a shark dive.

To do the dive, guests have to be at least 10 years old. Youth between 10 and 14 must be accompanied by a parent (the parent doesn’t actually have to do the shark dive), and youth between 15 and 17 must have a parent or guardian’s signature to participate.

The experience is pretty impressive, especially when food is thrown into the water from above. Sometimes some of the bright yellow reef fish swim inside the cage and hang out in there.

Inside the tank are sand tiger sharks, brown sharks, barracuda, crevalle jack, goliath grouper, permit, queen triggerfish and yellowtail snapper.

The cage is visible to people down below in the aquarium, who can snap photos through the glass.

Now I feel I know what it’s like to be an aquarium fish, swimming about for people’s entertainment.

The experience was long enough to feel like I’d seen it all.

Is it worth the drive from Wichita?

I’d say yes, especially if you’ve never been to Wonders of Wildlife before. It’s a full day of entertainment for the family.

Regular admission to the aquarium costs $29.95 for adults and $19.95 for children 4-11.

Wonders of Wildlife, 500 W. Sunshine Street in Springfield, is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

For more information about Wonders of Wildlife or to schedule a shark dive, visit www.wondersofwildlife.org/sharkdive.

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