Many years ago I bought a pair of "Swimming with Sharks" shoes. My daughter loved the brand name, kept the box and regularly mentioned that she'd love to go swimming with sharks. While we do plan to go up to Ningaloo Reef to swim with the whale sharks at some stage, I suspect that my marine-biology-mad and scarily brave daughter is talking about something with a bit more bite.
In our time here we have however swum with all sorts of interesting creatures. We regularly swim with "stingers" - both the sort that make you feel that you've got your finger in a power-socket for the next hour and the sort that leave you with an enormous red rash for a fortnight. We don't recommend it.
We often see rays below us when we swim in the estuary or snorkel in various bays. When we do I have to calmly remind myself that they are beautiful creatures and try very hard not to squeal like a girl.
Several times we've just gone out for a swim and suddenly found ourselves swimming with dolphins. Recently I stood on the shore at the local beach and watched a baby seal swim around my children; I had a feeling that that might not end tidily then the next day read in the newspaper that you should get out of the water smartly if you see seals as sharks sometimes follow. But as far as we know we still haven't actually been swimming with sharks.
Last week was my son's birthday. To celebrate we went to AQWA which is the Aquarium of Western Australia in Perth. It is absolutely amazing and we all had a fabulous time there. I put it right at the very top of the Must-do list for any visitors to this region. All these photos were taken there, some by me on my clunky antique camera and some by the children using my son's sleek new underwater camera (which cost less than I spend on bananas each week).
Downstairs at AQWA there is a huge tank with a clear plastic tunnel through it. From inside this tunnel you have an incredible view of a huge array of creatures including what I thought were quite big sharks and very big rays. We were there for feeding time. Two tiny wet-suited children were lowered into the tank and proceeded to hand feed fish to the tank's inhabitants. (My daughter's eyes lit up.) It took me quite some time to figure out that it was an optical illusion; the tiny children were of course normal sized adults, meaning that the big sharks were actually huge sharks and the big rays were actually enormous rays.
But that is just one of the many exhibits. Western Australia's coastline is huge and ranges from tropical waters to far cooler southern waters and the many exhibits at AQWA reflect all of these.
The most exciting part of all however is that in only two and a half more years time I can front up to AQWA for my daughter's birthday, hand over a fist full of dollars and throw her into a tank full of sharks; yes, at AQWA you really can swim (and snorkel and dive) with sharks.
Although I know she'll swim straight up to the plastic tunnel and give me a cheesy grin and a big thumbs up, I'm very pleased I've still got two and a half years to get my head around the idea.