During our DryTide Instagram giveaway we came in contact with lots of amazing people. One of the profiles that stood out, filled with amazing underwater shots of sharks and other animals, was run by a shark diver Kristina Recalde. We sent her a couple of our bags and she agreed to let us in to the world of shark diving. Thank you for a super interesting interview and thank you Jeff Panella for all the amazing shots.
Hi Kristina, can you first please tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Kristina Recalde, I am 28 years old, and I was born in a small town in Paraguay. I moved to Florida when I was 17, instantly became obsessed with the ocean I have never looked back. For work I am a professional shark diver working on a shark diving tour boat, and I am a model, content creator, and brand ambassador both above water and below.
How did you get into diving and what does it mean to you?
It all started as an item on my bucket list. My entire life my top two bucket list items were to go shark diving and to see orcas in the wild despite the fact that in Paraguay I never really learned how to swim and didn’t grow up near the ocean. As time went by and I learned more about the ocean, how important it is, and the things that humans have done to threaten the health and well-being of all of its species, I decided to make these dreams come true before it was too late. The more I learned about these animals, the more I wanted to try everything in my power to work with them and to show the world why we should protect them. So I quickly taught myself how to swim, signed up for a freediving course, and trained as much as possible to get to where I needed to be. The ocean is my everything now!
Can you describe your typical day on the water?
So on a typical work day, we do roughly four-hour trips and sometimes two or three of them in a day. On our boat, we take up to 6 guests to educate them and to give them the chance to get in the water with sharks. We go 3+ miles off shore out to the gulf stream current where we drift in about 100ft of depth and get to share the water with the most amazing sharks. Even though I do this almost every day (weather allowing), every time I jump off the boat and hit the ocean water, it’s a dream that never gets old. Diving under the surface and seeing an ocean filled with sharks makes me the happiest person on this planet.
We hear about sharks in Florida mostly when it comes to surfing. Can you tell me a little bit about sharks there and what is the general attitude towards sharks around there?
From the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic, if you include inshore areas, offshore areas, the deep sea and seasonal migrations of species, over 40 species of shark can be found here in Florida. However, about half of those species are extremely rare to see. Roughly 15-20 species are more commonly seen sharks in Florida and they are the Lemon, Bull, Blacktip, Spinner, Sandbar, Silky, Dusky, Caribbean Reef, Atlantic Sharpnose, Nurse, Tiger, Great Hammer, Scalloped Hammer, Whale Shark, Mako, And Great White. Of those species, most of them are listed as either vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN.
Here in Florida, people are completely mixed when it comes to where they fall on the overall spectrum of attitude towards sharks. With so much coastline, Florida has many ocean communities, each home to a wide range of sea conditions. The state is made up of pockets of people who are diehard and passionate about whatever ocean activity is most accessible to them in the areas where they live. In other words, in certain places the surf can be great or the fishing can be great but the diving is not as accessible or enjoyable. The local geography and weather can restrict people to be able fish but not surf, surf but not dive, etc. In Cocoa Beach, central/east Florida, there is a very committed surfing community whose local legend is world champion surfer Kelly Slater and the area is home to the largest surf shop in the entire world. People from this area grow up surfing in Cocoa and surrounding areas like New Smyrna Beach, which has some of the greenest and murkiest water on the east coast of Florida. The ocean there is full of juvenile and teenage Blacktip, Spinners, Bull, Bonnethead, and Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks. These sharks consistently feed on baitfish near the inlets and popular surf breaks and as a result, while these occurrences rarely end in fatalities, often these sharks will mistake swimmers and surfers for food. New Smyrna Beach consequently has been nicknamed the shark bite capital of the world.
In South Florida near Palm Beach however, the story is different. Interestingly, Jupiter/West Palm Beach is this closest part of Florida to the Gulf Stream current which runs from South to North along the coast and is only a few miles offshore. This strong ocean current brings cool, nutrient rich, deep-ocean water closer to shore which dramatically improves visibility, and the current itself functions as a super highway for a wide array of marine mammals, sharks, rays, turtles, and more. This means that the waters adjacent to Palm Beach county are home to some of the most marine wildlife, the bluest water, best visibility, most reliable dive conditions in Florida throughout the year. This area is where the shark diving in Florida takes place and here it is extremely common to safely dive and snorkel with various shark species such as Lemon, Bull, Sandbar, Silky, Reef, Tiger, Great Hammerhead, and Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks.
As you can imagine, people from these communities have pretty different attitudes towards sharks. While divers who have had safe diving encounters with sharks are generally more passionate and sympathetic towards sharks, surfers who have a friend or family member that was injured in an accident with a shark unfortunately have more fear of the animal.
My favorite shark species would have to be the Great Hammerhead because they remind me of myself. They like warm water, they travel in schools during the day but like hunting alone at night, they look very different than all other sharks, and personally I think they are the most beautiful.
Your most memorable shark encounter?
My most memorable shark encounter has to be the first time I ever went shark diving. It was on a local shark diving boat here in Florida and it was with bull sharks. The first time I saw a bull shark swimming up towards me from below as I floated on the surface, I had a feeling I will never forget. It was the best day of my life!
And your most memorable dive all together? I saw that you were also diving with manta rays, seals, manatees, whales, turtles…
My most memorable dive was when I was in Cabo diving offshore. We were blessed with several humpback whales breaching and playing all around us, and one was literally just chilling and singing in the water right underneath us! My mask filled up with tears!
Free diving or scuba diving?
Freediving 100%. Less gear, more physically challenging, and much more freeing and rewarding.
Dream location that you would want to visit and why?
I dream of going to French Polynesia because of the variety of wildlife there and how green and beautiful the terrain is. Mountains and jungle right on the edge of crystal clear blue water. It doesn’t get much more magical than that!
You spend lots of time near and on the water, how important is a good waterproof bag?
When you are on/in the water as much as I am, having a lineup of reliable waterproof bags is extremely important! Salt water especially destroys everything so being able to have a couple go-to bags that will keep my stuff dry while I work or go on fun adventures is one of the most crucial things to have.
Where can we follow your adventures and your work?
I am most active on Instagram @kristinarec and my website is kristinarecalde.com
*All photos in the interview were taken by Jeff Panella