"There's nothing to worry about, it's just like Jaws".
I mentally add that straight to the top of my list of 'things you don't want to hear before climbing into a pool full of sharks'. It's a fairly established list by this point, growing ever longer since I was invited to be one of the first people to try out the new shark encounters at Sealife London.
"Finding Nemo! I mean Finding Nemo", Henry hastily corrects himself, having see the look of horror on our faces at his film faux-pas. We all laugh it off, but I'm left to ponder whether it's a joke or a Freudian slip as we head out of the South Bank sun and into the cool bowels of South Bank's County Hall — towards our final destination: a date with the sharks.
Shark encounters aren't a new addition to Sealife London, but they've been revamped. Previously, we learn, they took place in a net-like vessel. These days, it's more of a solid cage situation, which renders me delighted that I've been so slothful in ticking this particular item off my bucket list. Cage beats net any day where glistening teeth are involved, Jaws or no Jaws.
Having collected our wetsuits, our group of three is shown into the poolside, where an aquarist introduces us to each of the sharks from the safety of dry land. Names and breeds go straight over my head as I focus instead on trying to assess the size of teeth each creature yields, and establish whether they've already been fed today, or if they're likely to be peckish.
And then it's our turn. Shown to the changing rooms, we don our wetsuits and waterproof boots (an entirely unfashionable ensemble designed, I like to think, to further repel the fashion-forward sharks). I'm kitted out with a snorkel and face mask, and shown the edge of the pool, where sand tiger sharks, blacktip sharks, nurse sharks and bowmouth guitarfish await — no great whites, thankfully.
A short ladder later, and I'm waist deep in surprisingly chilly salt water, clear glass beneath me, transparent perspex bars separating me from the sharks in the tank. It's a surface tank, meaning it doesn't get lowered any further into the water, and up to three people can take part in a shark encounter at once.
Two nurse sharks bask entirely unperturbed, just a few inches (and a glass floor) away from my feet, and with the aid of water weights, I'm able to sink low enough into the cage to give them a good staring at. They ignore me entirely — I'm just one in a long line of wetsuit-donning visitors dropping into their tank.
It's a bitter-sweet relief/disappointment that that's the closest I come to a shark during my time in the water. Sure, a nose to fin encounter would have been a story to tell, but the sharks mainly mind their own business, glimpsing us over the way a child briefly eyes up the carrot sticks at a party buffet before making a beeline for the tastier treats.
Nonetheless, it's a joy to watch these creatures from within their own world. Seeing them from above the surface or behind glass is one thing, but being in the water gives a far better view of their smooth, graceful movements — and the power they could exert, were they so inclined. Thankfully they're not, and I leave the water a few minutes later, all limbs intact.
Shark Encounters at SeaLife London. Tickets are £150 and need to be booked in advance. Age 10+.