It was the perfect morning on the Atlantic Ocean in Walker Bay off Gansbaai with no wind, no clouds, a perfect sunrise and smooth water. I was going on my first ever Great White Shark cage dive. Yes I had watched the infamous Jaws as a youngster and so was both nervous and excited to meet one of the oceans top predators. As we cruised out to the Straits of Dyer Island about 20 minutes from Gansbaai I thought on all I knew about sharks and realised that it was mostly information I had gleaned from the news and in one or two wildlife documentaries. I was expecting frantic action and lots of floating dead fish to attract the sharks. The experience that followed was completely different to my expectations and changed my perception of sharks.
Starting with the welcome breakfast at the headquarters of the White Shark Projects, through the orientation by the Captain and crew, seeing the Sharks to the end of the experience back at the headquarters with a bowl of delicious soup I was blown away. The organisation ran smoothly and the knowledge of the crew was outstanding.
We boarded the boat after a welcome introduction and safety briefing and were driven out to the best area of the Straits of Dyer Island and anchored the boat. Whilst the crew placed the cage alongside the boat and chummed the water we were informed step by step what was happening and how we were going to get into the cage once a shark was sighted. Just like been on a safari there is no guarantee that we would see a Great White Shark as they are nomadic and not territorial. The sharks cruise into the area attracted by the 20 – 30 000 Cape Fur Seals that reside on Geyser Rock opposite Dyer Island. The “chum” is a mixture of anchovy fish oil and finely mashed tuna pieces that is poured out behind the boat to form a scent line that a shark picks up with its superb sense of smell and follows back to the boat allowing for fantastic viewing. As the chum is so fine it is not a big messy slick and is used more to lure the sharks with their fantastic sense of smell than to feed the sharks.
We hadn’t been anchored for more than 15 minutes when the first Great White Shark appeared on the scene. From the top of the boat on a viewing deck you could clearly see the shark gliding around the boat with the distinctive dorsal fin breaking the oceans surface. I was enthralled watching this streamlined powerful ocean predator slowly and peacefully swim circles around the boat. There was no frantic action, it was very calm and peaceful.
Once a shark has approached the boat the first 5 guests make their way into the cage which is tied up alongside the boat. Basically you are clad in a thick warm wetsuit and booties with a weight-belt and goggles. You then lower yourself into the cage and once in position take a breath and lower yourself underwater to view the sharks as they glide around the cage.
To attract the sharks close to the cage a massive tuna head is attached to a rope by string and throw about 8 meters in front of the cage. As the shark glides towards the bait the rope is slowly pulled in towards the cage just out of the sharks reach so it follows it right up to the front of the cage. The views of the sharks from inside the cage are out of this world.
I was positioned on the far left of the cage and every time this one shark came up to the cage it would swim right past me on the left brushing the cage. Looking into it’s pitch black eye and watching it glide past with rows of teeth showing was exhilarating and a massive adrenalin rush. You get to spend about 20 minutes in the cage before the next group has a go so everyone who wants to dive gets to experience viewing the sharks under water. We were extremely fortunate and had 4 different White Sharks come and investigate the boat and cage.
After 3 hours, 4 Sharks and 1 breaching Southern Right Whale we headed back to Gansbaai and the White Shark Projects headquarters. At the headquarters we had a refreshing shower, bowl of soup and watched the DVD of our trip. I was very impressed with the overall operation. White Shark Projects has volunteers that help the crew collect data on the approximate length and sex of the sharks that they see each day. They also take photographs of the sharks dorsal fins which is used to compile an identity kit of the sharks that they see.
The main aim of the Shark Cage diving is to change the public perception of sharks and show them for what they are -a vital apex predator that is instrumental in maintaining healthy populations in the seas. At the moment sharks are heavily threatened due to the trade in Shark jawbones with their rows upon rows of teeth showing and also the trade in shark fins for shark fin soup. These 2 industries lead to the deaths of about 100 million sharks ever year across the worlds oceans. Great White Sharks only start breading when males are 3.8 meters long and females 4.8 meters long. The 4 sharks we saw were all between 2.5 and 3.5 meters long and so weren’t reproductively active. With the massive wholesale slaughter of sharks worldwide we will eventually lose viable breeding populations of these apex predators.
So spread the word and I highly recommend going on a boat to experience these amazing ocean predators. If you don’t feel up to getting in the water with the sharks in a cage you can also have amazing viewing from the boat itself.
p.s I recommend taking sunscreen and motion sickness pills