Thursday, 29 December 2016

South Africa – Swimming with the Sharks

December 15

Hello everyone!




Creatures belonging to our planet are often associated with films. If I say gorilla, you’ll say King Kong. If I say lion, you’ll probably think Lion King. If I say shark…

There are of course many types of shark. That film focuses on the Great White shark, the most feared around. So does this blog, as today I went up close and personal with them. Possibly a little too close for comfort…

A brave soul entering the cage
Sharks can be found all along South Africa’s sea border. Great Whites are found on the western side, where the Atlantic water is cooler; Bull sharks and Hammerheads are located in the eastern waters, which are warmed by the Indian Ocean currents. The place to see sharks is near Gansbaai, a fishing village about 160km from Cape Town.

Most boats will leave fairly early in the morning to search for sharks. In conjunction with my location in Cape Town, this meant a 3:45am collection from my hostel to ensure that all boaters were picked up and arrived in Gansbaai by 7:30am. A quick breakfast and film followed before we boarded the Apex Predator.

The boat which about 30 of us jumped on to go shark cage diving

A fifteen-minute boat ride took us to a body of water which seemed unnervingly close to the shore.

Not more than a few hundred metres away from the beach

Sharks aren’t sitting and waiting for people to ogle them. They need to be attracted to the boat. The crew use a secret ‘chum’ mixture (we were assured there’s no shark product in it), as well as a foam rubber seal called Gladys. 

The creation of 'chum'

Ol' Gladys

Oh, and a massive tuna head. Not called Gladys.

Ol' Tuna

Even though they should be fairly visible, being up to six-and-a-half metres in length (about four of you), they don’t play the game straight away. We saw a fin almost immediately but it took the best part of an hour for the first Great White to venture close.

The shark is over there somewhere, I promise!

And what a sight. About three metres in length and probably weighing more than a human could ever do (they weigh up to a quite frankly ridiculous 2000 – yes, two thousand – kilos), they move gracefully and slowly through the water…

The first Great White

…unless there’s a giant tuna head on offer.


Witnessing the sharks from the relative safety is one thing. I wanted to see these strangely alluring creatures on their terms – in the water.

All that is between you and the shark are those bars - it is safe!

To do this, eight people at a time don wetsuits and pop into a cage. Before you panic, the cage is extensively tied to the boat and secured on the top as well as all other sides. As we were to discover, hardly any of a shark’s head can fit through the bars.

Once in, you bob underwater when instructed, holding your
breath to see the sharks close up

After watching the first two groups have great success seeing up to three sharks, it was my group’s turn. The water, being from the Atlantic, was a chilly 14°C. The sharks decided they’d had enough after a couple of fly-bys, meaning we bobbed in the blue for longer than the other two groups.

It was bone-shakingly cold even with a wetsuit

A shark approaching the cage

We were told to be patient as we wouldn’t get out until one more shark pass. Unfortunately I haven't been sent the video of what happened, so I'll try to explain. 

It happened very quickly so it’s difficult to accurately describe it from under the water. I saw a head, with open jaws bearing individual and triangular teeth, storming towards the man next to me. We backed off to the rear of the cage. It seemed like the nose ever-so-slightly peeped through the bars but nothing else. The guy next to me was convinced more of the head poked through the gaps. Either way, it was a little bit scary but an amazing thing to witness with my own eyes.

They look similar to dolphins from above but behave slightly differently...

That was my time down under with the Great Whites. Whilst watching them violently attack the helpless tuna head from the top deck, the crew started telling us some amazing facts about these fish (they’re not mammals!). Many of the sharks are tagged for logging purposes; one Great White swam from near Cape Town to the western coast of Australia…and back. 20,000 kilometres in about 9 months. Amazing.

Amazing is an appropriate word to describe this experience. It really does take your breath away: in a literal sense in that you have to hold your breath underwater whilst observing the sharks; in a metaphorical sense because it is something special to be so close to such a mysterious creature.

We saw 9 Great Whites - there were 5 the previous day.
The record for one outing with this company is 27!

This is definitely an experience I’ll never forget. Being an arm’s length away from one of nature’s fiercest predators is incredible. Just don’t stick your arm out to measure it…

These signs are present on most South African beaches. Reassuring
or unnerving - you decide...

Love you all


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