So there was some doubt as to whether or not the weather would permit a shark cage dive. As it turned out, the wind and rain gave us a perfect 24 hour window in which to dive, so it seemed as though Fate was on my side. Or perhaps it was just in agreement with my long-lingering idea that the way I’m going to ‘go’ is to be eaten alive. Ah- ever the dramatic.
The drive to Kleinbaai from Fish Hoek is long- 2.5 hours in fact, so I had to leave at 8am to be at the Great White House, nerve centre of Marine Dynamics, at 11am. The company gives a good percentage of their takings to their own marine biology and great white shark research. It’s nice to know that the sharks are benefitting in some way from the dives- they are after all the main attraction.
The dive began with a little lunch buffet and short educational video about what to expect on the dive and some general information about the conservation of the great white. I loved the summary that (sexy) resident marine biologist Ally Towner gave us- ‘There are 2 sharks that we know: the one that’s been presented to us in movies and over- dramatized wildlife documentaries…and the real one that you’ll meet today.’
Lunch in, walk down- to the Kleinbaai dock, just as the first group was returning. My first impression is- how will the 25 of all fit onto the boat? In the end the legendary ‘Shark Fin’, the only boat in CT especially designed for cage diving, managed just fine- more than fine actually. This boat looks pretty sluggish but is very far from it. In fact I’d say the speed at which the boat got us out to the cage was almost as much of a highlight as the cage dive. Exhilarating stuff.
I spotted a familiar shadow under the surface of the water the moment we reached the cage. (the cage had been left floating in the sea from the first group which had launched at around 8am) It’s a great feeling seeing a great white shark gliding around in its natural habitat. I suppose it’s the aquatic equivalent of seeing a lion loping through the bushveld. I, though, was left with a greater sense of respect seeing the great white, I think because the ocean is a far more alien environment. When you’re in the cage feeling the tug and pull of the waves you quickly find out that we, as bipedal half-apes, are pretty much helpless in the ocean.
The cage takes about 7 people at a time. As soon as they’ve attached it to the side of the boat, you’re asked to get your wet suit on (which felt very superhero-like) and then wait your turn. Each turn lasts about 25 minutes- they try to make sure that everyone has a good experience in the cage. How it works- they’ll chum the water, and throw out a cluster of fish heads and a decoy seal (didn’t fool me- I know immediately the flat foam cut-out wasn’t real) to lure sharks towards the boat. As soon as one approaches, the lookout shouts ‘Dive!’ and depending on where the shark is turning- ‘Left!’ ‘Straight!’ or ‘Right!’ I was secretly waiting for him to just once scream ‘Get out! Get out! Jesus, GET OUT OF THE WATER!!!!!’, but it didn’t happen.
The water, on the day, was quite murky, so you could really only see about 3m in front of you. My group only had about 4 visits from sharks, one of which came so close to me I could have probably touched it. But I didn’t get to have the face to face I was so hoping for. BUT- the feeling of being in the water, not more than 3m away from the apex predator of the ocean, knowing that there are many, many more sharks around you, probably watching your little dangly legs right now- is a genuine thrill, and one that I think should be done at least once a year. As an added bonus, the wind picked up when I was in the water, so we were tossed a little up and down by some big choppy waves, which just added to the thrill and complete surrender to the ocean’s authority.
I saw at least 2 massive sharks from the boat, I mean really massive, probably about 5m in length. We also had a visit from a big stingray which came up to investigate the fish heads. And who could forget the huge school of mullet that stayed almost on top of the water’s surface gorging themselves on chum. It was actually with the mullet that I had a face to face moment in the cage. They looked at me, side-on, with their wide curious yes, and I could’ve sworn I heard their thoughts. They said – ‘What the f- are you doing, you idiot!!?! There’s a shark in the water! ‘Get out! Get out! Jesus, GET OUT OF THE WATER!!!!!’
In truth, I never once got any feeling of malevolence from these beautiful beings. They were all gentle and graceful, and if you realise that they are the living manifestation of millions and millions of years of evolution, of tweaking and nudging, to make it the most perfect expression of its purpose- to be itself- then being very close to them is nothing short of breath-taking.
All in all I’d recommend this to everyone. It’s perfectly safe (unless you fall off the boat) and the crew are super slick, making this an experience possible for anyone from 5 to 70. Just take some seasick tablets beforehand so you don’t wind up throwing up in the cage, as one person did. I think the rule is to look at the horizon if you start feeling sick and you should be fine. Worked for me. But then, I’m a cage diver.