Posted by: Tommy | February 14, 2011

Diving…with Great White Sharks!

Let me start by assuring you that I’m fine.  I still have all 10 fingers and all 10 toes.

 

Shark jumping, not jumping the shark

 

Now that our parents (and Aunt Kita) can stop hyperventilating, I can tell you about the craziest-sounding thing I’ve done so far.  After a full day of shark diving, I’d say it’s not as crazy, in reality, as jumping off the gorge swing…or taking the overnight train in Egypt.  But it was still pretty unbelievable.

About 60 miles southeast of Cape Town, along the southern coast of Africa and just before the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, lies the town of Gansbaai.  Gansbaai is known for being one of the best places in the world to encounter Great White sharksDyer Island, about 15 minutes by boat off the coast, has a huge (500,000+) seal population.  And since seals are a favorite Great White snack, there are tons of sharks in the waters around the island.  And so adventure-seekers from Cape Town are taken to Gansbaai to get in the cold (so, so cold) Atlantic waters with the Great White sharks.

I was picked up by bus in Cape Town at 5:30 am and, with 15 others, rode 2 hours to the offices of Great White Ecoventures in Gansbaai.  We signed the typical “if you die, your relatives can’t sue us” liability release and got a safety briefing.  I’ve never seen so many people so attentive during any sort of safety briefing…imagine that.  From there, to the boat!

I learned my lesson in Mozambique – boat ride = Dramamine for me.  It did the trick, no seasickness at all.  It took about 15 minutes to get near the island and lay anchor near the other shark dive boats.  As soon as we stopped, the 16 passengers climbed to the viewing deck on top of the boat.  From the elevated position, you can look down into the water without any glare, enabling you to see mush farther and deeper than you can from the lower deck.  We sat up top for about 15 minutes until we saw our first big shadow lurking.

Shark cage diving is very heavily regulated, and for good reason.  When people first started putting cages in the water, the tour companies would throw dead fish in the water around the cage, creating a feed frenzy that was probably amazing to watch from inside of it.  However, that was outlawed because IT’S A PHENOMENALLY STUPID IDEA!  Surprisingly, when sharks in an area figured out that lots of food came around whenever boats with humans showed up, shark attacks increased in frequency.  So now, no feeding the sharks.

That doesn’t mean the sharks aren’t enticed to swim near the cage….if they weren’t, you’d never see them.  Instead, the methods of enticement are regulated and strictly followed.  The boathands put fish blood in the water, giving off a strong smell underwater that lures the sharks in.  Then, tuna heads are attached to the “bait line” – a 60 foot rope that floats.  The deckhand throws the tuna heads out in front of the cage and pulls it in towards the boat, giving the sharks something to match to the smell.  The shark comes in to investigate the moving, delicious-smelling heads and follows them right up next to the boat.  And voila- swimming with sharks.

 

Shark coming near the cage

 

The steel divers cage is wide enough for 5 people and just deep enough to crouch in.  The water is 58 degrees, so you’re in a full wet suit, plus boots and a mask.  Once you’re situated in the cage, the bait line goes out and waits.  When the deckhands see a shark coming to the line, they shout “Down!” and you plunge your self to the bottom of the cage.  There are hand and footholds inside the cage, so at no time are your hands or feet out of the cage.  You hold your breath and watch as Jaws follows the bait right in front of your face.

The deckhands know how to work the bait line, sometimes they lead it from right to left, sometimes from left to right, always making sure that each side of the cage got equal shark viewing time.  The best views were when the bait line would drag straight into the cage, leading the shark toward the divers head first.  Once (I wasn’t in the cage for this) the shark ran along the cage, bumping it with its body.  The best experience I had in the cage was a shark that ran at us face first, then spun away at the last minute.  We could feel the powerful rush of water as it’s tail pushed it away from us.

The adrenaline rush that came from watching a huge (12-15 feet) eating machine underwater is impossible to describe in words.  And my pictures don’t even come close to showing how cool this was.  And I’ve come to terms with that – maybe a better writer could do it justice, but probably not.  It’s just something you have to experience.  But here are some pictures from Chris Fallows, taken in South Africa near where we dove.

 

And here are some of more of my pictures plus a video.

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Responses

  1. Tommy that is totally insane…..but also awesome, cool, impressive….
    I never got the chance when I was over there to do that, so I bow down to ya….

    Keep it up..

    Michael

  2. Tommy — I already told you that you were crazy to do this. I am so glad I didn’t know you had actually done it until after. I love you Tommy BUT if my baby had done this, you would have been shark bait for real.

  3. Wow! What an awesome experience. I hope to one day dive with some great whites, in a cage of course.

  4. Awesome! Glad you did it…

    Of course, if legend were fact, as a lawyer I could swim with sharks without a protective cage — professional courtesy!

  5. I’m just grateful that I did’nt know BEFORE this wild adventure! What keeps that rickity cage from falling off the boat and into the dark,deep depths of the sea??????? You look WONDERFUL…a little like Jacques Cousteau! Are you & Anna wearing sun screen? Don’t forget…30 min. BEFORE you go into the sun. I can’t open the video of Anna riding the ostrich. I told Emily that Anna was riding ostrichs & Tommy was swimming with sharks. I told her I thought maybe it was time for you guys to get home! She came to your defense & looked at me like I was the crazy one!
    God bless you both, XOXOXO Kita

  6. Ahhh…sharks!!! SO glad you still have all your appendages! 😉 -Melissa

  7. […] Diving…with Great White Sharks! (thethompsonstravels.wordpress.com) […]


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