• Day5

    Gansbaai, South Africa

    May 15, 2016 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Today was a free day so Claude and I signed up for a day trip to go shark cage diving. We awoke at 3:45 am and were picked up at our hotel at 4:20 for the 2 1/4 hour drive to Gansbaai. The whole drive was in the dark but the sun was rising just as we pulled into town.

    We were served a hot breakfast, given a briefing on the day's itinerary and then got fitted with a life vest and heavy waterproof jacket before heading to the boat. The boat could comfortably hold 40, but we had slightly less than that.

    The skipper fired up the four 250 horsepower engines and we were off for the 15 minute ride out to Shark Alley. The wind was calm, but the sea had some good rollers happening. Once we arrived at Shark Alley the crew put the cage into the water along the starboard side of the boat and we suited up in our 7 mm wetsuits, booties and hoods.
    The cage holds up to eight people and the first group climbed down into it while we stayed up on the top deck for viewing.

    The company we used is a conservation company and they have a marine biologist on board each day. The crew is volunteers from around the world and they record all of the shark sightings to determine the health and the numbers of sharks. They attract the sharks by chumming the waters with a mixture of fish oils and juices and they entice them close to the boat using fish heads tied to a small boy on a rope and they have a flat, brown, seal tail shaped decoy they throw into the water. They don't feed the sharks as they don't want them becoming accustomed to getting food and their goal is to maintain their wild status. There is little known about great whites. They don't know the numbers left of them but they think its around only 3,500 world wide. In fact, they don't even know how they mate, so conservation and preservation are key.

    It was no sooner than they started chumming that the first shark showed up. When you're in the cage you can't see where they are coming from so the crew spots from above and shouts when to dive under the water and which direction to look. The cage is 4.5 meters long and about 1.5 meters in height. The divers float in the cage holding onto railings inside the cage and take a deep breath and push to the bottom of the cage when a shark or sharks approach.

    Sharks are top feeders so they come from below and jump up out of the water when attacking their prey, so the view from the top deck of the boat was excellent as we watched the sharks trying to get the fish heads off the rope. The divers were able to stay in the cage for as long as they wanted within reason and we each had at least half an hour in the water.

    Soon it was our turn to get into the water. It was very cold at first but soon warmed up quite a bit once the water in the wetsuit warmed. The water was a bit murky so you could only see the sharks once they were within about 10-15 feet or so of the cage. Watching that first shark swim by got the adrenaline flowing and we had several sharks get progressively closer. The fish handler would drag the fish heads right near the cage and those sharks would get plenty close! The highlight for me was when one swam right at the cage where I was standing and got within a foot of my face. It was terrifying yet exciting to see this massive open mouth with three rows of razor sharp teeth swimming right for my head! Thankfully I had all of my fingers and toes inside the cage as he brushed into the metal before turning away!

    Eventually we got out and let the next group go while we warmed up with some hot chocolate. The time on the water was about four hours in total and we soon were back on the van for the long drive back to Cape Town. We stopped at a lookout along the way to admire the beautiful views and watch a paraglider walk off the edge of the hilltop into the thermals for a peaceful sail to the flatlands below.

    We got back to Cape Town around 3:00 pm, cleaned up, packed and then met our friends for a delicious farewell to Cape Town dinner. We ate at a restaurant called Beluga and Claude feasted on roast ostrich, while I enjoyed the roast springbok. Both meals were absolutely fantastic and the company was excellent as well. We made it an early night after being up so early in the morning.
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