5
Feb
2015
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South Africa: Shark Cage Diving and Whale Watching

What is it about the great white shark that makes one scared, yet curious? Is it the small keen eye that says ‘I am watching you’ or the sharp teeth that say ‘I am perfect for a toothpaste advertisement’! Is it the size which makes you feel puny or the stealth with which it moves? Whether you can pin point one reason or you have a list of reasons, being at a distance of three feet from the the great white shark surely takes your adrenalin to a different level that you did not know existed.

Adventure was part of our lovey-dovey honeymoon in South Africa and we decided to say a hello to the great white sharks as we held each other’s hand tightly and clung on to the bars of the cage. Thus, we ended up ticking an item on the bucketlist… a truly exciting one!

Ticking the Bucketlist

Ticking the Bucketlist

Ethical/Environmental Dilemma

Off late, there are a lot of articles over the internet which state that the activity increases shark and human interaction, thus attracting the sharks closer to the shore. This may prove dangerous to beach lovers and surfers. There are contradicting reports which say that shark cage diving does not cause any notable impact on the behaviour of the great white.

We did not see much of this information when we went for the shark cage diving back in 2010. However, if we were to do the activity again at this point in time, we would surely do our research to figure out whether the activity impacts the great white shark and its environment negatively.

If you are off to the Western Cape of South Africa, and your research supports your decision of going ahead with the shark cage diving, read on to help you plan your trip.

Best season for shark cage diving

The ocean near the Gansbaai region has a high population of great white sharks. These sharks inhabit the water throughout the year. Hence, this really isn’t a seasonal activity. Chances to sight the great white are high regardless of the month that you choose to visit. However, there are the following two parameters that one must consider prior to finalizing the trip:

Temperature of the Atlantic Ocean

Unlike the warm Indian Ocean, waters of the Atlantic Ocean are cold. We were here in the first week of December, the start of South African summer and the water temperature was ~17 degrees Celsius. We were given wet suits to enter the water, but the water still was cold. Especially to those who are from the tropics, the water feels really cold. You may want to be there in peak summers.

Avec wet suits and masks (pic courtesy: www.sharkwatchsa.com)

Avec wet suits and masks (pic courtesy: www.sharkwatchsa.com)

Whale Watching at Hermanus

The best time to watch the southern right whales from the Hermanus shore is during August and September. Hermanus is about 45 km from Gansbaai. You may want to align the shark cage diving trip along with whale watching and watch two mega life forms in one trip. Can it get any better?

Southern right whales at Hermanus

Southern right whales at Hermanus

Location

Most operators start the shark cage diving trip from Gansbaai/Kleinbaai. Gansbaai is located at a distance of 45 km from Hermanus and 165 km from Cape Town. Considering that we were on a road trip and whale watching in Hermanus was on our agenda, we preferred staying in Hermanus for a night and would recommend the same.

Scenic South African countryside

Scenic South African countryside

The trip can be done as a day trip from Cape Town as well. Typically, the trip timings are subject to weather conditions and are firmed up a day prior to the activity. In case the trip is scheduled early in the morning, travelling from Cape Town may be too much of an effort for late risers.

Costs

There are quite a few operators in the Gansbaai area and the rates are pretty similar hovering ~ZAR 1500 per person. Rates may vary a little depending on the boat that is used for the activity. The larger boats carry about 25 people while the smaller ones carry about 12 people. The rates typically include a light breakfast, water, wet suit, and snorkel mask but do not include any transport from Hermanus or Cape Town.

What really happens during shark cage diving…

We have shared some information above… but here is what really happens….

You leave from the harbour at the stipulated time and sail for a couple of hours until the captain reaches the spot where the chances of sighting the great white shark are the highest. The engine simmers down from a roar to a purr as the crew prepares for the ‘chumming’ process. The ‘chum’ is a bait comprising of fish, oil and blood that attracts the shark. A few minutes of patience, and the keen eye soon spots a fin fast approaching the boat. 4 – 6 observers, safely housed in the cage duck down to watch the shark – a thrilling up close and personal experience!

Chumming with the bait

Chumming with the bait

I can never forget seeing the great white so close…..less than three feet away! The little eye….the pointed snout….the sharp teeth…I can never forget the excitement. Strangely, I did not feel scared! Not at all…I was curious to know whether the shark had a gentle side? Well, I curtailed my curious self from trying to touch the magnificent being… its best if certain question marks stay as question marks!

Is it safe?

The captain and boat crew take good care of the passengers on board. Obviously, it goes without saying that the participants in the activity are sensible and will not try anything to put themselves in danger.

The cage is about 2.5 meters high. 1.5 meters are underwater and 1 meter is over water. There is a rod to hold on to which enables you to maintain a gap of 3 feet from the wall of the cage. At no point did we feel that the shark would gobble us down. While we were in the cage, the adrenalin made our heart pound. Safety was not the concern…it was the excitement of seeing the great white so close that engaged all our senses!

Two cents from our end… some tips
  • If you have a tendency to feel sea sick, pop a pill an hour in advance. The afternoon boat rides may get windy and choppy.
  • Carry a towel and a fleece. It does get a little chilly after the dip.
  • Wear comfortable footwear/beachwear that is easy to put on and remove.
  • Carry an underwater camera if you have one. You may want to speak with the tour agency to arrange for the underwater pictures.
  • The activity take 4-6 hours. Plan your day accordingly.

Is shark cage diving on your bucketlist? South Africa offers mega life forms on land and in the sea! It’s time for Africa!

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