Cage Diving with sharks seems to have had a bit of a battering in recent years, with many branding it as a cruel sport. Nothing could be further from the truth. Shark Cage Diving has several main priorities – observe – educate – protect.
It is an ethical animal encounter that travellers can experience under a professional marine biologist’s guidance to understand these magnificent animals fully.
Animal conservation groups have recognised white Shark cage diving as a vital conservation tool in Southern Africa, where the shark is a highly threatened species. By allowing biologists, scientists and the general public a chance to get close to the sharks means increased observation of their well-being and behavioural patterns.
Another report by Statista shows the number of unprovoked shark attacks around the world in 2020 was 57 with 10 fatalities.
This makes us re-evaluate the sometimes dark image we have formed of the shark thanks to over-zealous news reports and Hollywood films. The question now is which species is the predator and which is the prey?
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How To Choose the Right Shark Cage Diving Experience
On my trip to South Africa, I carefully researched which company I would use for my family’s Great White Shark Cage Diving experience.
I wanted to make sure that the diving company’s priorities were the welfare of the shark (it was), that we would be given plenty of information on sharks before our dive (we were), and that part of my booking fee would be ploughed back into shark research (it was).
Once satisfied that those criteria were met, I was happy to book on to shark cage dive and play a small part in the fight to protect these mighty creatures of the ocean.
My Incredible Shark Cage Diving Experience
We had been in South Africa for two weeks and had experienced several other ethical animal interactions.
From an incredible lion encounter at Shamwari Game Reserve to sleeping and walking with elephants at Knysna Elephant Sanctuary and not forgetting the bird and monkey sanctuaries we visited on our 2-week Garden Route road trip. However, we had no underwater experiences in South Africa until now!
With adrenaline pumping and excitement at an all-time high, we set off from our accommodation for the 15-minute drive to Van Dyks Bay in Gansbaai, the best place in the world to see a great white shark.
In South Africa, shark cage diving is only done in three areas – Gans Bay (Gansbaai), False Bay and Mossel Bay, where there are colonies of Cape fur seals, a preferred prey of white sharks.
Our first stop was at the Great White House, where we were given lunch, an educational talk about sharks, told what not to do – no fingers to be wiggled outside of the cage – and then given our wetsuits, weights and goggles, and we were on our way.
Heading out to Shark Alley for our Shark Cage Dive
Onboard the boat, a 20-minute ride took us to “Shark Alley”, near Dyer Island, home to the Cape fur seals and smelling fishier than you could ever imagine!
The anchor was laid, and we were invited to climb into our shark cage viewing platform, which is attached to the side of the boat and immersed halfway into the water.
Your head always remains above the water, and you decide when to hold a breath and submerge yourself to look at the sharks.
Angie’s Top Tip: Take sickness tablets before you embark – the choppy water can make you nauseous.
The cage accommodates 6-8 people; once inside the structure, it was a waiting game.
No guarantees are given that you will have a shark sighting; these are wild animals and do not perform on demand.
Chum, a mixture of fish, blood and bone, is thrown into the sea to attract any sharks that happen to be in the area, and the boat stays out for 2-hours to give all passengers a turn in the cage.
To say the South Africa sea is cold is an understatement – it was freezing even with a wetsuit on.
After 40 minutes of ducking my head under the water to see if any sharks were heading my way, I was cold, had a headache, and, to be brutally honest, was bored.
I signalled to my two boys to get out of the cage and head onto the deck to dry off.
They were disappointed but didn’t put up too much of an argument to stay in the water – it would not be our lucky day. My husband, never one to give up easily, decided he would stay for a bit longer.
Sighting a Great White Shark
Up on deck, we swayed about, trying to release ourselves from the hold of the rubbery wetsuits, which, believe me, was like a workout itself, and just as we had wrapped towels around our shaking bodies, the deckhand shouted out, “GREAT WHITE”!
This was the bucket list moment we had come here for, and I could see the mammoth predator circling beneath the water’s surface.
The chum was being whipped into a bloody mess, and my dear hubby was under the water trying to catch the event on his underwater Go-Pro camera and video.
The boys looked at me and looked at the deckhand and pleaded to get back into the cage.
The deckhand said they needed to be quick, so with no time to try and wriggle back into their skintight wetsuits, they plunged into the cage to catch an underwater glimpse of the great white shark.
The sight of two young boys immersing themselves in that freezing water brought a few gasps from other guests, to which I called out, “Don’t worry, we’re British”, a nod to the stiff upper lip and hardiness that the Brits seem to possess. This brought laughter from guests of all nationalities.
With the great white shark thrashing around by the cage, the deckhand told me to get ready with the underwater waterproof camera as it would rear out of the water before diving back underneath. And then, just as he promised, in a split second, the shark’s nose and mouth, full of razor-sharp teeth, appeared almost smiling, ready for me to capture its presence!
And then, as quickly as this incredible animal had appeared, it suddenly turned and was gone.
What a fantastic encounter with a great white shark and one that I will always treasure. As for my husband (so pleased he had caught images on his camera) and my boys (complete with purple lips from the cold water), well, thankfully, they all survived shark cage diving to tell the tale!
Where Have All the Great White Sharks Gone?
Sadly, since my encounter with a Great White Shark, the number of sightings in Southern Africa has become almost zero. Marine biologists believe it could be caused by smaller sharks and fish (60% of a great whites diet) being eliminated by overfishing.
Another suggestion is that killer whales (orcas) are coming inland, hunting the great whites, and decreasing their population numbers. Whatever the reason, I am thankful that my family and I got the chance to participate in shark cage diving – a truly magical and exhilarating bucket list experience.
If you are interested in diving with sharks, you can also read about How to Scuba Dive with Bull Sharks in Mexico.
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