Monday, March 16, 2009

Cage Diving with Great White Sharks

The water off Gaansbai was 9.5 degrees Celsius -- that's 49 degrees Fahrenheit. And a Great White Shark was circling the boat. Time to hop in the water!

Have you ever seen video of Great White Sharks going airborne in attacks on baby fur seals? Well, our small boat was anchored a few miles from "Shark Alley", where much of that footage has been taken. Unfortunately, as so often happens when chasing large fish, we had arrived at exactly the wrong moment. The fur seals pups won't take to sea for a couple more weeks, so we wouldn't be witnessing any acrobatics in Shark Alley. And the cold water had made the sharks lethargic in their alternative haunts along the beach. (Note: According to one staffer, the best time to visit is in May, when visitors typically see 7 to 10 sharks per trip.)

Despite the odds being against us, our boat did manage to attract several sharks over the course of three hours of chumming (i.e., ladling chopped up fish into the water). The first three sharks came and went pretty quickly. But the fourth one was more agreeable, giving several of us (including Donald) enough time to jump in a shark cage to see it from underwater. Visibility was very poor, but we did get one good side look at the shark as it chased a tuna head. And the 7mm wetsuit provided reasonable protection against the chilly water.

Now you might expect us to find the shark scary or beautiful or impressive or something along those lines. But our first reaction was that the shark was cute. He was clearly just a yearling, perhaps five or six feet long, and not at all terrifying. (Sorry for the poor quality of the picture -- clearly we need to get a polarizing filter.)

We will have to come back in May one year to see him when he's grown up.

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