Shark Cage diving has become a favorite adrenalin activity amongst extreme sport enthusiasts. The ocean off the coast of South Africa is a well known destination for shark cage diving and has been featured in numerous documentaries by Discovery Channel, the BBC and other wildlife film makers.
There are three notable destinations where visitors can go to cage dive in South Africa: False Bay, Gansbaai and Mosselbay.
Map showing Shark Cage Diving locations in the Western Cape
It is of the largest varieties of shark in our oceans, reaching 6 meters (20 ft) in length in adulthood. It can also grow to over two tons in weight.
Great White Sharks [Attribution: White Shark Projects]
It is the adrenalin rush for some, the curiosity perhaps for others but ultimately it is the thrill of meeting the Great White Shark (Carcharodon Carcharias). The ferocious yet beautiful predator stealthily slips through the water, seeking out its prey with jet black eyes and rows upon rows of teeth that can tear through flesh in seconds. So yes, it is an extreme sport but the most exhilarating experience you will ever have in the water.
Many times you will have one member of a traveling party who would love to take on the challenge but the other party is less than enthusiastic. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing. A lot of action is still experienced on the boat without having to enter the water. The excitement starts with the chumming or in the case of the dives in False Bay, towing the seal decoy. The sharks will often lift their heads above the water for a good sniff of the air. Air is after all a better conductor of odor than the water and the smell of fish and blood from the chum is quite inviting. For the False Bay guests who stay on the boat the photo opportunities are amazing when the breaching starts.
Once you have decided to take on the challenge and booked your dive, you will arrive at the dive head quarters and an experienced staff member will give you a briefing on what to expect as the day progresses. You will sign indemnities, discuss wet suits and equipment and then board the catamaran or boat. A paramedic, dive master, skipper and the crew will accompany you and the other participants out to sea. Safety and diving equipment is provided but you will need to bring a towel, bathing suit, warm coat (windproof), sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. Anyone prone to sea or motion sickness should take medication early to avoid an unpleasant trip.
Shark Cage Diving at Gansbaai[Attribution: White Shark Projects]
Along the way the crew will talk to you about a shark’s anatomy, behavior and the latest sightings. You are briefed on how the dive will be orchestrated and all procedures will be explained to you. Chumming will then begin in the area and you are asked to keep your eyes peeled on the water for the first glimpse of the sharks. Chumming is the practice of throwing pieces of fish and blood into the water to attract the sharks. Their keen sense of smell will soon alert them to the chum. When the sharks start to approach the boat, the crew will wait a little while and give the sharks a chance to familiarize themselves with the boat. The cage is lowered and 4 – 5 divers immerse themselves in the water inside the floating cage. The folks on the boat have a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the experience until it is their turn to enter the cage. Time in the cage is around 20 minutes.
As the day rolls on, lunch is served on the boat and when all the cage dives are completed the skipper will head the vessel back to shore. Once back on land everyone has a chance to exchange stories, thoughts and emotions, after a day of surreal excitement. Time out at sea depends but will range between 4 and 5 hours. All trips are dependent on weather and sea conditions.
Where are the dives conducted?
Dyer Island, the largest in a group of islands, is located 8km (5 miles) from the Gansbaai shore. The water around the island is considered to have the densest population of Great White Sharks in the world. Perhaps it is because of the thousands of African Penguins that call the island home or because of the tens of thousands of Cape Fur Seals that live and breed on the nearby Geyser Rock Island. The area is a smorgasbord for a Great White Shark since both the penguins and the seals make delectable meals. Sharks prefer a meal high in fat. The channel that exists between these two islands has been dubbed ‘Shark Alley’ and is reported to be one of the best places to view sharks.
Where: Gansbaai, 165km (102 miles) from Cape Town
When: All year round but better in the winter months – trips are weather dependent
Great White Sharks are opportunists, they like to have an element of surprise on their side when they hunt. This is beautifully and skillfully demonstrated at Seal Island in False Bay near Cape Town, South Africa. The sharks wait for poor visibility conditions such as the time just before dawn or after dusk, and then they strike. At the island the sharks will swim up to the surface of the ocean at great speed hitting the brown fur seals in their mid section. It is believed that the sharks can reach speeds of 40kph (25 mph) as they hurtle toward their prey. If the Great White Shark misses, her momentum sends her ‘flying’ out of the water. At times they can reach heights of 10 feet above the water. This breaching behavior has made the ‘flying sharks’ of Seal Island, False Bay and major tourist attraction. Research has shown that the sharks of Seal Island behave differently in part because the underwater topography allows them the distance to pick up the amount of speed required to hunt in this manner.
Great White Shark Breaching [Attribution: African Shark Eco-Charters, Simon's Town]
Cage divers are treated to the spectacle as the crew tows a decoy seal at the back of the boat. The sharks will swim and try to attack the decoy.
Where: False Bay, 30km (19 miles) south of Cape Town
When: Mid March to Mid September (winter)
If you find yourself on the Garden Route and you are interested in a Shark Cage Dive, then a dive in Mosselbay is a perfect choice. The company that operates in this area conducts their dives in the same way as the Gansbaai operators.
Where: Mosselbay, 350km (217 miles) east of Cape Town
When: June to November (winter months)
When booking a trip with one of the operators you should ask if their boats are inspected annually. The vessels should be inspected by the South African Maritime Safety Association. The companies must follow safety guidelines set out by the controlling body, Marine and Coastal Management. Safety measures include having the following equipment on board; VHF 29 MHz radios, GPS, life jackets, life rafts etc. The floating cages are inspected regularly too.
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