Taking a Bite Out of Jaws
We woke at 5:00 in the morning, for a two hour drive from Cape Town to Gansbaai, a small town considered to be the “Shark Capital of the World”. A group of friends from back home were here to spend a couple of weeks with me and together with Robyn; we had decided to go on what has to be the ultimate wildlife adventure. We were all way too excited to sleep and watched the sun rise as we drove along. Upon arrival, we were given breakfast and a safety briefing, and then headed out into open water.
The sea was rough at first but calmed down a little once we got out in the open water. That didn’t stop people from losing their breakfast though and at some point I was even worried that not everyone would be able to get into the water. But our crew was very professional from Marine Dynamics Shark Tours and full of tips and tricks to survive the somewhat rough start of the day.
We had barely dropped anchor when a shark appeared. We hurried ourselves into wetsuits while the crew dropped the cage into the water. It hung off the side of the boat and fit six people comfortably. We opted not going in to the cage as group number 1, as we all felt a little bit nervous and wanted to see some of the others go in first.
By the time the first group was finished, we could hardly wait to get into the cage. Lowering myself into the cage, I felt my breath catch at the freezing cold Atlantic water. The cage was set up with bars to hold on to, head above water, gently paddling our feet. A bit nerve-wracking I must say, from the boat we were able to see the sharks coming, but now, with our heads just above water there was no way to tell what was right in front of us. It was only when the crew yelled “Down!” we knew there was a shark nearby. I took a deep breath and plunged into the murky depths just as a massive grey-white form powered past my head, overwhelming me with its size and sheer awesomeness. I wasn’t afraid at all – I just couldn’t believe that I was witnessing such a fantastic creature less than a meter away. I was only down for a few seconds, but the sight of that glimmering, white-blue eye will stay with me forever. We must have had at least 30 minutes in the cage, we completely lost track of time, ducking down every time a great white launched itself towards the cage or the baits that the crew was throwing at them.
When we emerged from the cage we were all shaking from both the cold water but most of all adrenaline. We did it! We quickly got out of our wetsuits and cuddled up on the roof of the boat, watching while the rest of their group got their time with the beasts. As the water became more filled with fish guts and blood, the sharks became more excitable. They jumped after the fish head that the bait guy kept throwing out with more gusto and came out of the water breaching for us on more than one occasion.
Marine Dynamics are professional, dedicated shark enthusiasts and spending a day out on sea with them is not only thrilling but also educational. By the end, we had seen no less than 13 different sharks, the biggest one being four and a half meters. What surprised me was that following the initial excitement of seeing the sharks up close, my mood quite quickly turned to being calm and peaceful. I know you're probably thinking that "peaceful" is the last word you'd use to describe a great white shark encounter, but it is true. They're elegant and powerful animals that deserve our respect. Being surrounded by them in a controlled environment is exciting but also tranquil.
When it comes to bragging rights and a pure adrenaline rush you just can’t beat going eye-to-eye with a great white shark and I am so happy that my friends were here to share the experience with me.
Pictures courtesy of the Marine Dynamics website.