Well, this deserves its own post as I am still in shock at the unreal and basically unbelievable events of the day… I guess all I can say is that I’m just glad that I am writing this with all of my limbs intact. Anyways, twelve people from my study abroad group went shark cage diving today… right now it is the best time of the year to do this and as shark week just finished, we thought what better and more appropriate time would we have to get up-close and personal with the beasts themselves. Well, we headed out at 6:45 on a two-hour trip to Gansbaai, home of the White Shark Project and the famous Shark Alley. Shark Alley has the most dense great white shark population in the world as it is home to 400 of the 1,000 Great White Sharks worldwide. They are the only shark found in the surrounding area as they dominate the sea. Unfortunately the species is listed as vulnerable and they are hunted for their teeth… of which can go for tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) on the black market. It was a fifteen minute boat ride out to our diving spot and they attached a metal cage to the side of the boat, serving as our viewing area… a bit of reversal of the roles if you ask me! The cage was divided up into seven sections that were about a foot and a half wide by two feet in length, thus seven people were in the water looking at once. There were about thirty of us in total so we were divided up into four separate groups, of which I was in the first. The water was about 15 degrees Celsius or 60 degrees Fahrenheit… in other words, it was cold! We were given full-body wetsuits (head and all) along with little booties to keep our feet warm. The wetsuits helped slightly but we were all pretty darn cold! Anyways, equipped with our goggle masks, the first group got down and into the cage. There was a little yellow bar that our knees were able to rest on while we waited for a shark to come near. Sharks have an incredible sense of smell so they attracted the sharks by throwing out chum, a chopped up fish mixture. When a shark was near, they would yell “divers’ down” and we would hold our breath then submerge ourselves fully into the tank as we stood on a platform just below. Because the wetsuits make you float, we had weights around our body that helped to keep us underwater. We were also able to help hold ourselves down as we pushed up against the yellow bar. We are all stoked when we saw our first shark, she was a young female, probably about eight feet in length, and she came semi-close to the cage… however, she was still a few feet away so it was similar to seeing a shark at the aquarium or whatnot, but still really neat. They threw out a fish attached to a rope just a few feet in front of the cage to try to lure her closer for our viewing experience. The third time she came by, she came relatively close to the cage (probably two or so feet away) but I completely missed it… I thought she was below us and I was looking down rather than straight ahead where she was in actuality… major fail. Our turn was up so we switched with the next group so they could have a chance. I headed up to the top floor of the boat to get a top view of the action. A few minutes into their turn, a new, massive Great White showed up. She was fully grown, probably close to 5 or 6 meters in length… that is about 15-18 feet long. Great Whites can grow to be 7 meters long (21 feet) but they are typically close to 6 m in length when fully grown. Males can breed when they are 3.8 meters long and females when they are 4.8 meters long. Surprisingly, females are usually larger than the males. They are more than a meter in length when born and are at the top of the food pyramid, feeding on fish, turtles, seals, and even dolphins. Sharks tend to have very slow metabolisms and because of this, they don’t need to eat very often. Well, this one must have been pretty darn hungry as he lingered around for quite awhile, giving an up-close and personal view for the divers. He kept at the food and was biting galore, often coming out of the water attempting to grab the moving food and quite close to the tank. He hung around as the third and fourth groups went down for their turns as well. Not going to lie, I was pretty bummed as we saw a relatively small shark in comparison… and the one time she did come semi-close to the cage, I missed it… way to go Susan. Well, fortunately the first group was able to go in one more time as the shark stayed around the boat and was still interested in the chum and all of the dead, moving fish. So, we got into the cage one more time and got some amazing views of the shark pretty darn close… it was really cool seeing him eat so, so close to us as his teeth were massive and he did quite some damage on the relatively small fish. She swam by quite a few times and when our turn was almost up, we, well I, got the ultimate show of the day. The cage we were in had about an eight inch gap just below the surface of the water so the divers’ could see the shark with an unobstructed view. Like normal, they pulled the fish that was attached to the rope towards the boat to entire the shark closer to the cage, but she was determined to get this one. When she was just a few feet from the cage, she lunged forward to get the food… well, she missed the food but the momentum from her jolt forward landed her RIGHT in front of me… literally, IN my portion of the cage. Now, I was right in the middle of the seven person cage, with three people to the left and three to the right… but no, this had to happen in my portion of the cage… ahh! It seems unreal but this shark was no more than six inches from me, stuck in the eight-inch gap viewing area. Fortunately my instinct took over and I pushed to the back of my little cubicle, completely freaking out and trying to even wrap my mind around the situation and reality that was going on. It seems like a total over exaggeration (and is one of those you had to be there to even begin to believe it) but I was literally sharing my cage with the nose (AND TEETH) portion of the shark. And not only was I sharing the cubicle with the shark, the shark was stuck… in my cage. I was freaking out, staring into the face of a shark… six inches from its mouth. The entire situation was only a few seconds long as the shark eased himself out by pushing backwards and wiggling himself out but it was hands down the scariest thing I have ever witnessed or experienced… it makes the bungee jump (even the worlds tallest) seem like Dumbo at Disney World in comparison. People aboard the boat were screaming as they watched it play out and even the guides were practically crapping their pants and looked quite shocked as they couldn’t even believe what just happened. That was the last of the shark as we was gone for the day… and I was totally fine with that as I (and just about everyone else) was still in complete shock. I am just really glad that instinct took over and that I pushed up towards the back of the cage, letting go of the yellow bar that was attached to the front of the cage… honestly, had I not moved my hands, I couldn’t say very certainly that they would have been alright. It was the craziest thing I have ever experienced and it still doesn’t seem like it really happened… like six inches, no more, from the teeth of a Great White Shark smack dab in front of me… oh my. Now, I happen to be quite an adrenaline junky and usually I’m pretty unfazed by “scary” or adventure-like activities… but I was honestly scared out of my mind, literally screaming underwater… it was unreal! I can certainly say that the $200 for shark-cage diving was well worth it… and got me pretty up-close and personal, a bit too close for comfort if you ask me but dang… I can guarantee I’ll never forget that experience and I’m still in a little bit of shock… oh my.
I’m glad I still have all my fingers and limbs…
P.S. You guys are getting a lot of pictures!
The Shark Group!
The cage… see the gap between the yellow bar and the orange bar above it?