Shark Diving - moonshine

by Brent Daniel and Donna Nespoli :: and

Shark Diving: Willingly dunking oneself in fifty degree sea water known to be infested with sharks ranging from a mere ten feet in length up to twice that. (Seems like an alternative definition of insanity, no?)

We had arranged to go diving with Great Whites, something Donna has been keen to do for years, near the town of Gansbaai. Along the way we were able to enjoy the stunning scenery of Africa's southern coast --- and one other member of its impressive fauna. We almost sped past a sign for Penguins (!!). We'd half-heartedly attempted to see the colony at Boulder's Beach a few days before, but given up after just a brief sampling of the Cape Peninsula's traffic. Could it really be that we could see them elsewhere without the crowds? Indeed, there's actually a Penguin Reserve at Betty's Bay, southeast of Cape Town. African Penguins are found only on the southwestern coast of Africa. Their population was estimated to top 4 million at the beginning of the 19th century. Today, only about 50,000 are left, resulting in their listing as an endangered species. If current population declines continue, they may be extinct by the mid-2020s.

Endangered African Penguins at the Penguin Nature Reserve on Betty's Bay, South Africa.

A bit further to the southeast is the quaint little town of Gansbaai from where we would head out on the trusty Slashfin. We'd followed a fairly extensive Dramamine regimen in an attempt not to turn the whole experience into one of the more miserable of our lives. Dramamine the night before. Dramamine the morning of. Dramamine just before. Hungry? Have a Dramamine. Thirsty? Why don't you pop a Dramamine with that?

(Left) Harbor frontage. (Right) Marine Dynamics boat the Slashfin. Gansbaai, South Africa.

Harbor view homes, Gansbaai, South Africa.

The shark boats, and there are a number of companies operating out of Gansbaai, all do a bit of chumming to bring sharks near the boats. The local flocks of Kelp Gulls have, thus, learned to associate the boats with food and provide a personal escort out from the harbor. From the top deck you can get a hint of what it might be like to soar with the flighted crowd.

Soaring with a flock of Kelp Gulls off the coast of Gansbaai, South Africa.

A young Kelp Gull eyes the camera off the coast of Gansbaai, South Africa.

For the record, there is an open debate about the ethics of cage diving with Great Whites (or any shark species for that matter) with passionate opinions and good points made by both sides. See, for example, Andrew Evans article --- plus the many comments beneath it, both for and against. We went out with Marine Dynamics which is involved in a number of conservation efforts. For what it's worth, we found their staff to be genuinely passionate about White Sharks and their conservation.   

Chumming the water off Gansbaai, South Africa attracts both sharks and gulls.

Alas, no Great Whites were to make an appearance on the day we were out. A few weeks before, a pair of Orcas had come through the bay and killed at least five Great Whites within a matter of days. Orca predation was confirmed by autopsy after Great White carcasses began washing ashore. In each case, the sharks appeared to have sustained a single bite behind the pectoral fin that cleanly removed their nutrient rich liver. The rest of each shark remained intact. This was only the third time Orca attacks on Great Whites had been documented, and the first time in African waters. After the attacks the remaining Great Whites left the bay. Six weeks later, there were only beginning to be spotty sightings of them again, though not on the day we were there.

There were, however, plenty of Copper Sharks, another large, beautiful species of shark that can reach 11 feet in length (in the same family as Tiger Sharks, Lemon Sharks, and Blacktip Reef Sharks).

A trio of Copper Sharks gathers near the Marine Dynamics cage during an outing in Gansbaai, South Africa.