If you live in South Africa, shark cage diving is one of those controversial activities which divides opinion. On the one hand, you have certain conservationists who claim that chumming (luring sharks by throwing bloody bait into the water) is dangerous and alters the balance of marine life and makes sharks lose their fear of humans. On the other hand, the shark diving operators who repudiate such claims and state that they do more to improve the image of the great white than umpteen researchers or reports. I admit that with a certain amount of excitement and anticipation, my daughters and I went to the great white shark cage diving capital of the word Gansbaai (2.5 hours east of Cape Town) to see for ourselves.

We were not disappointed. After a hearty breakfast at the HQ of Shark Diving Unlimited, a briefing, distribution of some wet weather kit (winter had finally arrived in the Cape) we were on our way. Not everyone dived on the boat; some people were simply content to see the sharks up close from the deck. The divers descended into a cage strapped to the side of the boat. The water was cold, even with a thick wetsuit but the experience of seeing such a huge, graceful animal underwater was truly exhilarating. Several times, sharks rammed into the cage to get at bait which had floated too close. The biggest great white we saw was about 4 metres. The crew were always professional and interested, all of them being ambassadors to rehabilitate the image of the great white. My compliments to Jason and his crew. We had as much time diving as we wanted but the cold got to even the hardiest of us and after about three hours we made our way back to port.

This is not an adrenalin trip. The feeling was one of excitement and awe and appreciation of beauty. These animals are streamlined for the ocean, the ultimate of the alpha predators. It is estimated that there are about one thousand great whites left in the sea, less than the tiger population. Yet tigers are revered whilst the great white suffers from ignorant prejudice, with many people rejoicing when one is killed. If great whites were man hunters, the beaches around the coast of South Africa would be devoid of human life. If there is one thing we learnt this day, it was the appreciation of the majesty of this animal, the lions of the oceans.

Shark cage diving Cape Town

By Nicolas (I’m not scared of a little fish) Edwards

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