Recently, the CometoCapeTown.com team had the privilege of being invited out to Gansbaai to experience the shark cage diving in Cape Town first-hand. Here is what we discovered during our educational adventure…
We set out from Cape Town at 05h45, with a mixture of excitement and curiosity. There is so much information and opinions on shark cage diving, all with conflicting views that made it difficult to know how the day was going to pan out. The company providing the experience to us was Marine Dynamics, and we knew they made claim to focus on the conservation of Great White Shark. This did much to ease the conscience over the bad press so often received from the practice.
After a beautiful drive, we made it to Gansbaai. We were greeted at the door of Great White House with wonderful smells of bacon, eggs and coffee, as well as smiling faces that were eager to get us settled.
Preparing for our Cape Town Shark Dive
After breakfast, we were shown an orientation video that featured safety information as well as some information on the Great white shark itself. We were astounded to discover that the Great white shark is responsible for only 3-4 deaths annually worldwide, whereas the domestic dog kills over 30 people yearly in the USA alone. It certainly puts into perspective the dangerous predator a movie like Jaws tends to portray.
Finally, with our life jackets strapped on and our orange jackets for warmth, we were on the boat heading out to sea. From the first meeting of the whole team, you could sense of feeling of passion – this was not a job for them but a passion for a creature that is largely misunderstood.
Shark cage diving is hugely criticised, and a lot has been said about whether it can be seen as responsible tourism. Here are some facts shared by Marine Dynamics:
• Sharks are killed for many different reasons, including the notorious shark fin soup, as well as souvenirs such as teeth and jaws. These would come to a value of about $100 if sold. This is in contradiction to a living shark that generates over $2 million in eco-tourism for communities.
• Several studies have been done to ascertain whether the practice of shark cage diving leads to conditioning of the sharks by humans. To date there is no indication to suggest this – if diving was causing sharks to attract to the boats and humans, there would be an increased rate of activity as soon as the boats approach, which has not been seen at any point.
• Many complain that chumming is negative, and that like the scenario of the baboons that were being fed by humans and became dependent on the food given to them, the same is to be said of the practice of ‘chumming’. Chum can be described as a mixture of fish heads and oils placed on the end of the rope, to be used as visual bait. At no point is this fed to the sharks and every effort is made to not allow the sharks to eat this. We saw first-hand how a fish head had been dislodged from the rest but remained in the water for the full period with no sharks showing any interest.
Diving With Sharks at Last!
Gansbaai shark diving was an experience listed on my bucket list, and certainly lived up to the anticipation. We were given full wetsuits for the experience as well as goggles. Just being in that cage gives me so much more perspective on this amazing creature – there agility, speed and even grace. We were told when to duck under water to see the sharks in close distance, and the experienced crew seem to be able to spot things that were almost impossible to glimpse in the seconds that the shark is in sight. We were even privileged enough to have a stingray visit us, apparently he has a bit of an identity crisis and tries to act like a shark.
A Great white sharks brain is solely focused on hunting – one reason why researchers suggest that conditioning does not happen with these creatures. Their movement and the amount of energy expended to get to catch seals, smaller sharks and fish is all governed by the need to hunt.
About three years ago, a count was done of Great whites in the Gansbaai area, counting around 2000 sharks. Another count was done a few months ago and already this number has decreased to only 800. With so much information on the great white unknown due to lack of research, it makes it difficult to know how to protect and conserve these amazing creatures. As yet no recording has ever been seen of a shark giving birth, important information if we are to be able preserve this great creature.
In conclusion, shark cage diving in terms of the conservation of the Great white shark is an important activity. Coming away from the experience, I know so much more and have a new appreciation for a creature that is so feared across the world. That being said, it is important to choose a dive provider very carefully. Marine Dynamic uses all of the funds generated from the trips to fund the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, which is aimed at research and education on the Great white shark. Throughout the whole trip, we had a knowledgeable marine biologist on board to educate us on what we were seeing, while also logging constant data on what was taking place. I’m sure there are irresponsible companies who would use irresponsible practices to ensure the sighting of sharks. I’m sure they can boast higher rates of shark sightings too – however the question to ask is are they invested in the practice for the good of the animal they are advertising, or just out to lure tourists on board?
We would like to thank Marine Dynamics for the amazing experience offered to the team. I’m sure I can speak for all when I say that we have come away from the experience with changed perceptions – even if the perceptions changed were those of our own fears being conquered.
This post was written by our very own Reservationist Michelle Bolt 🙂