Alright everyone, time for one of the highlights of my trip, and of my life: swimming with great white sharks. But first is a bit of background. (Warning: originally wanted to just talk about my shark diving experience and ended up diving into my shark conservation rant)
A lot of planning goes into my travels. With limited time and budget, I like to do research to find out what I want to do while exploring new countries. As soon as I found cheap tickets to South Africa (literally cheaper than a short flight across the sea to Egypt) I knew I wanted to try to go cage diving with white sharks. This has been on my bucketlist forever, as I am an ocean lover and shark fanatic. Ever since I was little and sat wide eyed in front of the tv watching shark week on Discovery Channel, I was in awe by the sharks of the famous Gansbaai leaping out of the air at Dyer Island. This spot is deemed the “Great White Capital of the World”.
Anyways, me being a crazy shark lady, I wanted to find the best company as possible. To do this I spent a lot of time on the internet reading reviews, looking at photos, and comparing prices. Some companies have a guarantee that if you see no sharks at all you can come back for free. Some companies use scuba (which is nice cause you stay underwater but bubbles actually deter sharks). And some companies allow 40 people and some have less. In addition, because we weren’t renting a car, we needed to make sure that the company we went with offered transportation from Cape Town. Lastly, boats go out anywhere from 6 AM to 2 PM, depending on weather conditions and number of guests, and from sources I read, the most success if earlier in the morning when the sharks are most active and feeding.
After all of this, I found a list of companies that interested me. This included Marine Dynamics, and a few others. In the end I found the premium Iventure pass, which you can purchase here, which included a premium experience (a choice of shark diving, helicopter ride, safari, etc). On this site I found the company I ended up going with. Called Great White Shark Diving. To be short, I ended up booking with a company, who I gave my Iventure card to, and was confirmed a date. But two days before I received an email apologizing for any confusion but they were not affiliated with IVenture and forwarded me to the site of the correct shark tour. The original tour I had booked like a month in advance so I was heartbroken and certain that they wouldn’t have any availability. Especially since it was Easter weekend and spring break, so lots of people were traveling. Low and behold, after a frantic whatsapp message, I found out that the day I wanted was already full, BUT, the other day we had no plans for they could squeeze us in, so I took it immediately and arranged for transportation. (Sorry for that long story..)
Anyways, back to my experience…we were picked up at 5:00 AM. The night before I was reading through reviews to see if they had seen sharks the week prior. For the past few months shark sightings have been unreliable. Apparently orcas came into the area, which actually prey upon white sharks. So as soon as they come in the area all the sharks disappear to avoid being eaten. This is unfortunate for me because obviously I want the sharks to be around! But all I could do was think positive thoughts and realize that wildlife is unpredictable and the best we could do is give it a try. So we woke up at 4:30 for our shuttle and headed outside. So you can get a bit of an idea of how not all my travels go as smoothly as it might appear on social media, I just want to be truthful with you all, turns out our shuttle picked up the wrong people and left, leaving David and I confused about where the heck our ride was. Fortunately, another shark tour company came by and pieced together the fact that both companies were picking up two people, and both companies were fortunately very close to each other. So we ended up getting in his van and we picked up the remaining passengers and headed to Gansbaai harbor. The drive there was beautiful, and while everyone slept I was way too nervous/excited to get any rest, so I watched the sunrise over the beautiful mountains. Until eventually we arrived to our destination where our kind driver dropped us off at the correct company.
We enjoyed some coffee and breakfast as we filled out paperwork and signed our lives away. I loved how there were facts around the building about sharks teaching tourists about their importance. One of my biggest passions is actually telling people how misunderstood sharks are. Humans are the real killer. I am sure I have talked about this on my blog before, but just as a reminder, only about 4-12 people per year. There are over 7.6 billion people on earth. So please do the math and note that only 0.00000002% of people die from sharks. This number is ridiculously low. But media sparks fear and makes people unreasonably scared of sharks. In reality, more people are killed by mosquitos, snakes, dogs, hippos, etc. People are more likely to be struck by lightning, being killed by a vending machine falling on them, and WAY more likely to get in a car accident. Next, I want you to think about how many sharks are killed per year? Why are they killed? Well, for recreational fishing, bycatch, and the biggest killer of all, is for their fin. It is estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed by humans per year. This is a conservative number, the true number can be way higher than this because many of shark catches are illegal and never go reported or taken account. Can you imagine? 11,417 sharks being killed per hour by unsustainable finning alone!? What a staggering number. Some shark population have declined by up to 99%, this is so close to extinction that it makes me cringe.
Ok, what can you do to reduce the slaughter of sharks? Of course, never ever buy shark products. This includes the obvious shark fin soup, but in addition, tons of supermarkets actually sell shark meat. Shark meat is rarely offered under its real name, and the reason is simple: because consumers should not know what they are eating. So here are a list of names that supermarkets use, PLEASE AVOID: flake, huss, catfish, dogfish, grayfish, steakfsh, white fish, lemon fish, cape steak, rock salmon, rigg, gummy, sea ham, sokomoro, tofu shark, ocean fillet, imitation crab meat, and fish and chips. In addition, scallops are often missold for shark. Here is a website to identify fake scallops. As long as shark products are consumed, there will be a high demand and fisheries will continue to target them. Please do not contribute to the extinction of this majestic species that has been around for hundreds of millions of years. If you want to take a step up, avoid seafood altogether. Because when you consume any fish product, there is a high possibility of bycatch. According to global estimates, bycatch amounts is up to 40% of catch, totaling 63 billion pounds per year. Estimates show that tens of millions of sharks are killed each year as bycatch. Aquaculture is just as grim, and unhealthy as these fish and shrimp are stuffed with antibiotics. Check out this article here. This whole rant occurred because I wanted to mention that great white sharks are now endangered. Their decreasing numbers are due to years of being hunted by man for fins and teeth, and often as a trophy for sport fishing. The white shark is often caught as bycatch by commercial fisheries and can also become entangled in meshes that protect beaches.
Okay, now to the good stuff: my experience with the amazing great white sharks. We got out to the spot where sharks had been spotted in the morning. The lead biologist of the company, Brian Mcfarlane, was in contact with other tours to find where the sharks were. I can highly recommend this company, Great White Shark Tours, which you can book here. They offer a money back guarantee if you do not see sharks which is a huge plus, and he has a very high success rate to find sharks. Anyways, we were told the early morning boats saw two great whites, so I was so excited to hear that they were in the area. We anchored right next to the boat (who would be leaving shortly) and we got suited up. Of course I got my wetsuit on in record time due to my excitement of getting in the water, so we were able to be the first group to enter the cage and witness this incredible animal from under the sea. This was SUCH a cool experience. Within 15 minutes in the freeing cold water, we got three close up encounters with the large animals. There were about 30 people in total on this boat, and the cage fit 8 so we had four rotations. But it was perfect because the views from the boat were just as amazing. The visibility under the water was less than 2 meters, so the shark had to be super close for us to see. The workers on the boat used a seal cutout as well as chum to attract the sharks closer to the cage. In the end, I rotated into the water three times, seeing the sharks on many occasions. I even lucked out and got to see the rare copper shark, also called a bronze whaler. By the end of the day, we saw a total of seven great whites, which was a record for the entire year. So we definitely lucked out! Just check out these photos!
After a few hours at sea, we returned to the building where we started, and changed into dry clothes, and enjoyed a yummy lunch as I looked over my photos and talked excitedly with the other guests. I was exhausted by the time we drove home and I fell asleep for almost the full two hour ride. By the time we returned to our hostel on Long Street, we had time to take a quick shower, and go for a 40 minute walk (actually an hour after getting lost a few times) to the V&A waterfront to catch the sunset bus. The sunset bus is another inclusion on Iventure that takes passengers to the top of Signal Hill which offers magnificent views of Cape Town. On our walk to the harbor we stopped at a nice vegan restaurant called Plant, and I got a delicious buddha bowl to pack with us and eat as a picnic while watching the sunset. I ended up also getting a cookie ice cream sandwich before grabbing the bus, which was amazing! The sunset was gorgeous and I also recommend this tour to get an incredible sunset view. Bring your own drinks and food along for the best dinner views.
The bus returned us to to the waterfront by 7:30 where we ran onto the last Hop on Hop off bus (we had a 5-day ticket with Iventure) and that brought us home in a quick 5 minute ride. On our way walking back from the Long Street bus stop we stopped at Beer House, a brewery that had over 90 beer options. Another free coupon with Iventure was a “beer o’ clock” taster that had 12 of their most famous beers. I don’t love beer so I had the nice light sweet ones and David had the others. A pretty awesome deal for free considering it was like $20! After getting my buzz on (yes off only three little beers) I headed to bed and fell fast asleep. Another long tour ahead planned for the next day.