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shark As a diver, you tend to have a slightly different view-point on sharks. After all, the prospect of being someone's dinner is NOT a comfortable feeling. Over the years I have often encountered sharks in the wild, in Cape Town, pajama sharks and gulley sharks are something you see on every dive. Less often you will meet Ragged Toothed sharks and Cow sharks and if you are really lucky, the main man himself. Once while diving for crayfish off Cape Point, I was harassed by a large shark, but as it kept just underneath me, I was unable to identify it, but from its territorial and fearless behaviour I had my suspicions! Since then I've wanted to meet the apex predator on his own terms.

me in cage
shark I was lucky to go on a Great White Shark Dive at Dyer Island near Gansbaai as a guest of JP Botha. It was a perfect day with flat sea and good viz, and as we headed out from Gansbaai, I couldn't help wondering if the delicate looking cage on the boat's deck would keep me off the menu! It seemed to be designed to keep me in and not to keep sharks out. We anchored over a reef just west of Dyer Island, and within 10 minutes a hefty, 4.5m meter Great White female began to circle the boat. She cruised past, her head and eye just breaking the surface and cutting the water with her large dorsal fin now sticking up about 2 feet out of the water. With a calculated stare, she looked into the boat, sizing up the situation. It was an electrifying first encounter! You really felt that she was in control, and an uncomfortable feeling rising inside you that the odds were not in your favour. Again and again she lifted her eye above the water line and fixed us with that black, impassionate stare, once or twice she "tasted" the now silent outboard motor propellers, causing the boat to rock alarmingly, this was the first feeling of how big she really was and the kind of sheer weight she has to throw around.

me in cage
shark We were at sea for a total 6 hours, each taking a turn to face her in the flimsy cage. We were constantly accompanied by at least one, and often up to 4 sharks, ranging from 3 to 5.5 metres long. There was a definite pecking order and the largest female would get priority, the others keeping respectfully out of her way. My turn came at last to drop down into the cage - taking great care not to miss the narrow opening at the top! I sucked hard on my demand valve and stared intently out at the blue green wall of water at the limit of my visibility only 10 meters away. Waiting.... heart hammering.... Suddenly she was there, right in front, coming straight at me. No fear. No hesitation. She is the boss, supremely powerful and awesomely graceful. No wasted effort, she seemed hardly to move, more like a torpedo than a fish, the spectacular jaws opening to reveal natures most awful mouth. With a crash she tasted the cage, allowing me to look in awe down her throat, being very careful not to leave my fingers on the bars where her razor sharp teeth would certainly take them off. Now there were two of them circling me and I didn't know which one to face! They bumped the cage, tasted the bars and gave me that spine-chilling look. After a few passes I felt brave enough to reach out through the cage and run my hand down their backs just after the terrible mouth went past. every now and then, the larger female would drive off the other one and it was incredible to see the bursts of speed she could put on with one or two flicks of her tail. This is the most awesome creature on earth. Impassive, all power, all danger, all beauty. I had an hour, alone and silent in the cage and they never left me. This truly is a magnificent creature, unchanged for thousands of years, and very much worth protecting. It was a spiritual experience to be so close to death and live.

me in cage
Pics of me in cage by Amos Nachem

You can click on any picture to get an enlarged view

Shark Trying to bite me Shark Looking me over Shark Coming in for the kill

Shark approaching Shark Circling me Going for the boat

Dental view Shark Missing the bait Shark Looking for me

Shark Taking the bait Shark Tasting the boat Mind your toes

You are welcome to use these pictures for non profit sites if you:

  1. Credit the photographs (Graham Lambert)
  2. Link me from your pages if you have one
  3. Email me the URL so I can enjoy it also!!


Facts about Great White Sharks

(I can't credit all the sources but thanks anyway).
Great White Sharks usually inhabit coastal and offshore areas of the continental and insular shelves. Although they can occur world-wide, they prefer warm or temperate areas and are mostly found close to coasts. Their average size is 3 to 6m, although there have been claims as large as 9m, but this is not officially recorded. Most of the larger Great White Sharks are females. they weigh up to 2000 kg, and may live up to 40 years.
The Great White Shark is a versatile predator who will eat may things. Food includes a wide range of bony fishes such as pilchards, salmon, hake, yellow tail and tunas. Other sharks and rays are taken including hound sharks, hammerheads, and stingrays. Basking shark meat has been found in the stomach of several Great White Sharks, apparently taken as carrion from harpooned sharks. Marine mammals are an important food source including Harbour porpoises, dolphins, Northern Elephant Seals, sea lions, and fur seals. Invertebrates taken includes squid, abalones (perlemoen), other gastropods, and crabs. It also readily scavenges on carrion, garbage and fish caught on lines. Dead baleen whales and other large cetaceans may contribute a significant amount to the Great White Shark's diet in some areas. Sea otters, turtles and seabirds are eaten but are an uncommon part of the diet. Now and then, man is also on the menu.
The Great White is generally solitary, but has been known to accumulate in groups of 10 or more individuals at favoured feeding sites. Currently, there is little information on the behaviour of this shark, although evidence suggests that individuals may revisit a favoured site for several years. The shark is presumed to be ovoviviparous (producing fully formed eggs which are hatched inside the body of the female before the offspring is released) although very few pregnant females have been captured. A litter of nine young has been reported. Very few females are thought to be pregnant at any one time and it is suspected that the Great White Shark has a very low breeding rate. The shark has an acute sense of smell which allows it to locate prey in the water. It is thought that Great White Sharks have to keep swimming so that adequate oxygen can pass through their gills and into the bloodstream.
It is difficult to monitor the population sizes of this wide ranging marine species. The South African government has enacted legislation that has protected white sharks from directed fishery attentions since April 1991. Similarly, the State of California passed an Assembly Bill that protects these animals off the region's coast since January 1994, for at least the next five years. These actions took account of public support that favoured protecting this species. Concern in southern Australia has led to the development of a species management plan. The majority of Great White Sharks recorded in Australian waters occur in South Australia. The International Initiative for Conservation of White Sharks is being developed to record direct or incidental captures of Great White Sharks. Data collected will be presented to CITES in favour of outlawing world-wide existing or future directed fisheries for this species. The Great White Shark has so far proved impossible to keep in captivity.
People write to me and ask me are they dangerous? Can we dive with them without a cage? One person even wanted to swim with one and stroke it. One needs to understand that these are not tame Disney Free-Willy like creatures, but extremely dangerous and unpredictable predators. Here in South Africa where we live with them, nice people get killed and maimed every year. I'm not saying they don't have a right to eat us when we invade their domain, but please understand Great Whites are ferocious eating machines with no regard for human life, so NO, I don't advise swiming with one intentionaly. Some times this happens and you have to make the best of it - read Rob Erasmus's account of his unplanned encounter with one close to shore and in shallow water.

Attacks on humans: How many people are killed each year by Great white attacks? There are about 100 shark attacks each year, 30 of which are fatal. Of these 30, the Great White can be reasonably assumed to be responsible for perhaps half to a third. Just 10 to 15 people each year. In contrast, 1000 people are killed on the roads in South Africa, so if you plan on going to the sea-side for the day, rather worry about motorists and not sharks!

newShark Attack news-reports
newRob Erasmus's story

Breaching Great White in False Bay
(Pictures by Chris Fallows)

When is the best time to go cage diving?

Best time to go is South Africa's winter ie May to September. Bear in mind we have unpredictable sea and weather conditions.

Great White Shark   Great White Shark   Great White Shark   (Pictures from JP Botha)

Other Great White pictures found on the internet:

Smile, you're on the menu (Unknown)
Yep, It's real! (Carl Roessler)
Don't mess with me (Ron and Valerie Taylor)
No cage - authentic image (Marty Snyderman)