Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Into A Protective Steel Cage…


This blog entry about the events of Friday, March 19, 2004 was originally posted on March 22, 2004.

DAY 153:  Ever since a particular Steven Spielberg movie was released in 1975 about shark attacks — I won’t mention any names — sharks have been engraved in the mainstream human consciousness as vicious man-eating fish that can split you in two if you’re swimming in the ocean with a ridiculous 1970s hairstyle.  In actuality, sharks, the top of the ocean food chain, are actually quite peaceful marine creatures that would split you in two even if you had a ridiculous 2004 hairstyle.

Seriously, sharks are fascinating creatures and have been admired and feared by men throughout history — particularly the great white variety.  One of the few places in the world with the highest concentrations of great white sharks is “Shark Alley,” in between Gansbaai, South Africa and Dyer Island, where many fur seals lounge about the rocks not knowing that they are actually in an all-you-can-eat buffet for the sharks below.

GREAT WHITE SHARK DIVING is one of the things to do when visiting the Cape Town area.  For about $200 (USD), willing participants go out on a boat and enter a steel cage that is lowered into the ocean so that he/she can see the sharks face to teeth.  However, there is a controversy concerning shark diving; some believe it negatively impacts the behavior of the sharks.  In order to lure a shark near a boat, it was common practice to chum the waters with chunks of fish.  This, over time, makes sharks associate man with food, which is why shark attacks on the beaches have risen in recent years. 

Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to lure sharks without disrupting their normal swimming patterns.  The best that can be done is to dive with an eco-friendly diving company that complies with the shark diving regulations set forth by the government, the main rule being:  DO NOT FEED THE SHARKS!

MY WHITE SHARK DIVING COMPANY — appropriately named “White Shark Diving Company” — sent a transport for me at 5:30 a.m., which brought me from Cape Town to their boat in Kleinsbaai (near Gansbaai), two hours away.  The reason for such an early departure was that the divemaster Kuni wanted to be the first boat out on the water before other companies scared away the sharks with their boats.

After a quick complimentary breakfast, I signed my life away on a really detailed indemnity form that protected the company from anything that might go wrong, from sharks not appearing to being eaten by a shark.  I swear the form was so long that somewhere in the fine print, I was not allowed to sue the company, the company’s family, business associates, neighbors, babysitters, paperboys, or barbers for anything. 

Having signed my life away for an extreme activity yet again, I hopped on the 30-ft. deep see cabin cruiser with two other clients, Sarah and Grant from Scotland.  The skipper quickly took us out to sea — we were in fact the first boat out there — to a site where they suspected sharks would come to, although Kuni repeated again and again that there was no guarantee we’d see anything.

I thought there would be time to make smart-alecky quotes from that particular 1975 Spielberg movie (whose name I still won’t mention), but Kuni had us alert at all times as sometimes a shark sighting would only last a couple of seconds.  Using tuna pieces packed in mesh bags submerged in the water off the edge of the boat, a scent was dispersed to lure the great whites over.  It actually lured lots of little fish, which also attracted the sharks.  Since one of the environmental regulations was not to use mammals as bait, Kuni used a piece of rubber cut in the shape of a baby seal for an additional lure.

The steel cage was lowered off the starboard side of the cruiser, and it was in there that Sarah, Grant and I rotated turns, two at a time, wearing full wet suits — including hoods to hide our hairstyles (although it probably wouldn’t have mattered in the sharks’ eyes).  Since sharks in the summer season were afraid of bubbles, we weren’t given any air tanks or regulators.  Instead, whenever Kuni spotted a shark off the deck, we’d have to hold our breath and submerge with our masks on for as long as we could.

Within the first half hour, our first great white shark arrived, an 11-footer. 

“Divers DOWN!  Straight ahead!”

I held my breath, dove in and took my glimpse of the great white marine beast swimming by.

This continued for a while, Kuni shouting “Divers DOWN!” followed by a direction to look towards.  Maneuvering myself in the cage without a proper air supply was a little tricky.  Often times I’d get a little disoriented with the lack of buoyancy when climbing down the cage fencing and slip my arm or leg through the mesh out into a vulnerable eating zone — not a good idea.  I was lucky though; I kept all my limbs attached and, although shooting blindly most of the time, got at least one semi-decent photo.

THE WATER GOT A BIT TOO COLD — and my disposable underwater camera ran out of film — so we just observed the big fish from the deck (picture above).  Kuni used the rubber seal to lure them near and soon the dorsal fins of the sharks approached like in that certain 1975 Spielberg movie that I need not mention.  We ultimately had five sharks around our boat and took photos of them swimming around before leaving them alone to go about their sharky ways.  Where they went no one could know for sure, but I think some of them went to where we went next; the rocks of Dyer Island where all the fur seals lounged out.  I figured the sharks would be around for a quick bite after we had wet their appetites, but we saw nothing more.

THE REST OF THE DAY was pretty lazy.  I caught up on sleep since I had waken up so early that morning, both in the van on the way back to Cape Town and out in the back patio of the backpackers.  I appreciated the early awakening though; I heard that other boats that left at a later time didn’t get any shark action at all.

Later that evening I ran into Kate and Sarah from the Bok Bus Garden Route tour and filled them in on my escapades with the great whites — I managed to do this without ever mentioning that particular 1975 Spielberg movie.

If you don’t know what it is, I’m still not going to say; there are no jaws that say I am obligated to.  Oops, that’s a typo, did I write “jaws?”  I meant “laws”.  There are no laws that say I am obligated to.

Next entry: Cute Baby Animals At Knifepoint

Previous entry: Foofie To The Very End

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Comments for “Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Into A Protective Steel Cage...”

  • OMG!!!!!!!!!!!! This is so cool! (so jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  11:38 AM

  • U da’ Man!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  12:01 PM

  • this post reminds me of the episode on seasame street, where bert and ernie go fishing…

    bert can’t catch anything and ernie just yells out, “here, fishy, fishy, fishy!” and a bunch of fish jump up into the boat…then when bert finally does it out of frustration, a shark jumps up into the boat…

    ahhhh….those were the days of some quality kid programming!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  01:14 PM

  • I remember that epp.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  02:35 PM

  • the underwater shark photo is really creepy and scary!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  03:26 PM

  • Mmm?rubber baby seal?
    Cartoon Network has this ongoing promo right now: “Flying Shark vs. Flying Crocodile - Who Will Win?!” It’s really stupid, but I love it anyways.

    Posted by dunlavey  on  03/22  at  03:31 PM

  • dunlavey: i saw that promo…those images remind me of Power Ranger monster rejects.

    If they only had a flying bush pig!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  03:40 PM

  • erik,
    it was a pleasure meeting you in Capetown, S. Africa, ....and I am soooooo gealous that I am not trekking the world as you are!  Best wishes on your journeys and I will definately be updating myself on your trip regularly! ...your memoirs are treasured by all….keep, keeping us informed!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/22  at  04:44 PM

  • hahaha.. i misread “disposable underwater”. i thought it said “DISPOSABLE UNDERWEAR” at first. hahaha.

    anyway, YIKES! sharks.. i wasn’t brave enough for that one. great pics!

    (i’m jealous)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/23  at  12:13 AM

  • DENISE:  Well hello there, welcome aboard!  Glad you like traveling along vicariously with me!  Tell the others to post as well.

    RUTGERS UNIVERSITY:  Save a Fat Moon sandwich for me; one day I’ll be back at the grease trucks!

    Did anyone say “saltpepperketchup?”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/23  at  08:44 AM

  • WOW!! that is so coool. and scary. now you need to find a place that serves shark steaks, since you has ostrich after visiting an ostrich farm. and remember: “fish are our friends, not FOOD.” - bruce from finding nemo.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/23  at  03:38 PM

  • ALICE:  I’ve had shark before… it ain’t no ostrich!  (Ostrich rocks, go out and get some for lunch today if you can find it.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/24  at  05:14 AM

  • “You go in the cage. Cage goes in the water. Shark’s in the water…farewell and ado to you fair English ladies, farewell and ado you ladies of Spain…”

    You’re nuts! And “we’re gonna need a bigger boat!” Dude that is one of my all time favorite flicks, EVER. Good stuff, but you are definitely crazy… $200 bucks AND swimming with great whites in the most dangerous spot to see them. YIKES!!! There was this whole thing on History or Discovery channel about that area. Any orcas in that area?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/27  at  07:09 PM

  • CHRISTY:  It wasn’t orca season… plus, my boat wasn’t big enough.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  06:59 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Cute Baby Animals At Knifepoint

Previous entry:
Foofie To The Very End


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