And what’s worse, you put Nala in danger!
Okay so I didn’t quite do that. And the only person I put in danger was myself. But. I did it. I went shark-cage diving!!!!
Yes, it might sound absolutely crazy, but it is something that I have really wanted to do since I decided to come to Cape Town. It just took me until I only have a week left in the country to actually do it. June to about October is peak season for seeing sharks from the cage and seeing them out breaching. I decided to go with Apex Predators for the outing. It’s run by Chris Fallows; if you love Shark Week on Discovery Channel like I do, you’ll see him a lot. He is the marine biologist who proved that breaching is not unique to South Africa’s Great Whites. He’s also done all the Air Jaws stuff, and I’m pretty sure he was part of the crew that shot that famous extreme slow-motion video of a Great White breaching.
As today got closer and closer, I still couldn’t quite believe that I had actually signed up for this. I was incredibly nervous and incredibly excited. Woke up at 5am to get picked up by Apex from Rondebosch to take the trip to Simon’s Town, where the trip starts. The boat would then take us to Seal Island, famous for the huge colony of seals there as well as the high shark activity. The sun was just coming up as the boat reached the seals. And oh my lord, do those things smell! It was so awful; definitely woke me up I guess.
There were about twelve people on the boat with four crew. I was so surprised to hear that only half of us actually wanted to get into the cage and see the sharks from under water. These trips are expensive! Probably would not have paid that kind of money just to watch them from the surface. For the first hour (or two?), we tried to catch glimpses of the sharks in predatory mode and potentially see a few breachings. I have so much respect now for the marine videographers and Blue Planet/Planet Earth crews; we never caught sight of a full breaching, and we towed the decoy seal behind us for a long time and never really got a bite. They must have spent days out on the water just watching the little fake seal bobbing in the water and hoping to get the right shot. We saw a couple of sharks try and go after seals. I didn’t get any good pictures, but I saw them really well. One kind of just stuck its head out of the water for no reason, another flashed its fins while it was attacking, and the best was when out of nowhere one came completely out of the water only about fifteen feet away from the boat! That was amazing!!!
Finally, we were asked who wanted to get into the cage, and I volunteered to go in first. I had to ask myself what in the hell I was doing, but I didn’t know how long the sharks were going to stick around so I wanted to get in. So I was in the first group to get in, and I stayed in until the end, almost an hour and a half! The other people came and went out of the cage, but since there were so few people who actually wanted to go in, I got to stay in for as long as I wanted!
The water was a wonderfully balmy 59°F (please not the sarcasm). It actually didn’t feel that cold; I kind of got used to it. After taking forever to get into our already damp wetsuits (which I discovered are extremely difficult to get on when they haven’t fully dried), we dropped into the cage. By far the most horrible and frustrating part was the cage itself. It was a pretty choppy day, with four to five meter swells, so I quickly gave up on using the snorkel. If I even tried to go underwater a little bit, the snorkel would fill up with water. Decided to just hold my breath when I went under. Also because of the waves, it was so hard to be in the cage itself. I was constantly being jostled, ramming into the cage bars or suddenly getting slammed to the surface. I’m definitely going to have some bruises!
Other than that, it was an absolutely incredible experience. During that hour and a half, I started to develop a technique of keeping myself underwater and timing when to get air. There were about five major moments of seeing the sharks come around us. It was breathtaking. They don’t look nearly as horrible underwater as they do when they are breaching. Great Whites are so majestic and beautiful and frightening all at the same time. And I loved going underwater. It was so silent and it was perfect. Even though sometimes there was nothing in the water around me, I felt so at peace. One time a shark was heading straight up for the surface and showed me it big white belly, another came straight across the front of the cage to inspect the bait we had out. There was also a piece of bait that was deeper in the water and not on the surface. A shark came right underneath us and ate it! I was so happy that I had stayed in the water the entire time. I got to see every shark that came by, and that was exactly what I had hoped to do. It may seem silly, but this is definitely up there with the lion encounter as one of my favorite experiences during my time abroad. I went shark-cage diving in one of the best places in the world to see Great Whites! AHHHH!!! I loved it!!! I would absolutely do it again in a heartbeat.