{travel} What It's Like to Cage Dive With Great White Sharks

Friday, July 10, 2015

Today I'm skipping my normal Five Minute Friday, and departing from my typical DIY and decor talk, to share something really fun with you guys in honor of Shark Week! 

Last fall, Scott and I took an incredible two week trip to South Africa. When we returned, I promised you some reports on that trip, but we are still working our way through the many thousands of photos we took on the trip so those reports have been very slow coming. But since this week is Shark Week on The Discovery Channel, it seemed like the perfect time to finally tell you about one of the craziest experiences of my life - a cage dive with Great White Sharks! 

You can read the whole story...or you can skip straight to the bottom and watch the video.

What It's Like to Cage Dive with Great White Sharks

Do you have a bucket list? I definitely do, but I can honestly say that getting in the water with sharks was NOT on my list...at least not a year ago! 

Going on safari in Africa, however, was always at the top of my list, so I was over the moon excited when Scott and I impulsively bought a South African safari trip at a charity auction a couple of years back. We quickly decided to extend our trip from one week to two in order to also visit Cape Town, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world {and rightfully so!}.

As we planned the trip, Scott - who grew up on Shark Week - told me that there was no way he was going to Cape Town without getting on a boat and seeing a Great White Shark. The reason he wanted to see sharks so badly in this particular area is because False Bay - on the Cape Peninsula - is one of the only areas in the world where sharks breach {fully jumping out of the water with incredible speed and force while hunting seals}.

We started doing some research on boat trips in False Bay, and we quickly discovered that all of the boats that go out to view breaching behavior also have cages for getting in the water with the Great Whites. Scott was on board with this idea right away... me, not so much! I told him I would be happy to go out on the boat, but that it was unlikely I'd be getting in the water! {And unlikely, in my mind, meant - NO WAY IN H3LL!} And I continued to say that right up until the night before the boat trip...

After spending a couple of days in Cape Town, we rented a car to drive the hour south along the Cape Peninsula to Simon's Town. 

After checking in to our bed and breakfast in nearby Boulder's Beach, we set out in search of dinner in Simon's Town, the quaint little seaside spot on the eastern cape, nestled alongside False Bay, first stopping to check out the harbor so we would know where to meet our boat early the next morning.

While at dinner, Scott and I were talking about the impending shark boat trip, and I asked whether he thought he could really get in the cage?! He said yes, without hesitation, and I told him I planned to stay safely on the boat. 

But then as the dinner went on, and as we recounted the adventures of our safari the previous week, it occurred to me that compared to all of the things we had done the prior week - including walking safaris that took us very close to a Rhino and her baby, a herd of Cape Buffalo, and a Cheetah on a kill {all stories for another day} ... seeing Great Whites from the safety of a metal cage suddenly didn't seem so crazy! In fact, it was starting to sound down right safe! 

Right then and there I made the decision that I was going to get in the cage the next morning, and that I was not going to let this once in a lifetime opportunity pass me by!

So the next morning we awoke long before dawn to meet the crew from African Shark Eco-Charters and our small group of fellow adventurers to head out into False Bay. 

The sharks' natural predatory activity on the Cape Fur seals is most active in the very early morning hours, so we needed to make it out to Seal Island around sunrise.

The ride out was a pretty rough, but we enjoyed the ocean views and tried not to think to much about the crazy thing we were about to do.

 Finally we arrived at the waters surrounding Seal Island...

...and we began to keep our eyes peeled for any shark breaches. We were there in mid-September, which is the tail end of the high season, so we were well aware that we might not get lucky enough to see a shark breach, but we actually got lucky not once, but twice. It happens so fast that it's over before you know it, but one of the other passengers on the boat managed to somehow catch a blurry photo of the second breach on my camera {which I had handed to her so she could take photos of us once we were in the water}.

Blurry, but pretty incredible to catch on camera nonetheless.

As the sun got higher in the sky, and the natural predatory action slowed down, the crew began preparing the cage. 

The cage was lowered off of the back of the boat, and then secured to the side of the boat with just the  top of the cage out of the water.

Once the cage was in the water and secured to the boat, the crew began trying to draw sharks in close to the boat. We specifically picked a company that doesn't chum the water, instead using seal decoys and sound vibrations to attract sharks - and it didn't take long at all before we had our first visitor.

The crew told us to put on our wetsuits and prepare to get in the cage.

Once in our wetsuits, the reality of what we were about to do really set in. Then the water got quiet and the crew told us to stay on deck until another shark was spotted near the boat. It seems counterintuitive to want to climb into the cage when there is already a shark circling the boat, but the water in False Bay is so cold that they didn't want to put us in the cage unless they were pretty confident we would spot a shark, so we sat and waited... and waited...

I honestly don't know how long we sat on deck waiting for the go ahead to get in the cage, but it felt like forever! Once you psyched yourself up to just do it, the waiting gives you lots of time to question what you are doing!

But at last another shark was spotted and we were told it was our turn in the cage. I could have never done this but for the fact that you climb from the boat straight in to the cage - you are never in the open water {unlike some of the craziness you see during Shark Week on TV}.

Once Scott and I were in the cage, the crew got us set up on SCUBA. Some dive operators have you just snorkel while in the cage - but this means that you have to keep you head very near the surface until a shark comes near, and then you hold you breath to go deeper in the cage for a better view. Our dive operator instead uses a Hookah tube system that allows you to wear a SCUBA regulator with an attached air tube. All of the oxygen tanks are stored on board and managed by the crew, allowing you to be on SCUBA while in the cage, without having to be SCUBA certified.

I had used SCUBA equipment once before {when I did a guided dive on the Great Barrier Reef while studying abroad in Australia during college} but it still took me a little while to get comfortable with the regulator. If you're not an experienced diver, your brain can fight hard against you when you try to breath underwater!

Finally I got comfortable breathing through the regulator, and I was able to drop down into the water. The cage has two internal bars - one to hook your feet around to hold yourself low in the cage, and another to hold onto with your hands.

Scott and I entered the water armed with both an underwater camera and an underwater video camera. After a fairly short time in the cage, we caught our first glimpse of a 14-foot long Great White Shark coming in to check out the bait!

Talk about an adrenaline rush! After the shark disappeared back into the depths, I snapped a quick shark cage selfie to prove that I was really there.

After that, I didn't take any more photos underwater, instead taking video of the next two shark sightings. Be sure to watch the video at the bottom of the post - it gives you much more appreciation for how big the shark is and how close she came to the cage!

We spent about 15-20 minutes in the cage, but it was over in the blink of an eye. As nervous as I was the first few minutes, once I saw the first shark, it was actually a really calm and relaxing experience being in the water. I felt totally safe in the cage, and I was just so in awe of the experience that any fear I had washed away.

When it was time to climb back on to the boat, the adrenaline hit me again as I processed what I had just done. These picture capture pretty well how I felt about the whole experience...

Soon after, a storm started to roll in and the water got quite rough, so the boat had to head back to the harbor a bit early. But we managed to catch one last photo of Seal Island - a wedding ring selfie. You can read all about our wedding ring selfie tradition in this post.

If you've always wanted to cage dive with sharks - do it! And if the idea of a shark cage dive terrifies you, then you can live vicariously through the video of our experience... and maybe, just maybe, it will even change your mind. Either way, here's what you probably really want to see... the video! {The video has no sound}

Happy Shark Week!
I for one will never watch another shark documentary the same way again!

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  1. Shark: Seal! (Nom) Wait... that's not a seal. What the! Again! I hate those guys! (sulks away)

    How amazing! Glad you tried it. Looks like a lot of fun. One of these days I would love to try it.

  2. What a fabulous trip!! Safari AND Sharks...can't beat that!!! Love the ring photos...fabulous tradition that I may have to steal, just 5 years late, but I can catch up and I wouldn't mind repeating our trips :)

  3. This is too weird...the next email I open has this video clip: http://www.coolestone.com/media/12685/Caged-Spectators-Get-Surprise-Of-A-Lifetime-From-Angry-Shark!/#.VaNtqvlCbjX

    1. Um, yikes!! I'm glad our shark sighting wasn't quite that close-up! But the cage did it's job :)


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