The day I saw my first great white shark in South Africa, but didn’t get to dive with it
To put this scuba diving story into context, I love scuba diving with sharks. These beautiful creatures excite me and I always feel privileged when I see one. The opportunity to dive with one of the largest shark species was amazing! But my story didn’t go quite to plan.
This is the first of many scuba diving stories, and this one is a diving story of my own. It’s about the time I flew to South Africa to dive with Great White Sharks. Unfortunately for me it wasn’t to be, and whilst I got to see a very large female Great White Shark (and very close-up for that matter), I didn’t get to see her underwater from inside the shark-cage. Maybe next time? If you have a scuba diving short story, please complete the contact form to the right of this page.
My great white shark story
My great white shark story begins on my first visit to the beautiful country of South Africa. The trip included traveling up the garden route and of course doing some wine tasting in Stellenbosch.
But this story isn’t about wine or about Stellenbosch, but is about the part of my trip when I visited Gansbaai.
Gansbaai is slightly south east of Cape Town and about a two hour drive.
When I arrived at my bed and breakfast, I took a wonder down to the rocks that line this part of the coast. I remember sitting on the rocks looking out to sea and wondering how many Great Whites might be out there swimming around.
The morning of the Great White Shark Dive…
I remember being very excited about my first opportunity to see a Great White Shark. I woke up early on the day of the trip.
It was a cold rainy day as I remember it. I was therefore glad that I’d taken my dry suit to dive with.
After having my breakfast, I headed down to the dive company in my hire car to meeting the skipper of the boat. When I arrived at the White Shark Diving Company, I found there were just two others on the trip joining me that day.
We all signed the necessary paperwork and headed off to the boat.
When we boarded the boat, I remember being surprised at seeing two outboard motors hooked up to the back of it. It felt a little on the small side and light for what I thought it might be, but it seemed to be okay. I couldn’t help but think about the boat on Jaws and how this larger boat was destroyed by the White Shark on this Hollywood film.
I know that was irrational, and I realise Jaws was total fiction!
The boat trip to Dyer Island and Shark Alley
The trip to Shark Alley was via Geyser Rock, which is where the favourite meal on the Great White’s menu lives. I remember the strong smell of rotting fish, as we approached Geyser Rock, which is home to around 60,000 Cape Fur Seals.
The smell of their faeces was almost overwhelming. They were extremely noisy too, there were thousands both on the rocks and swimming in the water too. I couldn’t help but wonder what these creatures must have felt, as they jumped into this shark swarmed water.
Shark Alley is the strip of water between Geyser Rock and Dyer Island and is where the Great Whites patrol for the Fur Seals. The seals are there to feed on the plentiful fish, but then they become prey themselves.
The skipper placed the boat where it was out of the line of the main swell that was rolling in from behind us. Then it was a matter of waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
As we waited he used a lure shaped like a seal pup. He also started to chum the water, with a mixture of tuna and sardines.
Waiting for the Great Whites to arrive
We waited for what seemed like an eternity. There didn’t seem to be any Great Whites around. So much for my worrying for the Fur Seals and the ‘swarming Great White Sharks.’
But then a Great White Shark appeared next to the only other cage dive boat in Shark Alley. The shark was targeting their lure, as they too were doing the same as us to encourage the shark in.
At least this gave us hope, there was at least one Great White in the water. Our skipper continued to chum and throw the seal like lure until eventually a White Shark the size of a monster came up by the side of the boat.
She was enormous and probably between 4-5 metres (13-16 feet) in length. Awesome!
She came right up by the side of the boat on her side. The right side of her head and her the eye was completely out of the water. I remember watching the cold stare she gave with her dark almost lifeless black eye.
She rubbed along the side of the boat, slowly swimming by and almost eyeing us up for her next meal!
The disappointment of not getting in the shark cage
By this time my fellow shark tourists were cold, as they were both wearing wetsuits. I was warmer than they were, as I had my dry suit on.
More Reading: What is the difference between a wetsuit and a dry suit?
They were both keen to return to the shore. It had taken so long for this one shark to come along, and with the constant rain, they wanted to get back to warm up.
The surprising side of a Great White Shark
What surprised me about Great White cage diving, is when the skipper explained the steps they have to take to be careful not to scare these surprisingly timid creatures away.
He explained how they have to first lure them in. But then they have to wait for the sharks to be comfortable around the boat.
After waiting for a while, it’s only then that they lower the shark cage into the water, being careful to be quiet. He explained it’s at this point they could be frightened away, which was what surprised me the most.
I thought they’d be much bolder than that. This thought I’m sure is due to the images we all conjure up as a result the Jaws film!
I discovered the reason why these magnificent creatures are naturally timid. It’s for their own protection. Great Whites are top predators, and they rely on being able to hunt. Great Whites, like all sharks cannot risk injury, otherwise they’d not be able to hunt and would perish.
The next step the cage boat skippers take, is to slowly introduce the divers into the cage. But this is only after the sharks have been around for a while and the cage has been in the water for some time.
Unfortunately for us, the stage of getting into the cage never happened. The Great White shark we saw disappeared soon after the shark-cage was lowered into the water. I’m sure the other shark dive boat didn’t get their divers into the water on that day either.
My fellow shark divers had lost interest at this point, so were not keen to enter the cage in any event, as they were so cold.
So in the end we headed back to Gansbaai.
Back on dry land in Gansbaai
Of course I was disappointed. I’d not managed to get into the shark cage to see a Great White underwater. But I still feel privileged to have seen one of these wonderful creatures close up and personal.
I need to plan another trip to South Africa or to another destination to get to cage dive with Great White sharks. Perhaps next time I’ll be lucky!
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