So after long delays prompted by work, ski trips, and then influenza, I've finally finished processing most of my South Africa pics, and I wanted to get the ones most requested online. For once I'm going to lean more towards "happy snaps" and trying to explain how this trip worked, versus just putting the shots I like most on the web. I've got some cool ones too, don't worry!
The trip started with my colleague mentioning shark cage diving as something we could do over the weekend after our conference, and before she left (I was staying a few extra days). I was immediately interested, given that I've had some interest in sharks since I was little, and that my sister took that "interest" to a new level becoming obsessed with sharks, Jaws, etc at a relatively young age. I've actually read Jaws myself, and found it rather compelling, given that at least half of it is told from the shark's POV, with Benchley trying to explain how he thinks the shark senses and makes decisions. It's kind of neat way to approach the topic, and not a bad beach read for anyone interested! :) Provided one stays out of the water!! :)
So the interest was there, and we called the tourist company and booked our shark adventure dive for Sunday. We then proceeded to go off doing some other touring, (pics to follow in the next weeks) checking out crazy monkeys, beautiful coastlines, and Table Mountain to name a few locales and instances. However, on Saturday we got a note from the company that that all shark tours were cancelled on Sunday due to high winds and the resulting swells. Luckily, I had the choice to reschedule the tour, however my colleague had a plane back to London to catch Sunday evening, and thus I was on my own going forward.
The choice was made to rebook and I was set to go alone on Monday afternoon. I drove out to Kleinbaai, which is next door to the more famous Gansbaai, to the "Shark Lady" tour operators. This region is the primary hub of shark tourism in the Cape Town area. Effectively the government has authorized a number of these shark tour operators to conduct shark tour activities, which include chumming and baiting sharks, but only in a very limited region where the great whites are numerous, and obviously away from public beaches. There is a lot of debate as to whether or not the attraction and baiting of sharks should be allowed, but one thing that was clear, the people hosting the tours really love the animals, and clearly don't think they are doing anything but good for the survival of the species via outreach and education. In fact, rather amusingly, the captain of my tour had been diving on several National Geographic specials, filming sharks from a special glass cage, and he singled out all the Asians in our group, and hassled them to no end regarding shark fin soup, and how devastating Asian dietary tastes have been on the world shark populations. Probably not fair to the poor Singaporean guy and his girlfriends, but one takes his point I suppose.
So we show up at the shop, check in, get some food, and then a lecture on how it all works. I had assumed that we'd be doing some actual diving here, but as it turns out, there is nothing of the sort. They've reduced the entire activity to its lowest common denominator, meaning you effectively just don a mask and hold your breath. That way nearly anyone can do it, and it makes it easy on the tourists and on the operators alike. So they ask around if anyone is scared, and the Asian and British girl teams' answers sound a bit weak, but then the Captain mentions that the S. African Great Whites love the taste of Americans....pointing specifically to the two of us on this particular tour....
So we go down to the harbor and await the preparation of our boat. There are several of these large shark boats sitting around on trailers, all apparently designed for exactly these activities. They were pretty good sized vessels, and ours, the "Shark Lady" herself, was decked out in full South African bunting as can be seen below.
So they piled us all in, launched the boat, and we were off.
These guys were some of the crew, looking pretty nonchalant before our meeting with the great whites. Very "We do this every day"....
So during the couple hours we were out on the boat, I rotated through the cage three times, and got to see at least a couple of the animals from the water. Generally they seemed more interested in the tuna heads than in us, but once a huge one swam right under the boat, and thus under us, and then came right by the cage eyeing us warily. It was, I have to admit, a bit creepy! What was it thinking behind its cold black eyes? Finished with our rotations, we pulled in the cage for the day, and sped back to the harbor, where we took showers and then watched a video of our day that had been filmed by our guides. It was a pretty impressive piece of work for such a short period of time, and as the company said, we ended up getting a "Winter" day in the Summer, meaning a huge number of sharks and plenty of action, much more than could be generally expected for this time of year.
All in all, the trip was an amazing experience, and I highly recommend anyone who gets a chance to do it, shark lover or not. It does imbue one with a newfound respect for these amazing creatures, that really are the top of the ocean food chain for good reason. Very very impressive killing machines... The above are a good sampling of the adventure, and if anyone wants to view the rest, including a couple where one can really see the action frame by frame, then feel free to visit my smugmug page.