Cage Diving with Great White Sharks – Dyer Island (Shark Alley) Gansbaai, South Africa

Gansbaai, South Africa is the world’s premier location for spotting great white sharks and is a favorite launching point for some of the spectacular expeditions documented in the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week series.  The number one spot in Gansbaai for getting up close and personal with these fearsome predators is Shark Alley.

Shark Alley is where I was headed on the last full day of my eight-day Cape Town stay.  Getting in the water with great white sharks is just one of many amazing things one can do in and around Cape Town, South Africa.  These reports cover some of the other activities I was able to try:

Pictorial Trip Report — Robben Island Tour, Cape Town, South Africa

Climbing Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Trip Report – Cape of Good Hope and Cape Peninsula Tour, Part 1

Trip Report – Cape of Good Hope and Cape Peninsula Tour, Part 2

I booked cage diving with The Shark Team and White Shark Projects.  The trip began with an 8:00am pick up at my hotel in Cape Town and a two-hour, 90-mile drive east to Gansbaai, South Africa.  Gansbaai is a fishing community two thirds of the way between Cape Town and Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa.

A continental breakfast awaited upon arrival at the home in Gansbaai that serves as the Shark Team headquarters.

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A healthy last meal, er breakfast.

The Shark Team employs a marine biologist who accompanies each cage-diving trip.  After breakfast he briefed us on what to do and expect on the boat and in the water and provided some information about great white sharks.  He said very little is truly understood about great whites.  They cannot be kept in captivity, and contact with individual great whites at sea is sporadic.

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Shark Team’s marine biologist had our full attention as he explained what was in store.

I thought the most interesting fact the marine biologist presented was that great white sharks are not the ocean’s top predator.  Orcas, or killer whales, are bigger, smarter, and they hunt in groups.  Solitary great whites, even fully grown adults, stand little chance against a pod of orcas.

To underscore the point, he displayed pictures of two great whites, including a 4.9-meter, 1,100-kg female, that had washed ashore near Gansbaai in May.  Necropsy revealed that, other than a bite wound under the pectoral fin, the only injury to these sharks was that their livers had been neatly, almost surgically, removed.  Only orcas have been observed doing that to great whites.

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Great white shark that washed ashore near Gansbaai with liver removed.  (Shark Team photo)

After the informative and sobering briefing, we walked two blocks to the harbor and boarded the cage diving boat.

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We boarded on land via stairs.  Then the boat was launched into the water.

It was a short, approximately 15-minute ride to Shark Alley, the channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock.  Dyer Island is populated by nearly 50,000 cape fur seals making Shark Alley a prime hunting ground for great whites.

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Leaving Gansbaai harbor.  Next stop…Shark Alley!

Swells were about one meter or less.  The ride was comfortable although this landlubber was still mildly seasick.  When waves are over two meters, cage diving boats remain in port.  My timing on this trip was fortunate because the marine biologist said a storm with waves as large as nine meters was forecast for the next day.

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A sea bird looking for a treat keeps pace on the ride to our dive spot.

We anchored near Dyer Island.  A few other boats were already there.  A mate threw a baited line overboard, and the crew lowered the cage into the water.  The absence of visible fins initially made me think sharks weren’t around.  Even in Shark Alley spotting great whites is no sure thing.

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On station in Shark Alley with bait in the water
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Fish heads for bait

Shortly after we arrived great whites revealed their presence.20170716_053044_resized In the movies, sharks swim around with their dorsal fin above water.  The entire time we were at Shark Alley, I saw a fin above water a only few times and that was as the shark was striking the bait.

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A great white checks out the cage.
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And swims under the boat.

Once the cage was in the water and we knew that great whites were in the area, the crew issued wet suits and face masks.

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In a wet suit (fake blubber) and ready to meet some sharks.  Having been in the legal profession, some might call it more of a family reunion.

The moment of truth had arrived.  In my mind I could hear my mother (rest in peace) proclaiming “Heavens to Betsy! Are you really fool enough to get in the water with those monsters?  That boy ain’t got the sense he was born with.”

There were 12 people wanting to dive so we took turns in the cage five at a time.  When a great white approached the bait, a crew member pulled the bait to the cage and out of the water.  The crew wanted to bring the sharks in close but not actually feed them.

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When a shark went after the bait, a crew member yelled “down, down down” and pulled the bait to the cage.  We took a big breath and used a yellow bar in the cage to push ourselves under the water.
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The yellow bar we used to stay submerged.  Below the bar is an eight- or 10-inch opening for unobstructed views.

The sharks were close enough to touch.  The guy next to me actually touched a great white on its side.  Once I reached for a shark behind the pectoral fin but missed as it swam past.  I recommend keeping inside the cage all body parts one wants to go home with.  Doing otherwise near great whites looking for a meal is risky and might get one kicked out of the water.

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Great whites come right next to the cage drawn in by the bait.

Unfortunately the Shark Team did not sell underwater cameras, and I had only a cell phone.  The Shark Team made a video from the deck that it offered for sale but took no photos or video underwater on our trip.  I would have paid good money for that.

Below are some photos from other Shark Team and White Shark Projects trips that I found online.  These photos provide an idea of what it looked like under water.

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(Shark Team and White Shark Projects photos)

In a shark cage with a trained crew on guard I felt safe, or at least much safer than swimming in the ocean in Florida or Hawaii.  Dangerous sharks frequent just about every beach in the world.  Millions unknowingly swim with them every year with no protection at all.

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This is the only attack I witnessed where the shark came straight up from below the bait.

After about 30 minutes in the cage and numerous close shark encounters, I was ready to give up my spot.  Even with a wet suit on, the water was chilling.

Before heading back to port, the marine biologist said he had identified six different great white sharks that came by during the 90 minutes we were anchored in Shark Alley.  He said these were immature great white sharks that were “only” 3.5 to 4.5 meters in length.

It seems that adult sharks had learned that going after the bait was a waste of energy.  They never showed.  Young great whites would swim alone in the vicinity of the boat for a few minutes and then make a run at the bait.  After missing, they would leave the immediate area for a bit but return to try several more times.

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Some sharks seemed to get angry when they didn’t get the bait.

Overall Impression

Hell yes!  This was one of the most awesome one-day experiences of my life.  Better even than scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and scuba diving with reef sharks in the Maldives.  The Shark Team took great care of everyone throughout the day.   The sole suggestion to improve the experience is having underwater cameras and video.  I highly recommend cage diving with great white sharks in Gansbaai with Shark Team/White Shark Projects.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Cage Diving with Great White Sharks – Dyer Island (Shark Alley) Gansbaai, South Africa

  1. This post should be called “Cape Fear”. I always look forward to your blog and usually live vicariously thru you BUT, I can’t do that if you get eaten alive by sharks! Take care and keep traveling.

    Liked by 1 person

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