The terrible story of the kiteboarder, Stephen Schafer, who was tragically killed by a shark on Wednesday off the north coast of Florida, does nothing in the way of calming my fish fears. It makes me never want to get in the water again.
I swear, I hear the Jaws “da na da na da na” theme song in all bodies of water, from oceans to bath tubs. That’s why it was particularly out of character for me to sign up for a great white shark cage-diving adventure off the coast of South Africa… and so can you.
This day activity (also offered in parts of California) allows swimmers to snorkel with sharks from the safety of a metal cage. A boat trip takes you out to the middle of the ocean, dragging a trail of chum (a delicious stew of fish guts and blood) behind it. The great whites catch the scent and are lured towards the curious swimmers bobbing inside a protective contraption.
Crazy? Yes, but if you’re looking for a deeper understanding of these deep-sea creatures, it’s an awe-inspiring way to spend an afternoon.
This would have been my ultimate of challenges had I not been violently seasick, choosing to vomit over the side of the boat repeatedly, rather than dip into the water with these mysterious and misunderstood creatures. Psychosomatic? perhaps.
The practice of cage diving is a controversial one. Some say spreading chum creates a dangerous Pavlovian association between humans and food. Some companies even go so far as to touch the sharks (a huge no-no in the conservation scene), prompting them to open their toothy jaws for snap-happy tourists.
The company I went with did little to dispel the myths surrounding these predators. They played-up the “manhunter” and “world’s most fearsome creature” stereotypes rather than focusing on the facts about this now endangered species.
Watch the indie-documentary Sharkwater and you’ll see that, typically, sharks have more to fear from us, than we do from them.
Attacks, like the one that took the life of renown water-sports enthusiast Schafer, are said to be uncommon.
With that in mind, if cage diving with great whites is still something you’d like to experience, check out one of the many companies that offer underwater tours (don’t forget to bring motion sickness pills):
Be sure to ask about the operator’s wildlife policies, their commitment to shark education and don’t watch Jaws before you go.
Would you dare to go diving with great whites? Leave me a comment below!