Shark Cage Diving: through the lens of a South African

Capitec Bank has launched its #LiveBetter campaign, which encourages people to explore new and unexpected places in their cities – including their oceans! Capitec clients enjoy a 10% discount when booking Shark cage diving with African Shark Eco Tours and paying with a Capitec card.

Ever heard the saying it takes losing everything to know true freedom? Well, that’s kind of what a shark cage diving experience out in Cape Town’s Kruger of the Seas, False Bay, feels like. And I can safely say, getting scared out of your wits is probably the best thing you can do with your squad this summer.

To put it into context – False Bay is home to the famous Seal Island – with natural predation encounters taking place unlike anywhere else in the world. Experts suggest the only other place second to it would be the Farallon islands off San Francisco. So, if you’re looking for sharks, this is undoubtedly the place to find them. 

Except we didn’t. Well not the kind we were expecting. The endangered status of great whites has been in question for a few years now, with estimates sitting at less than 3 500 sharks globally. The case is much the same in False Bay.

Our crew from African Shark Eco Tours, who have been sailing the warm waters of the Indian ocean hugging this part of SA’s coastline for more than a decade, are equally stumped by their unnatural lack of presence this year.  A series of orca predation incidents over the past six months, involving killer whales with a penchant for great white shark liver is believed to be a root cause. 

It’s hard to imagine the shark at the top of the ocean food chain so to speak being hunted systematically – effectively being relegated to a mere delicacy for orcas. And while it does happen, it’s not a normal occurrence according to the marine biologists who have been tracking their movements.

We arrived after a short, choppy boat ride from Simon’s Town harbour, completely bearable for anybody who has trouble finding their sea legs. Being a smallish boat tailored to handle bespoke groups, it feels very much like the bumpy ride you’d take to a family braai at the back of a bakkie. For our group of four anticipation was the mood, charged with the sheer exuberance of being out on the ocean for the day.

Summertime vibes all round really and our captain was confident that with all the birthing activity on the island, we’d see some sharks.

Having seen a great white up close and personal off Gansbaai, I was undecided about going into the water – considering that sighting chances were slim. Chatting to the crew on the top viewing deck, we kept watch as the guys prepped to get into the cage.

Within minutes the alert was sounded, “Shark to the right, quickly over there.”

Even from up above, just seeing its sleek grey fin gliding through the water is an intense adrenalin rush.  It was a no brainer. I couldn’t suit up fast enough to join them in the cage. A cow shark, yes you read right, had graced us with its presence. They look nothing like cows as their name suggest, and although smaller than a great white they are still intimidating!

We bobbed and weaved with the waves to get a good look, daggling in the cage off the side of the boat. And then another arrived.

“I think this one might be small enough to slip into the gaps in the cage,” I heard one of the crew say.

“Wait, WTF!?”

Who knew underwater screams could be so effective? Muffled, yet perfectly encapsulating the sense of suffocating to your fear as the oxygen rushes to the surface in a big gush of bubbles.

“Keep your arms and feet off the cage!”

And then as the craziness of the moment settled, taking a deep gulp from the scuba diving mouth piece I had been handed, I allowed my fears to settle beneath the water’s surface into the eerie world of sharks. It’s a strange and beautiful sense of calm to see them torpedo past.

Despite realizing the true depth of my fear, the experience was nothing short of exhilirating and is certainly a must do for any South African.

Despite realizing the true depth of my fear, the experience was nothing short of exhilarating and is certainly a must do for any South African.

So, while it does take losing everything, to know true freedom, in retrospect, true freedom means making the right choices. Ones that keep our oceans healthy and filled with all manner of sharks – predator and prey alike - as nature intended.