South Africa – Shark Waters

If you’re like me, Sharks are incredibly fascinating.  Living in the prairies there is definitely not an everyday opportunity to get up close to these wonderful apex predators. The end of my first trip to Africa, as well as the beginning of my second both provided me with such an opportunity.  However, in order to do so I left my G Adventures tour in Durban while they continued on through the Garden Route.  Diving the world famous Aliwal Shoal took priority.  The Aliwal Shoal is a well known protected marine area famous as a breeding area for Ragged Tooth Sharks.  Tiger and Oceanic Blacktips are also common in the area.

I did some research before leaving Canada and had found Calypso uShaka Dive Centre.  Pat Voorma, the owner was extremely helpful and took care of all the details for me.  Once I arrived in Durban there was a message at the hostel explaining the plan for the following day.  Having done some online courses for diving with both Tiger and Oceanic Blacktip Sharks beforehand in order to add to my PADI certifications, I felt ready for this adventure.  One of the Dive Masters from Calypso and I headed out to Umkomaas early in the morning to meet up with others who were keen to jump in the ocean and be circled by numerous sharks.  After numerous attempts to get out of the boat launch area due to the huge waves at shore we were on our way to swim with sharks!   They did note after leaving the boat launch area that it is the second most dangerous dive launch area in the world due to the huge surf.

Once at the dive spot my heart began to race and I actually got quite nervous at the thought of a Tiger Shark being below.  The Oceanic Blacktips didn’t make me nervous, and until now, neither had the Tiger Sharks.  After gearing up the boat captain told us regulators in the mouth and counted 3, 2, 1.  We rolled off the boat, I was knocked in because the Dive Master who was with me sensed I was nervous.  Once in the water it was very calm and we went down while watching sharks circle around.  There were approximately 20-30 Oceanic Blacktips that swam around us for 45-60 minutes.  It was a calm, yet exciting experience.  They didn’t even pay attention to us.  To this day, diving with these amazing creatures is one of the best experiences of my life!  If you’re headed to Durban, I highly recommend looking up Calypso uShaka to have them arrange the adventure of a lifetime for you.

I was lucky to have Dietmar Posch of Blue Rush Photography on my dive and get copies of them which are posted in this article as I used my GoPro to video the dive which is posted above.

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It was on to Cape Town from there.  Thanks to Dietmar’s recommendation I ended up connecting with Stephen Swanson of National Geographic fame for his part in attaching a radio collar to a Great White Shark named “Nicole” which was tracked over 20,000km from South Africa to Australia.  Stephen and his business partner Morne Hardenberg run Shark Explorers out of Simon’s Town near Cape Town.  These guys are the true Shark Experts, and in my mind the only ones to consider if you want the full Great White Shark experience in False Bay. The boats are not overloaded and you will see Great Whites breaching for a few hours before getting in the cage for a close encounter with these amazing creatures.  Keep in mind, these are wild animals and they cannot be controlled. That said, I ended my first trip to South Africa with these guys and started my second with them.  On both occasions I have seen Sharks breaching and had them right up against the cage.  I was also lucky to have Brandon Kilbride with us on the boat the second year, as again I was shooting video and he gave me copies of his pictures.

The first year Stephen convinced me to try a no cage dive in a corner of False Bay where the 7 Gill Cow Sharks are known to be, so I went for it.  It was quite terrifying getting ready to jump off the boat and in the distance seeing Seal Island where just the day before we had seen the Great Whites.  The conditions were quite rough on this dive, but we did get to see a 7 Gill Cow Shark which swam just over our heads which was quite cool.  Great Whites don’t like the kelp that we were diving in and there was no sign of any being in the area.

The funny thing is we all see the scary things about sharks on TV.  Truthfully not one of the sharks I encountered on any of these dives seemed to care that there were people around.  Humans are not on the menu for sharks, and it is by accident when a person gets bitten by a shark.  From Discovery News “You’re also 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning and three times more likely to drown at the beach than die from a shark attack, according to ISAF.”

I love sharks, they have always fascinated me and continue to do so. Till next time Shark Explorers!

Photo Credits:  Dietmar Posch, Brandon Kilbride

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