Shark Diving in Gansbaai, South Africa

On Jan 1, 2008 I was chilling with Noah and Tim in Buenos Aires. The topic turned to facing fears in the new year, and I had a conversation with them that went something like this:

Tim & Noah: Kareem, what fears are you going to face in 2008?
Kareem: Well I’m kinda scared of sharks, but I’ve always wanted to dive with Great Whites.
T&N: Lolz we eat sharks for breakfast! What do we get if you wimp out and don’t dive?
K: Umm, I’ll give you a hundred bucks each.
T&N: A hundred bucks? That doesn’t even buy a venti no-whip extra-hot soy latte in Silicon Valley!
K: OK, I’ll give you guys a thousand bucks each.
T&N: Hooray! Lattes for everybody!

And so I could either give those jokers $2k, or spend it doing something I’ve wanted to do since my Florida cousins first sent me a picture of the 12 foot, 800-lb Tiger shark they caught back in the 80s.

So it turns out the fastest way from Buenos Aires to India (where I’m going to meet my 92-year old grandmother for the first time in January) is through Cape Town, where diving with Great Whites is as easy to do as stepping on dog crap is in Buenos Aires (read: very easy).

On Friday I went diving with Daniela and Mike in the town of Gansbaai, about a two hour drive from Cape Town.

walking to the boat
We dove with the Shark Lady, who were the first to run commercial trips to feed stupid tourists to the sharks back in the 1990s.

Two fun Great White facts:

We got our learn on about Great Whites and then headed out in the bay at about 830a. The predominant feeling I had was calmness, not fear.

We anchored about 15 minutes into the harbor, with four or five other diving operations in view. The crew started chumming the water with fish guts. They also used a fake wooden seal named Percy and a couple of huge chunks of tuna to pique the interest of passing Whites. The tuna is used to draw sharks in, but not to feed them.

spotting my first great white
The water was so clear that we could make out two nasty gashes in its back – possibly the result of a boat propeller

After about 15 minutes of chumming, we spotted a sleek 10 foot shadow approaching the boat. It was more awe-inspiring than scary; sharks are the product of 400 million years of evolution and are so economical in their movements that it barely looks like they’re trying. They satisfy their curiosity by biting, but it’s not like this one went straight for the Percy or the tuna – it gracefully scoped the situation out before acting.

percy almost taking one for the team
Percy almost took one for the team

The first four divers went into the cage. The crew dragged Percy and the tuna towards the cage, which the shark followed, getting probably five feet away at the closest point. They were in for a good 10-15 minutes before the next four divers got in, Daniela amongst them. The shark stayed around for about 5-10 minutes longer, and Daniela and crew got one good pass before it took off. They stayed in for 10-20 minutes before getting out – despite the wetsuits, they didn’t last long waiting for the next shark in the cold Atlantic water.

spotting my first great white
Daniela told us that her prevailing feeling when she was watching the shark underwater was peacefulness, not fear

Six divers remained and we had another 1.5 hours on the water. Mike and I suited up as the crew chummed… and chummed… and chummed. We saw a young Great White who defty grabbed a chunk of the tuna before disappearing, but that was it.

waiting to dive
Mike and I wait…

We headed back in around 1245p. Mike and I were disappointed – it had been a long trip, we’d all battled seasickness in the rough bay, and we had gotten so close.

gansbaai harbour
This isn’t over, Gansbaai

So we’re going to make the trip again this week. Hopefully the Great Whites will be out in full force the day after Christmas. And you can bet I’ll be fighting Mike to be first in the cage this time. Cross your fingers – Tim and Noah drink too many lattes anyways :)

See all the shark diving photos here.

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