Sharks are fascinating. There are more than 440 different species of sharks and they live in every ocean on the planet.
Sharks are different from most fish in that their skeletons are made of cartilage instead of bone.This enables them to be more buoyant in the water.
Unlike fish, sharks can only swim forward, they don’t have the ability to back up.
A very scary part of the shark is their teeth. The average shark has 40-45 teeth in up to seven rows. Since they lose teeth on a regular basis, the average shark can go through up to 30,000 teeth in their lifetime.
Even with all of the scary bits, there can be no doubt that sharks are majestic, awe inspiring creatures. It is no surprise that people would want a closer view of these captivating fish.
In order to get a closer look, and stay safe, cage diving is the best way for a diver to get up close and personal and live to tell about it.
Shark cages were first developed by Jacques Cousteau. Cousteau used a shark cage during the production of The Silent World, which was released in 1956. Subsequent designs refined the cage and for a time, they were primarily used by filmmakers and abalone fishermen who needed protection from great white sharks.
It was during the 2000’s that shark cage diving became more popular as a tourist activity. In South Australia alone, shark cage diving supports numerous jobs and in 2017 contributed over $11 million to the economy.
Most of today’s dive cages are constructed out of aluminum, as steel is much too heavy. Another advantage of aluminum is that it doesn’t corrode in water. Most importantly, you can make aluminum as strong as you want; strong enough to defend against an attack from a shark that can apply upwards of 1,000 PSI of bite force.
It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway. This is one activity that should be done under the auspices of a licensed and reputable diving company. Later in this article, we have provided a list of areas that are great for cage diving, and each of them have competent and practiced dive operators.
If you decide to go on a shark cage diving expedition, the company that charters the trip should have most, if not all, of the equipment you will need. Many of these dives, instead of snorkeling gear, have their own "hookah style" air system that pumps air directly to you through a long hose from an air compressor on the boat. By using this method, you won’t need a scuba tank and yet can still be fully submerged, which is where the best views are.
These dive companies operate in roughly the same manner. The dive cage, which is attached to the boat, is lowered from the deck of the boat into the water. The cage is usually rectangular in shape, about ten feet by three feet, and holds up to four divers.
Once in the water, divers have a largely unobstructed view of the sharks as they swim within feet of the cage. The shark diving company will trail chum from the boat as you reach your anchor spot to attract sharks.
Chum is a mixture of fish blood, oils and body parts. The chum creates a sort of soup that smells absolutely delicious to sharks in the area. With their keen sense of smell, sharks will follow the trail of chum to the boat, and hence, the cage.
Upon arriving at the boat, the chum will hold the sharks attention long enough, typically 20 to 30 minutes, for divers to be able to enjoy the spectacular sight up close...truly an out of this world adventure!
PLACES TO GO
Gansbaai, South Africa
Gansbaai, South Africa (Dutch for “bay of geese”) is a fishing town and also a popular tourist destination. It is known as a whale watching location that also has a large population of great white sharks.
Since 1995, the main tourist attraction has been cage diving with great whites. Gansbaai is often referred to as the “Great White Shark Capital of the World”.
Geyser Rock, an island off the coast is home to over 60,000 fur seals, and so there are sharks that hunt through this area all year round. The waterway between Geyser Rock and nearby Dyer Island is called “shark alley”.
Best time to go: From April to mid September is the best time. Outside of those months, the sharks move inshore to feed.
Isla de Guadalupe, Mexico
The crystal clear waters around Guadalupe Island are great for shark cage diving. The water is the color of peppermint mouthwash, and, as mentioned, the clarity of the water allows you to see the sharks approaching from a distance. That may, or may not be a good thing!
The island is a volcanic outcropping about 160 miles off the west coast of Baja where great whites are in evidence from summer to late fall.
The chance to descend about 30 feet in a cage, will give you a whole new perspective and a “shark’s-eye view”. Believe it or not, at this point you can venture outside the top of the cage. There are those (not me!) who feel that it is well worth the view without the bars.
Best time to go: August through October is peak season for seeing great whites off Guadalupe.
Farallon Islands, California
After you traverse under the Golden Gate Bridge and travel twenty eight miles off the California coast, you will come to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The Sanctuary has the largest seabird-breeding colony in the continental United States.
There is also a large population of elephant seals that attract the attention of the great white shark. The lure of the seals has brought some of the world’s largest great whites to these waters.
To tempt the great whites to come in closer, boats tow seal decoys on the surface of the water. The brave diver gets a great view from inside the cage.
Best time to go: Trips run from September through November. This is when the elephant seals are in their greatest numbers.
Neptune Islands, South Australia
These islands are a marine reserve for the country’s largest colony of breeding New Zealand fur seals. This, as we know, is a huge draw for the sharks.
Cage diving here during the winter will give you the chance to see female great whites that can reach 20 feet in length.
Australian Rodney Fox is given credit for pioneering great white cage diving over four decades ago. Fox is also a survivor of a great white shark attack back in 1963. The attack was horrendous, requiring 462 stitches. To this day he has part of a shark tooth embedded in his wrist.
Fox went on to design and build the first underwater observation cage. He arranged and hosted the very first great white shark expedition to welcome sport divers, and has run hundreds of expeditions in the years since.
Best time to go: From the end of November to the end of February and from late May until the end of October. June, July and August is when you might have the chance of seeing the largest great white females.
We mentioned one of the most important safety tips earlier. Go with a reputable diving company.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
Choose the right exposure suit for cage diving. This type of diving is less active than scuba and you can get cold quicker. Take into consideration the water temperature at the destination where you will be diving.
Wetsuits come in different thickness, so choose according to water temperature, and you might also need a hood and gloves for extra warmth depending on where and when you are diving.
Be sure to take along extra clothing for in-between dives. A windproof jacket and a hat can provide warmth while standing on the deck waiting for sharks to arrive.
Choose the right air sources and depth for your experience level. Shark cage diving can be at the surface level or at a depth. It is important to choose a destination that will have the type of equipment for your experience level.
Follow all cage safety procedures. Repeat: Follow all cage safety procedures. Getting in and out of the cage needs to be done carefully, with your hands and equipment kept away from the gap between the cage and the boat. Keep your hands and gear within the confines of the cage at all times.
If you are, or feel you might be prone to motion sickness, take medication or precautions for surface cage dives. The water can be choppy at times, and the movement of the cage will exaggerate that choppiness.
Remember to hydrate throughout the day.
Any type of equipment, such as a camera, should be held close to the body. Do not extend any equipment outside of the cage. The very small electrical current emitted by the camera can be detected by a shark from miles, literally miles, away.
While it might be odd to hear “shark” and “safe in the same sentence, shark cage diving is actually safe. It is stunning, incredible out of this world adventure that will stay with you for a lifetime!