Thinking about getting up-close and personal with one of nature’s top predators? Here’s how and where to have the ultimate underwater adventure…
A shark is swimming towards me. Not just any shark – it’s a Great White. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and then open them again, widely. Yes, it’s still happening. I’m cage diving with Great White sharks.
It’s a bizarre feeling having a Great White swimming towards you. Contrary to how I imagined it, the familiar Jaws soundtrack isn’t on repeat in my head. Multiple shivers have, however, spread through my body – I’m not sure if they are down to nervousness or whether I’m just cold.
Somewhere, in the back of my mind, a little voice is saying, ‘Go! Swim!’ But my (thumping) heart is longing to stick around and see what happens next. It’s at this moment I remind myself that there is, in fact, a cage surrounding me and the shark isn’t interested in me – it’s just curious to all the kerfuffle in the water.
My partner has talked me into it, and a few minutes ago we were sunning ourselves on the deck of the boat. Now I’m in the water looking at a four-metre top predator square in the eye. I’ll be honest, it’s a brilliant way to spend a Saturday.
The Neptune Islands off Port Lincoln, South Australia is one of just three places in the world where you can go cage diving with Great Whites. The other popular spots are Cape Town, South Africa and Isle Guadalupe, Mexico. The sharks are drawn to Port Lincoln, because of its high numbers of resident New Zealand Fur Seals – basically shark food.
Three smaller Great Whites have visited us today. This one has a bulkier form. He’s clearly well-fed and his grey body is covered in deep cuts and scratches. His eyes are two deep black abysses. His jaws are slack, and his jagged teeth are on show. Seriously, wow.
The reason I thought twice about going cage diving was actually for different reasons than you might think. It wasn’t because I was terrified of becoming shark bait. Rather that I didn’t want to be a part of shark baiting.
The truth about cage diving
On average an experience with these wonderful beasts will set you back £250 – £1,500 (depending on which company you choose to go with). With this kind of cash in the pot, most operators are under tremendous pressure to make sure their clients get what they came for.
So they spill fish-blood and guts (known as ‘chum’) into the water by the bucket-load – a Great White’s dream dinner. The result? The scent of fresh blood in the water being picked up by sharks from miles away. And hey presto – more sharks are drawn towards the boat.
Sadly, there are dangers to baiting like this. “Feeding wild animals can cause a change in behaviour,” says Marine Biologist Brad Siviour. “Attracting predators by rewarding them with food, can cause them to associate vessels with getting fed. This, in turn, could increase the likelihood of attacks.”
Adventure Bay Charters, one of three cage diving companies here in Port Lincoln, purposefully do not use ‘chum’ in their operations.
“From what I have seen, operators that use bait cause a large amount of facial damage and scarring on sharks,” explains owner, Matt Waller.
“The inflicting injuries are a result of damage when the sharks run into the cage, head first, at speed, in pursuit of food rewards.
“The day I dedicated my effort to finding an alternative was when I took a photo of a great white shark with no teeth left, due to it biting the cage – all thanks to the misuse of bait.”
So if they don’t use bait, how are the sharks drawn in?
“We use acoustic attraction,” reveals Matt. “What some thought at first to be a gimmick, (‘Oh, they just use AC/DC to attract sharks because it is a novelty’), has turned into something tangible.”
“We lower an underwater speaker over the side [of the boat] and play music from our phone through a household amplifier. This gives us the chance to try different suggestions – and even allow customers to listen to some of their favourite tracks while underwater.
“What is interesting is that we have noticed over the past seven years, different sharks are attracted to different songs. Some have favourites.
“Of course due to the variables of being in the open ocean we can’t be scientific in these results, but there’s definitely something to it. It’s cool to think that a Great White might like the same tunes as you.”
Is cage diving worth it?
Absolutely, yes! But be wise – do it with an operator that looks after our sharks in the process. Remember we are in their waters, the sea is a shark habitat – it’s natural they will roam around and look for food here. Being savvy in the water is our responsibility – and going with a company that does pull in Great Whites with bait, is a good place to start, ensuring our safety and the safety of the shark.
Getting to see these wild beings in the flesh is something phenomenal – and it turns out headlines and films give them an undeserved bad name. They don’t just dart around waiting to attack some poor, unsuspecting swimmer. Instead, in a natural situation, they are curious, elegant, quiet, mesmerising, interested, without drama and completely magnificent. A delight to watch.
Find out more about shark-friendly cage diving with Great Whites at adventurebaycharters.com.au