Waking up early and making the drive from Plettenberg Bay to Mossel Bay at 6:30am seemed like a mission, but after seeing these apex predators in action, this was a mission well worth it.
We were welcomed at the office in Mossel Bay and after signing in we settled into a breakfast of muffins, coffee and fruit. Hot breakfasts were also on offer, but we didn't want to be stuffed before getting into the water. We had both taken anti-seasick tablets that morning and didn't want to tempt fate.
Breakfast was followed by a briefing from the guide on sharks in general, not only Great White Sharks. We learnt that millions of sharks are killed every year for the shark fin soup industry and many species are threatened due to over-fishing. Removing apex predators out of this food chain is having dire consequences and the impact of this is leading to profound effects on coastal ecosystems. For more information I have included a link to the World Wide Fund for Wildlife (WWF) at the bottom of this blog post.
We picked up our packed bags with our bathing costumes and towels and were then taken down to the harbour where we boarded the specially designed cage diving boat. A short yet exciting boat ride brought us to Seal Island where we drove around the island once to get a view of the seals and bird life that call the island their home. This colony is why the sharks call Mossel Bay home.
The anchor is dropped and boat is positioned so that the swell and wind is at our backs and after a little pushing and pulling the cage is lowered into the water by the experienced crew. A chum of fish products is then prepared and thrown into the water to attract the sharks. And then they arrive...
The size and stealth of the sharks was the first thing I noticed. You literally don't see them till they are a few meters away from you and they move with grace and purpose. Viewing from the boat was great because you get to see the shark for a long time while they swim around the cage and boat.
We jumped into our wetsuits, dive masks and weight belts provided and slipped into the safety of the cage. Floating on the surface, peeking into the blue depths really makes you feel small. When the guide shouts "divers down!” you push yourself below the surface of the water and you're eye-to-eye with a Great White Shark. You get the sense that these creatures are highly evolved and intelligent animals that are perfectly in tune with their environment. The cold blooded killer we saw in "Jaws" as kids is not what I saw that day, instead I observed an animal perfectly in tune within its ecosystem.
We returned to the harbour and walked back to the office where we were served a light lunch. Travellers swapped stories and the DVD of the trip was ready and offered to the guests to purchase.
What I took away from this experience is that sharks need to be protected and cage diving is raising awareness of their plight.
For more information on the conservation of sharks visit: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/shark