shark cage diving

• 37 comments •


We included shark cage diving on our wanderlist after reading that it was a popular tourist activity when visiting Cape Town. We saw a few videos online that gave us the impression that, a few seemingly rare sensational moments notwithstanding, we would be snorkeling in a spacious and secure cage, the sharks would merely circle the cage, and if we got lucky we might see a shark bare it's teeth.

Although we saw almost 10 sharks, we were sadly disappointed. Our experience with shark cage diving left us ashamed that we had given any money to the "industry".


Our day started with a scenic ride from Cape Town to the town of Gansbaai, the self-styled "great white shark capital of the world". During the ride we watched an intriguing documentary that revealed a non-aggressive side of great white sharks. It showed them to be curious and playful creatures and described how they are listed as a "vulnerable" species by conservation groups. At this point, we expected our dive to consist of seeing these creatures glide past the cage, and for the dive to be a chance to see them in their natural habitat (albeit with the intrusion of the boat).


At the dive shop, a crew member quickly gave us an idea of our itinerary. Due to the weather we needed to rush out to the dive site. They had left the cage in the water earlier in the morning, allegedly in an attempt to acclimate the sharks to our presence. We were assured we'd get all the safety details when we arrived at the dive location.


We boarded the boat and set off on a bumpy ride to the cage. As we neared the cage the crew excited shouted up to us that there were sharks in the water. Without any safety training they rushed everyone into the cabin of the boat and gave us wetsuits to put on. As soon as I got my wetsuit on I was pushed towards the cage and told to quickly get in. Seeing a huge shark swimming right nearby, and fearing that it might take a nip at me, I jumped in and had the cage closed on me. I anxiously tried to figure out where to put my hands and struggled to kick my feet without having them slip out of the cage (there was less than 6 feet of cage below water). No snorkel was provided either (without explanation), so I cooled off with a mouthful of icy, salty, ocean water.


After having a shark crash into the cage next to me, I decided to get out of the cage to warm up and to ask about where to put my feet and arms. Mina got into the cage, but not before having to ask the crew all the safety details. Their response to her questions was to yell at her: "ask the guy next to you in the cage". I found out later that, while I was in the water, one of the crew had started yelling at Mina that she was taking too long to get her wetsuit on and took the opportunity to rub up against her while claiming to "help her". The same crew member was later heard making racist, and sexually crude jokes, which were neither funny nor appropriate for the situation.


Prior to diving, we had read that shark cage diving was regulated in South Africa. We read from a variety of sources (including all the tour operators) that the sharks are not fed and that every effort is made not to disturb the natural behaviour of the animals (hence our expectation of merely seeing the sharks swim by). In practice, the crew on our boat were baiting the sharks with a dead fish head. When the sharks went to bite the bait, the crew pulled the rope and tried to force the shark against the cage. This usually resulted in the shark being smashed against the cage and giving up on the bait. Other times the line would break and the shark would swim away with the bait. The crew didn't seem to care that they were feeding the sharks or that they were continually smashing them against the side of the cage. I'm not an animal activist, and I am aware that great whites are predators, but it just seemed really cruel to be baiting an animal and then violently bashing them against a metal cage for amusement.


The whole experience left us both feeling disgusted with ourselves for not researching it more thoroughly and for trusting all the talk about regulations. It's clear that the regulations were merely put in place to protect the existing dive operators (the regulations limit the number of boats licensed to operate) and that they are not being enforced to any useful degree. Shark cage diving has been banned in some parts of the world, and several groups in South Africa and around the world are concerned about the effect that shark cage diving has on the sharks, humans that use the water, and on the ecosystem. On our dive we noticed sharks with hooks caught in their mouths (pictured above). I don't know if those came from commercial fishers, or from shark cage diving boats. I do know that when the bait line broke on our dive, and the sharks swam away, they took the whole bait and hook with them. If you watch the video below, you can see the shark get away with the entire bait on more than one occasion.


(If you listen carefully at the end of the video you can hear one crew member say that they're out of bait, and another one jokes that he's going to report his colleague for feeding the sharks.)


We really hoped, based on reviews written by other tourists, that the experience would be like something out of the BBC's Planet Earth series, but it felt more like we had just attended an illegal dog fight. Luckily, we were able to experience this for free, but most tourists pay upwards of $400 US to partake in this horrendous activity.

If, despite all this, you still want to try shark cage diving in South Africa, please email us first so we can warn you about the tour company we used. Needless to say, they were pretty shady .

You Might Also Like

37 comments

  1. This is very disturbing. I am an advocate against swimming with dolphins in captivity (no Sea World for me!), and this practice is dangerous for you and for the sharks. It is awful what some will do with local animals for touristy gimmicks. I am sorry you had to experience this, but at least you are now making more of the public aware of such a scam. -GA

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, you guys. I'm sorry your experience was so terrible. Like you, I've always dreamed of shark diving, but I certainly am not anymore. Have you filed a complaint about these people? Like the commenter above, I'm very disturbed...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I can't imagine what a bad taste this left in your mouth... How sad! To just think about people taunting the sharks like that just makes me uncomfortable. Thank you so much for the warning!

    ReplyDelete
  4. That is so sad! I actually have a phobia of sharks so I salute you for going, but I am totally against that kind of treatment. Unacceptable.
    Thanks for bringing awareness to this.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Too bad everyone can't respect the earth and animals...even scary sharks! I still think you are totally brave!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yikes! Thanks for spreading the word.

    ReplyDelete
  7. wow im sorry you had such a bad expereince it just shows you how some people are just cruel to animals even sharks... i still want to shark dive but i'm going to make sure the company is legit i dont want to go if the experience is going to be horrible....

    ReplyDelete
  8. man sorry it was a bad experience!
    still i would be terrified being that close to the sharks

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very cool that y'all got to see these amazing (and deadly) creatures up close, but it's disappointing how the whole operation was handled. Hopefully y'all don't encounter more shady businesses like this.

    ReplyDelete
  10. oh my gosh! my boyfriend would flip!! he loves sharks! how brave... i would be scared!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. That sucks! I'm sorry that your experience was not pleasant, especially for poor Mina (and shark). But thank you sharing that experience with the rest of us. Though, I don't ever see myself wanting to swim with the sharks, I now know the safety and ethical issues surrounding the process if it should ever comes up in the future. Sorry you dealt with bad businesses men. We always take extra precautions too when traveling, but sometimes it's inevitable to get duped by folks trying to make a buck.

    ReplyDelete
  12. how awful :( the pictures and video are heartbreaking to see how they treat those magnificent creatures. thank you so much for posting and exposing this. i'm sorry you all had to go through that but am glad you are good people who won't stand idly by.

    kudos.

    ReplyDelete
  13. oh my....

    worst fear worst fear worst fear

    ReplyDelete
  14. that's crazy. i honestly had no idea that people exploited sharks like they do whales, dolphins, etc. it's disheartening.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wow. Thanks for sharing this fascinating information.

    ReplyDelete
  16. That is just so disturbing...the pictures are fascinating, though. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Amazing blog, thanks for the eye opener. It seems like an amazing experience to get to have, if done the right way. So sad, really broke my heart to see the hook in that sharks mouth! Although I could never get in a tank with them in the water! Scary :x

    ReplyDelete
  18. Wow!! I feel blessed to have found your blog!!! My dream is to travel the world and I will very soon…..but in the mean time you will awake my curious side and feed my imagination!!♥
    You have such a wonderful blog!!!……Talk to you soon♥

    ReplyDelete
  19. this is terrible, I'm so sorry you had a terrible experience with this, though I am glad you blogged about it....

    ReplyDelete
  20. Alex and Mina,
    I'm terrified of sharks (since seeing Jaws with my dad at age 3), but in this case, I feel awfully for them. Can you imagine if *we* had hooks stuck in our mouth...I'm sorry your experience was not so good, but thanks for warning us of such operations in SA.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Some of those shark pictures are crazy.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Oh, this is too horrible for words. Especially after all those wonderful things you've been able to see at the townships - all that improvement in South Africa. I know they can't enforce everything at once, but this is truly shameful.

    ReplyDelete
  23. 3rd photo is beauuuutiful. Nice.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Sorry to hear about your shocking and terrible experience. As a kid and still now great white sharks make my top 10 creatures, upset to hear about the shady goings ons :(

    My boyfriend and I also have shark cage diving down on our bucketlist but ever since I saw a video of a cage effectively collapsing whilst some people were inside I have said we'll make sure the operator we go with is legit and we will properly research it.

    Is it bad that I was hoping the guy standing on the side of the boat with the bait would fall in :s

    ReplyDelete
  25. wow, kind of sad, but scary non the less. Sounds like you guys are having some awesome adventures. Wish I could quit my job, sell my house and travel around the world someday.

    ReplyDelete
  26. aww, this makes me sad :(

    ReplyDelete
  27. Terrible to turn such a majestic animal into toy and torture the animal at that.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Wow, sounds just as horrible as I had imagined! Thanks for sharing.

    I'm traveling to South Africa later this year, and had heard that this is a popular activity on the backpacker trail. I really didn't like the idea from the start. First and foremost, I think it's a terrible idea to associate humans with food (despite what the media and motion pictures would have us to believe, sharks do not naturally view us as prey or food: see "Sharkwater" an excellent documentary that came out a few years ago)

    I've been fortunate enough to see sharks (not Great Whites however) while scuba diving, and it was a beautiful sight. This does not sound like a beautiful experience.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Lauren19.5.10

    this had me almost in tears. it is just heartbreaking the lack of respect that the employees of that tour company have for animals (and women, if their behavior towards Mina is any indication). I am glad that this is the first truly bad experience i've read about you guys having since you left, though!
    continue to enjoy this trip of a lifetime!

    ReplyDelete
  30. that is so disturbing but thank you for sharing...my fear is if they bait the sharksthat they may associate humans with food/bait. You did get some great pictures though! xo

    ReplyDelete
  31. This is so sad, those poor sharks. I'm glad you have documented this though at least other people can be well informed about this awful display of animal cruelty.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Terrible story. We did a shark dive in Gansbaii but felt very differently. Our company did a great job, explaining the whole thing to us from front to end, including a video before we went out. The company owner believed strongly in shark welfare and we never felt like they were "baiting" the sharks. They threw the heads quite far out and then slicked the water with chum and if the sharks came close by, we saw them. In total, we saw 3 sharks, including one that jumped out of the water (on its own accord).

    We really loved our experience but I think that was because we were so impressed with the company and how they treated the animals, explained their physiology, and showed us that this was not just a tourist attraction but also a way to help conserve their habitat and protect them. (Of course, it could all have been BS, but they seemed very honest about the experience.)

    ReplyDelete
  33. My husband and I had a very different experience and I have a feeling it had a lot to do with the company we used and the crew we had on board. Like Akila, we felt like our company/crew really cared about protecting sharks which was why our boat was filled with university students from Cape Town and Australia doing research on migration patterns. I hope people won't be discouraged by your post. I feel that many people would benefit from seeing sharks in the wild. They are incredibly beautiful and misunderstood.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I think the people who read our blog are intelligent enough to make an informed decision and won't solely use our experience to form their opinion.

    I always find it curious when people suggest that we might be deterring others from going somewhere or doing something merely because we documented our own experience.

    In my opinion, the companies that claim to care about protecting sharks have a vested interest in keeping the shark cage diving business alive, so forgive me for being skeptical about their intentions. Of course they would want to put a positive spin on the activity so that the tourists can partake without feeling guilty. It seems great that they are making efforts to conserve sharks... you know, so that they can continue to exploit them.

    We would agree that sharks are beautiful and generally misunderstood, they can remain that way without us harassing them with cage-diving boats and feeding them chum every day. I'm sure researchers who are interested in actually 'understanding' them can do so in more natural conditions.

    We said in the post that if people wish to go shark cage diving to contact us about the specific company, so we're clearly not judging anyone for doing it if they choose to. Again, just sharing our adventures - good and bad.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Thank you for pointing this post out to me, Mina. I had absolutely no idea. I thought the only real issue sharks had were from the fishing industry (like my post about shark fins). People will find any way to make money. It's unfortunate that we have to research just about everything before we commit to it.

    When I protested bullfighting a couple years ago, so many people came up to me and said they paid to attend a bullfight and had to leave before it was even over. They had no idea how awful it truly is for the animals. Yes, that's a completely different topic, but it's still exploiting animals.

    That's really great of you guys for writing out this post about your experience and filling others in. My dad is always talking about how he wants to go shark diving one day, but like you said... it's not as glorious as TV shows make it out to be. If you truly love sharks, this isn't the best way to show that love.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I've always thought the idea of Cage Diving was silly, but your article really clarifies how cruel the activity is.

    Kudos to you for bringing it up, because when I did a Google search, I couldn't find much on the cruelty behind this so-called adventure other than your article. I hope you don't mind me sharing this, because I think more people should be aware.

    ReplyDelete

archives

Bloglovin

Follow

Flickr