DANTA Blogger Swims with Sharks in South Africa to Celebrate Shark Week
Waking up from a restless sleep, to a 5:40 AM alarm, I was surprisingly eager for the day. The night before we had stumbled upon the hotel, trying to find a location near our shark snorkeling experience to maximize the amount of sleeping in. It was a pleasant hotel, with fine amenities, but the thought of purposefully swimming with sharks made it hard for my brain to shut off and relax.
For months I had literally dreamt about this experience, although in real life the shark species and modality had changed. I originally signed up to go cage diving with great white sharks in Cape Town. Five days prior to the experience the operator canceled our dive, because killer whales had moved into the area and there had not been a great white sighting in three weeks. Cape Town was also about to experience some much needed rain, causing poor visibility and safety issues.
Shark Cage Diving KZN operated by John Miller helped me achieve my goal of meeting sharks in South Africa. This experience would take place one hour south of Durban’s airport King Shaka International. Instead of cage diving I would be snorkeling freely and instead of great whites I would be encountering oceanic blacktips (Carcharhinus limbatus). These look just like blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) except they swim in open waters.
I arrived at their facility around 6:20 and quickly donned a wet suit. John had three helpers aboard the boat with a total of five guests. Now that is a great staff to customer ratio! Everyone helped get the boat in the water and off we went, riding moderate waves, for about 5 kilometers. Everything is kind of a blur, due to the time of day and my state of breakfastless. I do remember that on the way in the distance John spotted a jellyfish, which I pretended to also see. I did however, see and remember vividly the sun mushrooming out of the sea, in it’s orange-red which can only be described as sunrise.
The boat stopped for what seemed like seconds, some chum was tossed over the boat and a shark appeared promptly. After another minute, the captain decided based on the sole shark and the current that we could do better.
We boated for another five minutes, found a location, and repeated the baiting process. I was told that you can’t encounter sharks without fish guts. They aren’t going to join you for the hell of it. For the most part sharks are crepuscular and it’s best to find them at their peak activity level.
After three sharks arrived, the cage was lowered into the water and the four guests quietly slid into the enclosure. I, along with a staff member, glided out of the boat on the opposite side of the cage and sharks. I took a minute to regulate my breathing. I wasn’t hyperventilating, but I was in an excited state. Looking down into the clear blue void was very relaxing. The water and my mask were so clear, it was as if I was watching a movie from the comfort of a couch. Once I was comfortable we swam around the boat toward the swarm of sharks which had grown to six individuals.
We floated for about twenty minutes, while I stared the sharks in the eye. I was calm and so were they. They swam next to, under, and toward us. It was quiet. It was peaceful. Staring them in the eye, they reminded me more of a goofy puppy dog than a vicious predator. In addition to the sharks there were an assortment of other fish, including their symbiotic partner remoras.
Remoras, with their sucker-disc-mouth, will swim upside-down and attach themselves to the side or stomach of a shark. The remoras eat parasites from the shark and the sharks’ leftovers. The sharks get their parasitic load decreased and the remoras get a meal. It’s a win-win situation.
Using our fins, we propelled ourselves back into the boat to be told that due to the number of remoras that John was unable to get nice photos. The remoras kept swimming in front of the lens. John wasn’t done photographing the guests in the cage, and I agreed quickly that we should get back in the water. I slipped happily back into the shark-water and posed for a few photos for an additional ten minutes.
On our way inland, we talked about the horrible plight the ocean is facing with plastics and the future of sharks. It was an honor sharing the ocean with these apex predators and I hope to do it again soon. These keystone species should be glorified and not feared.
To view more Shark Cage Diving KZN photos that are synced up to music, click here.
My new book 99 1/2 Homesteading Poems highlights sustainable living, which will help the planet – including the oceans. It is now available for pre-order.