Cage diving with the Great White Shark is a relatively new adventure sport in South Africa although there are several operators who offer cage diving packages. Great White Shark diving is the marine equivalent of seeing the Mountain Gorilla in its natural environment. It's exciting, adventurous and a truly unique opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with a magnificent animal. Here's a guide to Great White Shark diving (and viewing) in South Africa.
Where To Go Diving
Dyer Island: Known as the Great White Shark diving capital of the world, the stretch of water between Gansbaai and Dyer Island is also referred to as "shark alley". Gansbaai is 100 miles from Cape Town, about a 2-hour drive by car. Gansbaai is also just half an hour drive away from Hermanus which is South Africa's best spot for whale-watching.
Mossel Bay: There is one Great White Shark Diving Tour Operator offering cage diving in Mossel Bay with a good success rate.
False Bay: A couple of Great White Shark Diving Tour Operators work out of False Bay which is very close to Cape Town. Cage dives in False Bay require you to have basic scuba certification which is offered on site.
How to Book Your Adventure
Book your adventure with a reputable operator and they will take you out to sea in their boat. The crew will then lure the sharks to the boat with some tasty fish heads and livers.
This process is called "chumming" and "baiting". Once the sharks are circling the boat you are invited to hop into the specially designed diving cage.
The Diving Cage
Rodney Fox, an Australian diver, has been credited with inventing the shark cage. Rodney became shark bait while spearfishing in Australia.
After getting sewn back to his original shape, he turned his attention to the study of the Great White Shark and to avoid being attacked again, designed the first underwater observation cage. The Diving Cage is:
- Safe. The diving cage is specially designed to withstand the bite of a Great White (although they haven't ever attacked a cage to date) while still allowing the diver a good view of the shark. The diving cages are made from 12mm galvanized steel.
- Easy to use. The good thing about the diving cage is that you don't need to know how to scuba dive, snorkeling will do for most dives (not in False Bay). Shark cages have tubes going up to the boat, so divers simply suck on the tube to breathe fresh air.
- Able to hold several people. Cages are built to hold two, four or even six people, so you can get to experience the sharks with the whole family.
- Close to the surface. The cage actually floats and doesn't go deep at all since sharks are surface feeders. It's therefore easy to keep in touch with the boat crew and you can always get out of the cage quickly if the adventure becomes a little too exciting.
Spending Time With the Great White Sharks
Dives usually last 10-15 minutes and if the weather is good you can get a few dives in per day.
Trips often last 4-5 hours with the first hour spent finding the sharks and attracting them to the boat with bait.
Who Can Dive With Great White Sharks
Some dive operators require a basic level of diving proficiency while others don't. The dive master on board the boat will quickly let you know whether you can get in the cage or not. Most dives don't actually require diving per se, snorkeling is the way to go.
Viewing Great White Sharks
For those who aren't keen on smelling a shark's breath, but are still interested in seeing them, there are plenty of shark viewing opportunities on the boat. There are special platforms you can sit on that provide excellent photo opportunities of the sharks especially as the crew are "chumming" and "baiting" them. Since Great White Sharks are surface feeders you can get a good look at the 16 rows of teeth.
Best Time to Dive with Great White Sharks
Winter is the best time to dive with sharks from May to October. Although getting to see the sharks is not guaranteed, the success rate is very high, around 95. The weather can be unpredictable though in winter with gales and cold spells so its best to book a tour that lasts a few days just in case the weather doesn't allow for a dive. The sharks are still around during the summer months but not in such dense numbers, so days can possibly go by without a sighting.
All Great White Shark cage diving operators will have the latest safety equipment on board. The gear and cages are regularly inspected by the Government. Paramedics are usually on board. To date, there have been no known shark attack injuries on any of these trips.
Great White Shark Cage Diving Operators
The operators that offer Great White Shark diving, all have excellent safety records and offer similar tours. The price differences usually reflect how many people they are willing to take at one time. The cheaper the tour the more likely that you will have a little less diving time as there may be more divers. Remember that seeing the Great White Sharks isn't always guaranteed although in the high season the success rate of all these companies is above 90. It is therefore recommended that if you have the time, it's best to book a tour that lasts a few days.
- White Shark Diving Company: This company has a nice boat and they limit their passengers to just 10 per trip (so book in advance). Their shark cage fits up to four people at one time. You are expected to have at least some snorkeling experience if you want to see the sharks underwater. You can book your dive online as well as accommodation in the company guest house or other area bed and breakfasts.
- White Shark Ecoventures: Established in 1992 this is one of the first companies in the area to offer Great White Shark diving and viewing. Their boat is a newly built catamaran offering extra stability at sea. The price includes transport to and from Cape Town, meals, drinks, boat trip, cage diving as well as viewing seals, penguins, and whales (in season). There is an online booking form for your convenience. The cage they use can hold up to six people at a time.
- Shark Lady Adventures: This company is run by Kim Macklean, the "shark lady" herself, a pioneer of White Shark cage diving in South Africa. The boat is a large catamaran with enough space to suit up and relax. The diving cage holds two divers at a time. Experienced divers are allowed to wear scuba gear, for those who are not experienced you can still get into the cage using snorkeling equipment. The basic package offered is a day diving and transport to and from Cape Town as needed. Shark Lady Adventures will be glad to help book your accommodations as well.
- Shark Africa offers diving off Mossel Bay. They are the sole operator in this area so you won't bump into any other boats. Their success rate is as good as those operating near Dyer Island (all tour operators above). They take only ten people per trip and two at a time in the diving cage. Their boat is a 15-meter sailing catamaran.
- African Shark Eco-Charters. The first company to operate shark watching and cage diving tours out of False Bay near Cape Town. The False Bay Great White Sharks are famous for breaching themselves on seal island and are featured in several shark documentaries. This is a less "touristy" option since less than four divers are allowed on board their 26 ft catamaran and there are only two operators in the area. The success rate equals that of Dyer Island tours in the high season. They offer one day and ten-day trips. Since you have to be a licensed scuba diver for any of these trips why not try their Blue Water Predators package which includes swimming with the Mako shark and the Blue Shark (October through May).
Shark Diving Tours Throughout South Africa
- Dive South Africa: This tour company offers several shark viewing opportunities including dives with Bull Sharks, Hammerheads, Tiger Sharks, Whale Sharks (in Mozambique) and of course the cage diving with the Great White at Gansbaai and Mossel Bay.
- Africa Shark Dive Safaris offers Great White cage diving packages as well as many other shark viewing tours. They offer single day to 8-day tours. Most of the longer tours include sightseeing on dry ground as well.
- Adventure Diving Safaris also offers a variety of shark diving experiences as well as whale-watching. The site also offers a handy table as to when the best chances are of seeing these beasties.
A shark attack by a Great White occurred in June of 2005. A medical student was attacked while spearfishing and killed by a Great White Shark in the False Bay area. Some surfers are blaming the shark diving operators for changing the sharks feeding behaviors by baiting sharks for tourists to view. Stay tuned to see if cage diving will be affected if more people lose their lives to Great White Shark attacks.