Eco great white diving… is it a myth?

Who's the bastard in the boat?See this boat in this first picture… they are bastards. But more to come on why.

Yesterday we had an early early start to Gansbaai, about 100km down the coast from Cape Town. Due to a number of ecological factors, mainly an island where seals bread which is one of their favourite foods, it’s known as the Great White Shark capital of the world and the passage between the seal island and an adjacent one is called Shark Alley.

Sometime in the early 90s, when great white hunting was banned here, the hunters turned conservationists overnight and turned their hand to offering tourist trips to see these magnificent creatures that got such a bad rap from the Jaws films. What started out as a niche industry with maybe 20 cage diving trips a week now sees eight licensed operators offering two or three dives a day with up to 30 people on each dive.

Calling it a dive is a bit of a misnomer. The cage is strapped to the side of the boat and when a shark comes, five people in wetsuits and masks climb in with no snorkels or scuba gear and simply dunk their heads underwater holding their breath for as long as possible to see the shark.

Some people here claim the industry disturbs the eco system as the sharks get used to people and truth be told there have been a couple of extra shark attacks over the past years in the waters here. The operators claim the sharks are just passing through, they seldom see the same one for more than a couple of days and that they are now so heavily regulated – no feeding is allowed –  they have no affect at all.

Despite all this and mindful of the argument, we decided to go with the one most people seem to think is the most eco – though that could possibly be because of their name – White Shark Ecoventures.

For the first hour or so, 25 of us lounged around the boat, literally waiting for something to happen. The only thing the company could do to attract the sharks was mash up some oily fish in water and throw it into the water to create a pungent lure and drop a couple of huge fish heads on a rope  in that would then be pulled away when a shark came to attack.

When one shark did finally come by, we had to wait ten minutes until ‘she was calm’ and then a first lot were allowed in the water. Laura and I didn’t need asking twice before we were in the cage and managed about three or four dunks as she passed serenely by. The next lot of five then replaced us and had a couple of dunks before the third lot got in the water and waited for about half an hour before she passed again. The fourth and fifth lots didn’t even get to see her as she soon buggered off.

I’m really glad I got to see her under the water – she was incredible and serene as she glided past – and I do feel  bad for the other guys who missed out. But that other boat at the top of the page was using less ‘eco’ methods to lure sharks to their boat. They had some help from local fishermen who seemed to be unaware of the fact they were not supposed to throw food in so close to the cage boat and they were also using a fake seal as a lure which had the sharks around their boat thrashing like mad.

I’m sure we got the more eco trip – but I can’t help but feel just a tad jealous the people on the other boat got a more prolonged and more active sighting.