“Straight ahead!” the top deck shark spotter calls eagerly. I quickly grab the hand bar on the cage and submerge my head, ignoring the slight sting of the 55 degree water as it envelopes my exposed face. I struggle to get the camera focused as a 2.5 meter great white slowly follows the bait towards our cage. With the majestic creature no more than 10 feet away from us, the man on the deck rapidly pulls the fish head towards the boat and the shark, intent on claiming his prize, follows. It slams into our cage, mouth agape, and shakes the entire boat. A slight panic grips Martin and I, and then just as quickly the massive animal turns around and slaps the cage with it powerful tail. Bubbles fly everywhere and then all is silent except for the ring of the metal cage, still reverberating from the impact. The bait is gone.
That was how my afternoon went. How did it come to this? Well, it all started with a boy and a dream. The dream landed me in Gansbaii, South Africa in a hotel right off the coast. The alarm clock went off at 7:30am and I bounded out of bed to reach my backpack. I opened the seasick pills and, crossing my fingers, took my final dose. Cleaned and clothed, Martin and I moseyed on over to the Great White House restaurant and had a light breakfast, choosing each item carefully so that should our medicine fail us we could at least mitigate the pungency of our vomit. At 9:00am we filed out to the boat and headed for our destination - an island about 20 minutes off the coast called Dyer Island. This island was quite special in that it was home to over 6000 Cape fur seals. The distinct topography around the island made it a perfect hunting ground for great whites and according to shark research, there was a clearly defined boundary around the island where almost all the seal predation occurred. It was called the ring of death. And that is where we dropped anchor.
The shark spotters got to work cutting up tuna heads and flooding the water with fish oil. It was only a matter of time before we saw our first shark. All I heard was the slap of a tail against the water as the first shark approached and took a bite at the fish head before submerging. The boat had a steady rock to it and all those on board knew that it was time to either put up or vomit uncontrollably and pay to take a special boat back. The first group of 5 hopped into the cage and Martin and I headed to the top deck for some aerial views. The water clarity was unbelievable by South African standards and it seemed like every 5 minutes a huge white shark was magically appearing around the boat, circling, investigating, diving, and then snapping at the bait. When I finally got into the cage, my adrenaline was pumping so much that I didn’t even feel the freezing water. I went under immediately and BAM! there was a shark directly to my right. I was snapping pictures like a madman and doing a little underwater dance of joy in my mind. We stayed there for almost 15 minutes and then we got the call that a big shark was coming our way. This was the guy that slammed our cage. It was like winning the shark lottery and the whole boat was excited. I can honestly say that I was less than 2 feet away from the fully opened jaws of a 2.5 meter great white shark and that had I not been in a cage, things would have certainly turned out differently. Instead, I got the thrill of a lifetime and a serious close-up picture of the beautiful animal as he casually left the scene. What an adventure.