Apex Predator: Cage Diving With Great White Sharks

Cage Diving South Africa

Gansbaai, South Africa

Suddenly a great white shark barreled towards me with black zombie eyes and razor sharp teeth only inches away from my face. Would this be my last adventure?

Luckily the cage stopped it. I was shark cage diving in South Africa and adrenaline was coursing through my body. Great white sharks are the ocean’s most lethal predators — meeting them up close is pretty intense.

The fact that these sharks are responsible for the greatest number of fatal attacks on humans added to my excitement. I grew up watching Shark Week on Discovery, now I was living it!

Shark Alley is a unique area off the coast of Gansbaai where sharks come to hunt seals. It has one of the highest concentrations of great white sharks in the world.

Shark Tour Boat South Africa

Shark Cage South Africa

Great White Sharks

Arguably the most feared animal under the sea, great white sharks have a notorious reputation. Growing up to 7 meters long and weighing over 3,000 kg, these pre-historic monsters can easily rip prey apart using powerful jaws armed with hundreds of serrated teeth.

Great white sharks are ambush predators, silently sneaking up on their victims from below at speeds up to 35 mph. They can even breach out of the water, soaring into the sky.

These sharks feast on tuna, rays, dolphins, seals, whales, sea turtles, and even birds. Along with an excellent sense of smell, they have a special 6th sense that can detect an animal’s electromagnetic field.

However the great white’s history of human attacks is what gives many people nightmares — or galeophobia, fear of sharks.

Great White Shark

Cage Diving South Africa

After breakfast and a safety briefing with our tour operator Marine Dynamics, we boarded Slash Fin, a custom-designed boat used for underwater shark watching excursions. It took about 30 minutes to motor into prime shark territory.

The shark cage was lowered into the water and strapped to the side of the boat as we pulled on thick wetsuits and weight belts. I was in the first group, and climbed down into the cage. That water is cold!

The cage is only partially submerged, with hand and foot rails inside. No snorkels are used, only masks. You keep your head above water until the shark spotters yell “DOWN”, at which point you take a deep breath and push your feet under the bottom rail, holding yourself underwater to watch the action.

What kind of action? The kind that makes your heart race…

Shark Boat South Africa

Underwater Adventure

We watched 16 different great white sharks, some as large as 5 meters (15 feet) long, swim past us over and over again. The crew uses a few different methods to attract sharks.

First they “chum” the water, dumping a soup of fish blood & guts into the ocean that sharks can smell from a mile away. A line attached with fish heads is thrown in, plus a 2nd line with a plywood seal decoy.

The bait lines are only used to draw sharks closer to the cage, giving you an amazing up-close view. In fact, sometimes the sharks will slam right into the cage! But not because they want to eat you…

When attacking prey (or a plywood seal), great white sharks will roll their eyes into the back of their heads for protection. This is why they sometimes swim into or bite the cage. They just can’t see!

Watch a shark ram into my camera in the video below.

Shark Alley Seals South Africa

Shark Attack Statistics

A friend of mine recently made an excellent comparison about shark attacks. Think of sharks as the bears of the ocean. Do bears kill people? Yes. Does that mean you’ll be attacked by a bear if you go hiking? No.

Let’s look at some hard statistics, shall we?

These things are more likely to happen than a shark attack:

  • You will die from a dog attack.
  • You will die from a lightning strike.
  • You will get killed by bees or wasps.
  • You will be executed for a crime.
  • You will be bitten by a human.
  • You will die falling down in your home.
  • You will get shot on a hunting trip.

Here’s the deal. People are ridiculously afraid of sharks.

When there’s a sudden increase in attacks, politicians are forced to act. It’s very similar to airline safety. There is no proof banning nail clippers actually makes us safer from terrorists.

It happens because it makes us FEEL safer.

Culling (aka killing) great white sharks is not the answer. They’re already on their way to becoming an endangered species because some Asian countries enjoy eating rare & exotic animals, like shark fin soup.

Over 40 million sharks are killed by fishermen each year.

Shark Boat South Africa

Shark Feeding Controversy

Chum is not food for the sharks, it’s just a scent. The ocean is full of fish guts already. The crew doesn’t actually let sharks eat those fish heads on the line either (although sometimes it happens). They pull it away from them.

Even in situations where sharks are fed directly, like during my cage-less Bull Shark diving adventure in Fiji, there’s no evidence proving that it leads to attacks on people. That particular company has been feeding bull & tiger sharks for 10 years with no increase in attacks around the island.

Most shark cage diving tours benefit these magnificent creatures by contributing money to research and conservation programs, that frankly wouldn’t get funded otherwise.

No one is going to donate money to save JAWS from extinction unless it’s disguised as a crazy adventure travel experience!

Our cage diving trip included a marine biologist who was recording data on the sharks we encountered for research purposes. They’ve found that the number (and size) of great whites returning to Shark Alley has been declining rapidly over the years, a disturbing trend.

Shark Cage Diving South Africa

See For Yourself

The best way to overcome your unrealistic fear of sharks? Get in the water with them! Once you see these amazing animals up close while learning about their habits from actual scientists who study them every day, you’ll see there’s nothing to fear.

Like Tracey Morgan says, “live every week like it’s Shark Week”.

But don’t let media coverage and hollywood hype distort the truth.

Shark cage diving with great whites in South Africa is both exciting and educational. We need to protect these incredible ocean creatures before they’re gone forever. ★

Watch Video: Great White Shark Cage Dive


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(Click to watch Great White Sharks – Cage Diving on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Gansbaai, South Africa [Map] Accommodation: The Backpack
Company: Marine Dynamics
Cost: R1500 (about $140 USD)
Useful Notes: Beware the boat ride if you get seasick easily! The open ocean can get rough, and spending a few hours out there might have you hanging over the side. It happened to a few people on our trip…

READ NEXT: The World’s Tallest Rope Swing

Are you afraid of sharks? Would you try cage diving?

Disclaimer: My trip was made possible in partnership with iAmbassador and South Africa Tourism.

35 Comments

  1. Hi Matt!

    I’ve been thinking of doing a shark cage dive for a very long time already, and your blog has been very helpful with answering some questions (thanks for that!)

    However, I was just wondering which camera you used to get those pics and videos?
    I still have a gopro 3+ but I feel it will not do underwater, as my pics turn out a bit noisy in low light environments…
    Since we are talking about camera’s… Could you perhaps also tell me which one you use for your beautiful landscape pictures? :-)

    Thanks for all the info!

  2. There’s always so captivating and at the same time formidable with sharks. Western world and urban society seems to particularly romanticize and fear them, but here in many Philippine islands the locals aren’t so. I remember we were walking towards an island during low tide and the locals remarked in the most calm, normal way that we can stay as long as we want but the hammerhead sharks are gonna come swim in the waters by 5pm. Haha. We left by 2pm! haha

  3. First of all hats off for what you are doing.
    I like to travel but i never have that much of resources.. I am also like typical Indian.. Family First, Job Second, Dream last
    hahaha

    i visit your blog daily basis to check new post…
    I have blog where i also write stories, poems, script, and also share my travel with others i do any…

  4. Great pictures and video! What cameras did you use for your underwater photography? Is it just a Gopro? I usually use a Gopro but yours seems to have zoomed in effects that I find hard to achieve on a Gopro.

  5. US$140? That’s a lot less than in NZ! The fishermen on Stewart Island are not happy about the cage diving and chumming though because they claim the sharks approach boats more often now.

    I agree with your observation though – so much power and yet so much grace in a single package. Your photos are great too!

  6. I done this a few days back in South Africa and it was awesome experience to see great white sharks. A bucket list tick. Seeing the attack on the champion surfer at Jeffreys Bay on Eastern Cape today though I do wonder if the government will now look to ban. Was scary enough in cage.. i cannot imagine his fear!

  7. Amazing article about cage diving with the Great White Sharks in South Africa! We’re headed there at the end of June and already have our trip to cage dive all set. We even signed up for a breaching trip that takes us to the areas where they hunt- since we are lucky to be there during their main hunting season! Great photos too by the way! :)

  8. Great video and write up about great white sharks, I couldn’t agree more. I just got back from a white shark diving trip in Southern Australia. It was a 4 day live aboard with a surface cage as well as a cage on the ocean floor for scuba certified divers, what an incredible experience. GoPro 4 Silver captured everything perfectly. If you find yourself in that part of the world check out Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions.

  9. I’ve always had a great fascination in sharks particularly Great Whites. I want to go on a conservation in South Africa and bring awareness to how elegant and amazing Great White sharks really are, however my nearly all my family and friends say it’s too dangerous for me to go on my own due to environment of South Africa. Admittedly I am quite still young (17) to travel to South Africa on my own but is there not any way I can persuade my family otherwise… I will get there somehow! Great video I can’t believe how close the shark got :D

    1. Hi Elle! South Africa is not as dangerous as most people seem to think it is. A country can be violent, like Mexico, but that violence rarely reaches tourists. Most of it is internal. The United States is a prime example too, definately not the safest country either! Other countries I’ve visited are absolutely appalled at our gun violence. Yet we still live here… (I’m assuming you’re American)

      However don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to travel on your own in a few years if you want to.

      1. I’m English… but I still understand your point. Thank you, that’s great.

        Travelling on my own is definitely something I’m considering as there’s so much I would love to do and see that most my friends are cautious of. But then that could all change in a few years.

        Thanks once again!

  10. Andrew makes some good points, but there are a few problems. Feeding bears human food is not the same as dumping natural fish scent into the ocean. It’s a bad comparison. The ocean is full of fish guts/blood already, a forest isn’t filled with peanut butter. We bait fish all the time anyway. It’s called fishing! :-)

    He also claims the shark industry hasn’t really helped conservation. I disagree. It’s funneling money that just can’t be collected other ways. In Fiji, the shark diving industry is directly responsible for creating a marine reserve and enforcing fishing regulations that has brought a dying reef back to life. Where did that money come from? Diving with sharks.

    It’s wishful thinking to assume that regular people will donate money to shark conservation on their own.

    Also, not everyone is a certified diver. If you have the money & time to swim with sharks in their natural environment, by all means go for it. Most people don’t though.

    Cage diving is an activity that all ages & skill levels can participate in, for a relatively low cost.

  11. holy sh*t – no way. the thought of getting in the ocean in terrifying enough LOL … not a big fan of gettig eaten alive.

  12. Like most phobias, it’s a fear that you can’t control, even knowing the statistics. Primal fear. Being eaten by another creature is usually more terrifying than a car wreck — even if the end result is the same.

    1. Hey Matt, ill be concurring my fears in May (next year), ill be diving with great whites.
      I still have a HUGE fear of being eaten a live and will no doubt be shitting myself the whole way there and the whole way back but I hope for it to be a good experience – yay!

  13. I’ll be going with a group of friends and family to this area next week and doing shark cage diving with Marine Dynamics too. I think it’s going to be cool to see all this first hand!

  14. Amazing… I’m curious about the picture with the GoPro mounted on an extended pole . I’ve been to some shark dives were they didn’t allow to do that, as it’s seems to attract the sharks (they told me the sharks could think I was trying to feed them). Were there any rules like that?

    1. My GoPro was on an extension too. We kept them close to the cage, and were told there’s a possibility we could lose them. As for “attracting the sharks”, that seems like a lame excuse to me, because the point of pulling a seal decoy and fish heads towards the cage is to get the sharks as close as possible! :-)

  15. Yes! Great video. I’m glad to see you on the side of these much maligned creatures. It’s ignorance that spreads fear and your info and experience are a great help in dispelling that ignorance!

  16. This looks so amazing. I’d love to go! I agree that fear of sharks is at ridiculous levels. I’m not sure why they are so feared over other possible dangers.

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