Scuba Diving With Sharks (No Cage!) In South Africa

Protea Banks South Africa
Shark Diving in South Africa
Margate, South Africa

The ocean around me is filled with hungry sharks. In just a few minutes, the sea has become thick with them, approaching from all directions. My heart races.

I was under 30 feet of water, without a cage, off the coast of South Africa. It was impossible to keep track of all the sharks around me. I counted at least 9 in my immediate vicinity, with more dark shapes lurking in the murky depths below.

A nightmare scenario for those who are afraid of the ocean.

When most people think of sharks, they instinctively remember the horror movie Jaws. Razor sharp teeth. Beady black eyes. The ocean’s deadliest predator lurking beneath the waves, ready to strike without warning.

Protea Banks Boat Ride
Motoring Out to the Dive Site

Embracing Your Fears

You’d think that hanging out underwater in shark territory would be the most dangerous place to be in the ocean. However our fears are not always rational — more often they’re primal. Based on emotion rather than facts.

For most people, fear is something they avoid at all costs. For others, it’s what drives them. I consider myself the latter. It’s a personality trait known as sensation seeking — someone who thrives on adventure, risks, and sensory overload.

While swimming with sharks is not as dangerous as it seems, that doesn’t mean it won’t give you a good jolt of adrenaline anyway.

Strapping on the Dive Gear
Strapping on the Dive Gear

South Africa Shark Dive

This is actually not my first time scuba diving with sharks. I’d met them up close and personal once before in Fiji, also without a cage.

Sharks are beautiful, powerful, agile creatures. Capable of both extreme violence and incredible elegance. Attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, despite all the negative media attention they receive.

Don’t believe me? Talk with anyone who spends significant amounts of time with them. Like marine biologists or scuba dive masters. Sharks deserve respect, not irrational fear.

Yes, some species attack humans from time to time.

It happens when they mistake us for animals they normally eat, like seals. But deep underwater, in their world, these intelligent animals are smart enough to know we aren’t on the menu.

Protea Banks Sharks
Shark Selfie!

Diving Protea Banks

In fact, sharks are often more frightened of us. As our group of divers first descended under the waves at Protea Banks, we actually scared off a large tiger shark. Tiger sharks are responsible for the 2nd highest number of attacks on humans. Yet this one wanted nothing to do with us.

Too bad, as this is the type I was most looking forward to meeting!

Protea Banks is home to all kinds of different species of shark like Black Tips, Bull Sharks, Tigers, Great Whites, Ragged Tooth, Hammerheads, and many more. They come to feed on large schools of tuna that thrive here.

It’s one of the few places in the world you can dive with 12 foot Tigers.

On this dive we encountered mostly Black Tip sharks, 4 to 5 feet long. A school of them circled the bait ball, a plastic device filled with fish heads that sharks can’t actually eat. After initially keeping their distance, they relaxed and had no problem swimming up to say hi.

The bull sharks were more skittish. I could see a few down below. Bull sharks are responsible for the 3rd highest number of attacks on humans. I found it kind of funny that one of the most dangerous species of sharks was also the most scared of us.

Sharks are Incredible Animals
Sharks are Incredible Animals
Diving with Sharks at Protea Banks
Diving with Sharks at Protea Banks

Shark Conservation

We spent an hour diving with the sharks at Protea Banks before surfacing to return to the boat. I’ll never get sick of these experiences. Visiting the underwater world is about as foreign as it gets, aside from outer-space.

The more time you spend in the company of sharks, the more your fear of them is transformed into respect and admiration. Sharks are beautiful, marvelous creatures.

Unfortunately they are getting killed off at an alarming rate.

Millions of sharks are fished out of our oceans annually. No wonder they’re afraid of us!

So when you hear about “attacks” like the recent one at a Jeffreys Bay surf competition, understand that we are the ones attacking their territory. We don’t own these oceans, yet we seem to love killing everything in them.

Sharks don’t even like humans — occasionally they just mistake us for something else. Maybe we deserve it. ★

SEE ALSO: Searching For Dolphins & Whales Off Reunion Island

Watch Video: Protea Banks Shark Dive


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Travel Planning Resources For South Africa
Location: Margate, South Africa

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The ocean around me is filled with sharks. Now they're approaching me from all directions. I was under 30 feet of water without a cage in South Africa. More at ExpertVagabond.com
The ocean around me is filled with sharks. Now they're approaching me from all directions. I was under 30 feet of water without a cage in South Africa. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ MORE SOUTH AFRICA TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide on scuba diving with sharks in South Africa! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Would you ever try swimming with sharks? Are you a scuba diver? Drop me a message in the comments below!

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Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
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Comments (32)

  1. OMG this looks amazing! I had dive with sharks in a cage in South Africa on my bucket list but this looks even more special. I saw baby black tip reef sharks in the Maldives this year but would love to see them as adults.

  2. I’m a huge animal lover, animal rights type, person. I just have a hard time having sympathy for sharks. Their eyes just seem so dark and soulless. I definitely don’t want to see them killed but I feel so sorry for the seals. I know it’s nature and I sound like an idiot. Anyway, I have a lot of admiration and respect that anybody can free dive with them. I am just curious what is the biggest mistake anybody can make while free diving on a guided tour that could set them off and endanger others?

  3. Thank you, Matthew for speaking positively in behalf of sharks. You are jawsome!!!!
    Sharks are very vital to our Oceans. The fear install on them is killing them in alarming rates putting the health of our Oceans in jeopardy. I hope others who read your article will be inspire or at the very least understand the importance of a LIVE SHARK. Thanks, again.
    Take great care & looking forward to reading more of your travels!?

  4. Thanks for sharing your story here and for dispelling some of the myths about sharks. I love sharks–in particular the way they move in the water–and recently got to snorkel in Malaysia in a place where I saw a lot of reef sharks, including having one moment where it was just me and three of them! I loved it. Every sighting was exciting and a gift. I definitely look forward to getting back in the water!

    • The ocean is a magical place! Too bad humans are ruining it. I think if more people dived, they’d appreciate our oceans more.

    • Sure Natalie! Many land-locked states offer scuba dive experiences in lakes and rock quarries. I’m sure Ohio has some spots.

  5. This is just so awesome!!!
    Didnt know you can do it without a cage! Is it possible to dive with just an open water certificate?

  6. Currently working up to this! I have an irrational fear of sharks, yet I enjoy diving. Dave really wants to do something like this but so far the closest we’ve been is cage diving with the great whites in South Africa. I agree, Sharks deserve respect and not fear, they’re actually really unique creatures. Great article!

  7. You’re a crazy S.O.B.!!! That’s some amazing footage under water. Since I don’t have the jam to be underwater with them sharks, I’m glad I have you to live through lol. Great stuff Matthew!

  8. I know there are 2 different experiences but which one you liked the most Fiji (specially with Big Momma tiger shark) or SA diving with sharks?

    • Tough to say. This dive in Protea Banks was a “blue water” dive, which means you can’t see the bottom of the ocean anywhere. Feels a bit more like outer-space. The sharks came much closer to us here too.

  9. I leave for a trip to Grand Cayman in a few weeks and made a recent purchase of the Hero4 Black and curious of any special tricks I need to know for still photos? Second trip back and looking forward to capturing some great photos and videos at Stingray City again!!

  10. That’s amazing! Definitely worth trying. Good to know I need at least 25 logged scuba dives for this adventure. I’d better start doing it soon :)

  11. YIKES-looks a little scary to me! Is that a small fish that looks like it’s holding on to the back of the shark? What’s the story about that?

    • Yup! It’s called a Remora, they attach themselves to animals like sharks for transportation. I think they feed on parasites too.

  12. I am definitely NOT the sensation-seeking kind of person. The more comfortable and secure I am, the better! But this was a nice read :-)

  13. Wow!! tiger and bull sharks, how bad ass! I had no idea you could even do this. I live in Goa and there was a salt water croc up on the beach yesterday from the monsoons – I know someone who was killed by one in the andamans, and i’ve always had a fear of them ever since but not as much sharks. I swam with nurse sharks at a resort as a kid.. i would love to do this tho!

    • Crazy. Large crocodiles can be scary. I’ve seen some huge ones in Costa Rica that are known to attack cattle.

  14. Nice one. Really jealous of this one, Matt.

    I can see you are wearing the Cressi Travelight BCD. Do you travel with it or just rented it?

  15. Matthew, you are crazy, a real crazy. :-) Wow! Bravo! It is as to enter a cage with tigers. By the way, you had a good photographer. I shared it on my FB page.

  16. Wow. I mean – just – wow! I’m having kittens just watching this! I mean, I can appreciated the beauty and elegance of sharks, but I know in my head that shark attacks on humans are proportionately small, but still… Not sure how desperate I’d be to meet one up close! Must have been such an incredible experience, though – and I love your photos of the dive.

    • Even knowing the statistics are on your side, it’s still scary the first time. Meeting big ocean creatures up close always gets my heart racing.