Getting up at 4:30 am on a cool Cape Town morning is not what most people would call “vacation,” but this morning was different. Just within a two hours’ drive north of Cape Town is Gansbaai, the White Shark capital of the world, and today this is where we are going. After some hot coffee and a quick check of the emails, we depart on our journey up the Whale Coast of South Africa. We travel through the Hemel Aande Valley (also known and the Heaven and Earth Valley) and the cute town of Hermanus. With all the prominent signs for the famous whale-watching in this region you would hardly know you were going to see the apex predator of the sea, but in just an hour’s drive, we arrive in the small coastal town Gansbaai.
On arrival our “guides”, who were not guides at all, but rather marine biologists moonlighting as guides, quickly chit-chatted with us over a light breakfast and coffee. Their enthusiasm for their jobs was very apparent as in the first minutes of our arrival I learned about the migration patterns of the sharks and how little we actually know about these mysterious creatures.
After our orientation video we suit up and head out to the boat, within 20 minutes we arrive just west of “Shark Alley” also known as Dyer Island. It is very apparent when you get close because you start to smell this funny little creature known as the Cape Fur Seal. There are nearly 60,000 of them at peak season here and it is very evident why this region attracts so much sea activity. The researchers posing as “guides” mimic the seals’ hunting activity by “chumming” the water. Seals naturally “chum” the water during their hunting activities and, of course, this is what attracts the sharks. By the time we are changed into our 7mm wet suits we hear our “LOOK! LOOK!”, then splash, a 14 foot White Shark breaches the water. The researchers quickly document the dorsal fin. We learn that the dorsal fin is like a fingerprint to the shark, it uniquely identifies one shark from another, and here they rarely see “resident” sharks. The sharks migrate along the South African coast, sometimes traveling thousands of miles.
After suiting up into the cage we go, the water a “refreshing” 57-degree Fahrenheit reminds us of how dedicated we are to seeing the sea’s apex predator. After a few minutes we hear “GO DOWN! GO DOWN!” We all put our heads in and there it is a 16 foot Great White Shark just mere centimeters from the protection of our cage. The sharks are surprisingly gracious underwater, slower than I thought they would be. Seeing them in this state was like seeing my first lion or leopard on the plains of the Masai Mara. They have an energy that radiates in the water, something hard to explain and rarely experienced. This was a truly “once in a lifetime” experience and these type of experiences continually reinvigorate my appetite to see and experience the world.
Interested in seeing the Great Whites? Check out our Great White and Elephant Encounter Safari