Guest Blogger: Todd Werkmeister
The Great White Shark Safari Experience
Tues Sept 14, 2010
Kleinbaai, South Africa (near Hermanus)
It’s spring time in Africa, but some mornings still feel like winter. I know I was glad to have a warm coat, hat, and gloves while on Safari in the mornings. This day was no different. We woke up at 6:00 a.m. to start our journey, the temperature outside- under 10 degrees Celsius. One of our travel mates wasn’t feeling well and decided not to embark with us (perhaps she knew something we didn’t). Charlie, our travel guide, was prompt to pick us up at 6:45 a.m. We had a short ride to Kleinbaai; he always made sure we were ON TIME!
We arrived at The Great White House where our shark safari would begin. We were met by a very chipper woman who told us to grab some breakfast (included) as we waited for the others. Sixteen, in all, would be on our boat called Shark Fever. The others, who met up with us, were traveling from Cape Town (some 2 hours away). We watched a brief instructional video about the DOs and DON’Ts of the trip. Of course it’s always good when they yell……”and please make sure you sign the waiver form before you leave the building!”
A lot of things were buzzing through my head as we walked down to the dock. You never want to use the head (toilet) on a little boat- it’s never easy, especially when you are 6’6″. When you are nervous, before something like this, you never know what’s going to happen. Should I have worn a Depend undergarment today? My mates and I had our seasickness patch on the day prior; I wasn’t too concerned about that. This was our last day before flying back to the states. I reflected on what a wonderful trip it had been, JUST IN CASE I didn’t make it out alive.
We boarded Shark Fever, cast off from shore, and away we went. Our destination was 20-25 min. away, near Shark Alley (the place where Discovery tapes for Shark Week). The sea was calm, the Captain says, “It’s a great day for seeing sharks.” The sun was out and it started to warm up. The anchor was dropped. We were told to get into our wet suits as the cage, which held 6 people, was dropped into the water, next to the boat. A young man started to place chum in the water to attract the sharks. Within 5 min. the first shark had arrived. The Captain informed us, “Any shark you see today will be a Great White.”
Judy and I were ready! Ramesis, our other mate, decided to stay on the boat and take pictures. The cage top opened and Sara, one of the assistants, told me to climb in. I wasn’t scared, just full of adrenaline. This was my dream about to come true. We climbed in, the cage was shut, and Warren (the shark bait man) cast out a rope with fish heads attached. Your head stays above the water in the cage. As the spotters see a shark coming they yell, “Down to the bait” or whatever direction the shark might be coming from. You grab a breath, hold on to the bar inside the cage, and go down.
Visibility under the water was about 1-1.5 meters (from what I could tell). However, above the surface, it was closer to 4 meters or more. The water was cold (Atlantic Ocean), but we didn’t care. Only your hands, and part of your face, were exposed to the water/air. I carried my FLIP video with me to capture our adventure. Luckily, I was able to take footage above and below the surface.
One by one the sharks came to the boat. At one time we had 3 circling around us. The largest was a female, who was tagged, at 4.2 meters long. She was a monster. As you went under water, the bait was brought closer to the cage, and you got a good look into the eyes/mouth of these amazing creatures. They would swim inches from your face. I did hear a woman scream as the first one came by the cage. One guy got seasick and had to leave the cage. One shark had a hook on the inside of her lip. They would swim quickly by the cage; you had to be fast on your game. Many times you could hear/feel the shark hit the cage as it jostled you around- what POWER!
A few sharks breached out of the water for the bait. The large mouth opened, gums exposed, showing us their sharp, jagged teeth. Sharks continuously shed their teeth and new ones are replaced in a conveyor belt -type pattern. It has been said that some species of shark may lose approximately 35,000 teeth in a lifetime. The tooth fairy must be broke!
It was an experience I will never forget. We spent 3-4 hours in the water watching and admiring these prehistoric fish. The power of their jaws and the force of their tail, as they propelled through the water, was quite a sight. If you are seeking adventure, consider a cage dive with the Great Whites. Even television can’t bring to life what it feels like to be inches away from such a beautiful animal. Thanks Travel Beyond and a special THANK YOU to Pam Buttner.