Great White Sharks Attacking Cage from Artifact Productions on Vimeo.
Just try to imagine a more extreme experience than going eyeball-to-eyeball with a great white shark. The idea sounds suicidal. But you can get a pulse-pounding glimpse of the predators dramatized and demonized by the Stephen Spielberg disaster movie, Jaws, without being devoured.
Welcome to the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of great white shark cage-diving. To win the privilege of getting right in a great white’s face, all you need is a diving licence, mighty nerve and a thirst to go outside your comfort zone. Tempted to try? Here are three of the world’s top great white diving hotspots.
False Bay (Valsbaai), South Africa: The world’s best-known great white shark hotspot, False Bay (Valsbaai), lies off the shores of South Africa. To get to False Bay, head for the country’s second-most populous city, Cape Town. Then shuttle 40 minutes to seaside Simon’s Town. From there, first thing, you are ferried to False Bay – so-called because once it made sailors think they had rounded the African continent’s southernmost tip.
Now, False Bay is less famous for deceit than its stunning great whites that ply the ocean like jumbo jets. Divers itching to see them enter the steel False Bay shark-diving cage that floats just under the surface, two at a time.
A great white face-off then lasts just some 20 minutes. But that sliver of time may be the most intense of your life because the great white is an inquisitive animal. Watch it hypnotically circle your cage, more keen to ID than eat you, experts say.
Isla Guadalupe, Mexico: An alternative eye-popping great white encounter can be had at Isla Guadalupe: the volcanic island 160 miles off the coast of Baja, California. Sharks prowling Guadalupe’s biosphere reserve include an 1800-pounder called Shredder.
The sparkling waters of Shredder’s domain offer over 100 feet of visibility. That means you are near guaranteed pin-sharp footage of Shredder the cable-cruncher or his friends looping your cage – if you can control the adrenaline, keep your hand still as the camera rolls.
Neptune Islands, Australia: The third place to witness great whites is Australia’s Neptune Islands, which lie off the south of the country, 70 kilometres from picturesque Port Lincoln. The islands’ shear edges into cool, deep water give great whites the temperature and depth they need.
Meantime, calving seal colonies present easy prey. Shark paradise.
Still, wherever you go in search of the apex predator, you never know if one will show. A Neptune Islands adventure firm, Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions – founded by a great white attack-survivor and Jaws film photographer – admits that. But the company also stresses its commitment to ensuring you see more than a grey flash.
With luck, you will get the full, exhilarating “tickle down your spine”, as the amazing, prehistoric, “definitely misunderstood” fish circles. The word “misunderstood” crops up often in relation to great whites. Although not weak, great whites pose less of a threat than their rap suggests – as the facts show.
Seven stunning facts about great white sharks:
1. Great whites can sense one drop of blood in 25 gallons (100 liters) of water and detect tiny amounts of blood in the water up to 3 miles
(5 kilometers) away.
2. Of the 100-plus yearly worldwide shark attacks on people, great whites are implicated in up to half. But few great white attacks are fatal.
3. Typically, great whites – naturally curious animals – only “sample-bite” then release their human victims in a case of catch-and-release – reassuring kinda sorta.
4. Great whites are partial to eating seals whole. When great whites attack, as if they were not scary enough, their eyes roll back in their heads for protection. At least their heads do not spin too.
5. When only enough food for one is available, great white sharks skip fighting over it. Instead, they engage in their own bizarre adrenaline
sport: a tail-slapping contest. The great white that delivers the most thwacks wins the meal.
6. Great white sharks are torpedo-shaped. Besides breaching explosively, in spurts they clock speeds of 25 miles per hour. Quite a clip, especially when you consider that people struggle to swim faster than 1 mile per hour.
7. Propelled by their tails, great whites get around, operating along the coasts of all continents except Antarctica. So you never know when you will meet one.