We have come to Gansbaai, South Africa, with Dyer Island
on the horizon - home to one of the world's densest populations
of Great White Sharks. The Man-eating Shark. Carcharodon
And we're strapping on wetsuits. Sam is right. This is
The Great White Shark, one of the greatest predators alive,
is considered an endangered animal. Humans have hunted them
to "vulnerable" levels. Even here at Dyer Island,
sightings of full grown sharks (up to 20 ft long and over
4000 lbs) are rare nowadays. The Great Whites' diet is carnivorous
and eating habits are legendary. If you believe in reincarnation,
it's probably best not to wish to come back as a sea lion.
shark speaks with its teeth. They don't have hands, so they
use their mouths for just about everything. They communicate
with eachother and settle territorial disputes by biting
eachother. As you can see in the photos, all of the sharks
look pretty beaten up. They live a rough and tumble life.
It is possible that many so-called attacks on humans were
simply "test bites", as the shark will chomp on
just about anything such as buoys, surfboards, flotsam,
and even humans, just to find out what it is. Problem is,
if a single shark bite can rip apart 30 lbs of meat, even
a small nibble could be a nightmare.
Tourism from cage diving is unquestionably more prosperous
and sustainable for local economies rather than outright
fishing for the sharks. As well, it raises awareness, though
admittedly most tours probably don't teach tourists much
about the sharks. Tourists come for the big teeth, not a
lesson in conservation. However, I think the dive operators
would be surprised of how many people are truly interested
in learning more about the sharks.
main concern of cage diving is that it encourages sharks
to approach humans by baiting them with chum (fish bits
and blood). This is a valid concern, but noone has so far
been able to determine if sharks now associate humans with
food, and if so, if it will result in more humans being
attacked. I couldn't find any statistics to support either
side. My opinion is that we simply don't know much about
Great White Sharks and this is the change that needs to
Overall, the instances of humans being attacked by a Great
White are very rare, and when it does occur, it is often
a case of mistaken identity (thinking a human is a seal)
or a test bite.
Responsible dive boat operators will try to draw the shark
away from the cage using the bait, but as you can see from
the video above, it is pretty difficult to judge where the
shark will move next. There aren't exactly "Responsible
Use of Chum" regulations for operators to follow.
Ironically, as the sharks circled the boat and attacked
the chum, it was hard not to pity them. Their brethren are
being choked to death in shark nets strung along beaches
around the world. Countless numbers of sharks die simply
because we fear them. Our sense of security demands bloodshed.
Other Great Whites are flopping around on the decks of fishing
boats. It might be illegal to fish for Great Whites in a
few countries, but if they just happen to get caught, they'll
be processed anyway and sold under the label of a unprotected
type of shark for a nice profit.
Cage diving may be controversial, but we couldn't resist.
After all, madness is in the eye of the beholder.
Underwater photo credit: C. Reed and Z. Wood