From the very beginning of our trip planning, shark cage diving in ‘shark alley’ was on Mark’s must-do list. As anyone whose been to a beach with him knows, he’s never the farthest person from shore — let’s just say he doesn’t like the idea of sharks. I’m not entirely sure whether this was his ‘face your fears’ moment, but I thought it sounded fun and decided to go along for the ride.
For anyone who hasn’t seen shark week, ‘shark alley’ is the narrow channel between an island full of birds (including penguins) and an island full of seals. This abundance of food attracts the densest great white shark population known to man. It’s where national geographic comes to shoot.
Our boat was equipped with a steel cage that held 8 people at a time. Marine Dynamics, the company we went with, didn’t feed the sharks but it did attract them with fish oils and a baby seal wooden decoy. Within 15 minutes we saw our first of perhaps 8 sharks.
Watching the great whites from the deck of the boat was exciting but seeing them from the water’s surface was a completely different experience. We saw a few sharks catapult out of the water in attempts to snag the wooden seal decoy. From our vantage point we could appreciate just how agile and powerful these creatures are — they thrust their bodies clear out of the water and landed face first, jaws clenched, on the decoy with frightening precision.
In contrast to the sharks’ awareness of its surroundings, we were lost in the water. From the surface we couldn’t see sharks that were submerged right in front of us. We were completely reliant on those on deck to tell us when one was approaching. They’d yell ‘down right’, ‘down left’, ‘down center’ at which point we’d dive down and try to get a glimpse of the shark under water. Somehow the crew was able to coax the sharks to swim within feet of the cage. When we timed our dive correctly and were lucky enough to be looking in the right direction, we were captivated by the large eyed sharks that effortlessly glided by. The experience was thrilling but not in the anxiety ridden way I expected. I was thrilled that we got to see sharks up close in their natural environment and walked away with a new found appreciation for this predator of the seas.