Posted on Tuesday, 21 April 2015
I find myself lowering tourists into a steel cage, attached to the side of our boat, letting them gather themselves for a few seconds before shouting instructions to pull themselves underwater to come face to face with a Great White shark for the very first time. As they go down for their close encounter I gently guide the shark passed the cage with the aid of a bait on a line close enough for the guest to see the deep blue of the animals eye and the beautiful white underside of this spectacular predator. For many of the guests, this moment is a once in a lifetime moment and a dream made into a reality. For me it is also the latter but also just another day at the office………..
Each year from February to September I find myself in this scenario. This is White shark season in False Bay and just like the sharks, which migrate here, each year, I do exactly the same! Seal Island, Cape Town has been made famous for its breaching sharks, cage diving and unique hunting behaviors found almost solely at this incredible location. As well as myself, our crew and of course the sharks, the other set of returnees are international visitors, tourists, photographers, researchers and film crews. For it is obvious that I am not the only one who has a passion for these animals as each year our trips are sell outs, often with many guests retuning again and again to see these majestic creatures up close.
When I meet most people who have never been shark diving before and I tell them what I do the reply most of the time is “you must be mad!” but the fact is I’m not an adrenaline junkie (in fact I’m terrified of heights and veer away from most of these types of activities) however, it became apparent to me early on that being around sharks is not scary and terrifying but very calming and for me, almost spiritual. Most of what people know about sharks they have read about in the media and the truth about these complex animals is very different and far more fascinating when you get to spend time around them.
Seal Island, Cape Town has been made famous for its breaching sharks, cage diving and unique hunting behaviors found almost solely at this incredible location.
Over the past few years myself and the rest of the Apex team have got to know these sharks very well and have became very fond of certain individuals. “Cuz”, “Deux Rossi”, “Shy Guy”, “Zamelek”, “Colossus” or the aptly named “Mr Frisky!”, when a shark swims past the boat we know them like you know your pet dog or cat. They all display individual characteristics just like us. They can have mood swings and can display a number of different behaviors. Most people will tell you sharks are unpredictable, this is only true for people that have never met one. They do have some tricks up their sleeves but even these can be identified from displaying complex and subtle body languages.
When you spend so much time around an animal that is so often perceived in a negative way by most, I see it as a duty to help stand up for them and give them the full credit which they deserve. The truth is that these sharks have much more to fear from us than we have of them and they behave in ways very similar to many animals on the planet that society cherishes and protects. It is all about perception and all these animals are doing is what they need to do in order to survive, they don’t kill for revenge or fun and they are by no means evil. I have been privileged to have an inside and more in depth knowledge than most about sharks so to help stand up for them is the least I could do given how much they have given me in my life. We need these types of animals on the planet to make it the fascinating place it is today. It seems that many people today have lost their sense of wonder and in my opinion the world would be a better place if everyone were to meet a shark at least once in a positive way.
The trips to Seal Island are simply incredible and to call them "once in a lifetime" is an understatement. Departing from Simons Town and running two trips per day means that the appetite for sharks is as strong today for people as it ever has been. Even though the trips are specifically for Great White sharks, we often see many species of marine life from literally thousands of Common Dolphin, many species of Whale as well as a vast array of seabirds. Many people board the trip with a certain apprehension and perception of an animal that they have never met. By the end of the trip we have changed that perception, given the guests an incredible day and they leave the boat never looking at sharks the same way again. I see that as my job being done.
So, after our guests surfaced from the cage after an exhilarating first encounter screaming for joy at coming face to face with an animal the they had been wanting to see all their life I turned to them and said “you can tick that one off your bucket list” to which they responded, “this is not going to be the only time I do this, I’m hooked!"
I look forward to meeting you one day on the Apex Shark Expeditions boat.
About the Author
Jimi is a qualified dive instructor. He was originally a guest with Apex back in 2006 and has since worked with sharks in various locations around the world. Jimi has a great passion for the marine life encountered at Seal Island and never tires of seeing guests’ excited reactions to the sharks.