Where to go Shark Cage Diving Globally?
Posted on Tuesday, 4 July 2017
So you want to go and cage dive with your most favorite animal in the world? What with a number of locations around the globe to cage dive and photograph the Great White, where does one start?
To see a great white shark on a scuba dive is incredibly rare, and even more unlikely while snorkeling, namely as the great white shark habitat is not typically in tropical waters and reef ecosystems where these activities occur.
Only five locations in the world have the capacity to report annual great white shark sightings with enough consistency to have well-established shark cage diving operations.
While each location differs in weather, operations, seasonality, and sightings, every location leaves visitors in awe of the gracefulness and majesty of the ocean’s apex predator.
Neptune Islands, Australia
Rodney Fox is the father of great white shark cage diving. A champion spear fisherman, Fox was in the middle of a competition when he survived one of the most severe great white shark attacks ever recorded. After his attack, Rodney dedicated his life to learning more about these incredible animals, so he created the first ever shark cage. Nearly 47 years later, great white shark cage diving continues at the Neptune Islands in southern Australia.
The season runs for a brief period in the summer, from December-February, and then resumes again for a longer winter season from May-November. Australian waters have long been known for their high concentration of great white sharks. A range of sizes can be spotted at the island; male sharks are present all year round, with female’s only around in the autumn and winter months.
Although the diving site is one of the farther commutes, lasting about 3-4 hours from land, the remote location yields much higher visibility at around 10-20m. With only two operators in the area, guests can choose between day excursions or longer live-aboard cage diving trips.
What makes the Neptune Islands unique for great white shark cage diving? It is one of only two locations in the world that offer cage diving at depth, and the only location in the world to have an ocean floor cage, offering guests a unique perspective to observe the great white sharks in a different part of their habitat. The ocean floor cage requires a minimum of a PADI Open Water SCUBA certification.
The only other location in the world that can beat the Neptune Islands, and perhaps rivals dives sites around the world in visibility is Guadalupe Island, Mexico. Although the youngest of the shark cage diving locations at just over a decade, the great whites sharks in those waters have quickly become world famous.
The season runs from September-November, with some of the highest sighting frequency and best conditions in the world. With a range of 20-50m of visibility, Guadalupe Island is a photographer’s dream. However, with such fantastic viewing conditions comes a location caveat: the island is about a 150miles from shore, so an expedition is a multiple day commitment and expense. Additionally, Guadalupe Island is the only other location in the world that offers shark cage diving at depth, for which a PADI Open Water certification is required.
Not only is the visibility legendary, but so are the sharks. Summer to autumn months yield groups of very active male sharks, with female white sharks beginning to arrive in September. With their arrival come the ‘Big Momma’s’ nearing November. This is the name affectionately given to the very large and dominant female great whites, measuring 5m+ long!
While the physical and population sizes in Australia and Mexico are some of the best in the world for great white sharks, they are not known for specific shark behavior. In other words, the cage divers experience incredible shark interactions around the boat, but rarely do they observe any predatory behaviors.
Farallon Islands, California, USA
The last location to view the Pacific population of great white sharks is the Farallon Islands off the San Francisco coast in the United States. The Farallon Islands are home to one of several seal island colonies. Consequently, they are also known as one of only four breaching locations in the world. However, while the sharks arrive along the California coast in the middle of the summer and hunt until around January, cage diving expeditions are generally only offered in peak season from about September-November. This is because of a much lower predation compared to Seal Island, South Africa. For example, during the peak season, Seal Island, South Africa might see more predations in one day than the Farallon Island operators see in a whole season. This coupled with no chumming and such close proximity to a major metropolitan area reducing underwater visibility makes this location the least desirable of all the locations to visit.
The sharks themselves are one of the largest adult great white shark populations in the world and are a separate population to those found in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. A new study also recently declared certain areas along the Mexican-American coastline to be great white shark nursery grounds. No further research has yet been done regarding the implication of this discovery, but it could be a reason for certain behavioral differences (decreased predation rates) and for the presence of such large females in this area.
Stewart Island, New Zealand
The operators run day trips out of Bluff, New Zealand to Stewart Island. They all offer the experience to dive in a surface cage, and most operators allow guests to breathe air underwater with no SCUBA experience required. However, some operators charge an additional fee for an introduction to underwater breathing for those without a SCUBA certification. Some operators offer a discounted rate to guests who wish to observe the great white sharks from the boat, without entering the cage.
The season runs from December through June. According to the local Department of Conservation, the population of great white sharks near Stewart Island is only about 100 individuals. As such, in the event of a trip with no shark sightings, most companies will offer re-bookings or vouchers valid for several months to 2 years as compensation. However, over twenty years of operating experience in waters known for being a part of a great white shark migration route promises a truly unforgettable experience with these apex predators.
The last location for great white shark cage diving, of course, is South Africa. A total of 14 operators run out of three bays around the country: Mossel Bay, Gansbaai, and of course False Bay. All three locations offer surface cage diving with no prior experience necessary, although underwater visibility varies greatly depending on the bay and the season. False Bay and Gansbaai can get up to10metre visibility, while Mossel Bay is typically in the 5-10m range.
The smallest of the three locations, Mossel Bay boasts the shortest commute of about 10 minutes to the Island, depending on the season. Trips run all year round and great white sharks ranging from 2-5.metre can be spotted. Predation and breaching activity is possible, but most guests will experience surface activity and excellent cage diving.
Gansbaai is the Great white shark capital of the world with 9 operators taking visitors to cage dive each day. Permits issued in this area allow Gansbaai shark cage diving diving expeditions to run year round. The success rate is excellent at 95% . The only downside perhaps is the experience is commercial with large groups of visitors being catered for.
Last but certainly not the least is Seal Island in False Bay. Although any interaction with a great white shark is special, regardless of the time or place, False Bay has a unique combination of factors that make it unlike any other location in the world. To start, Seal Island is home to one of the largest colony of Cape Fur seals in the world at around 65,000 individuals, second only to the colony in Kleinzee, Namibia.
Operating out of Simon’s Town, the island is only a 25 minute ride away with frequent stops to observe dolphins, whales, or other marine life activity.
Shark cage diving Cape Town season typically runs from February to mid-September. In the first several months, the great white sharks are typically scavenging on the sick and dead seal pups around Seal Island. The sharks are interested in coming up to the boat and this makes for excellent Great White Shark cage diving. They are not normally in full hunting mode and scavenging is the most common feeding event seen. You’re less likely to see the breaching behaviour at the start of the season, but a close up sighting of a Great White will not leave you disappointed.
From mid-May to mid-June natural predation events (sharks hunting seals) will not have peaked yet, but there is still some chance to see a breach. An increasing number of sharks will frequent Seal Island so sightings around the boat and cage diving can be excellent.
As mid-June approaches, historically the frequency of natural predation events increases and the chance to see a breach is high. The number of sharks sighted around the boat will increase, making mid-June to mid-July a great time to see all round behaviour (natural predation, breaching and sharks around the boat for close up viewing and cage diving).
Afternoon trips from mid-May to early August normally produce good shark activity around the boat and there is a good chance of seeing a breach towards the end of each trip.
From mid-July to mid/end of August the natural predation activity reaches its peak and we can see multiple events in the mornings. Shark activity around the boat is not as high during this period as the sharks are in full hunting mode, but the cage diving is certainly still worthwhile.
In the early 2000s, the Discovery Channel released Air Jaws, a film about the great white shark behavior around Seal Island in South Africa. Led by world-renowned photographer and owner of Apex Shark Expeditions, Chris Fallows, the team documented and produced footage of great white sharks leaping out of the water in full-body breaches when hunting the seals. Nowhere else in the world do great white sharks perform these predatory acrobatics with such frequency. Predations can number anywhere from a handful to over 40 just in one day. While the famous breaches only occur in the morning, we also offer afternoon charters where the activity changes from predation action to more activity around the boat. The sharks are both male and female and exhibit a range of sizes from a little over 1m to about 5m long. This mixture of males and females and adults and juveniles makes each day out on the water an entirely new experience. Throw in the dolphins, whales, and seabird populations of False Bay and you create a marine ecosystem with an incredible amount of activity unlike anywhere else in the world.
Great white shark cage diving is known as a bit of an adrenaline activity. Many tourists venture out with the expectation to see Jaws, a monster great white shark acting menacing and aggressive as soon as there is chum in the water. In reality, however, the experience could not be more different. While watching predations in action is thrilling, the cage diving experience shows tourists a whole new side to the great white shark. They see an animal that can be bold, curious, or even shy. Sharks then become relatable and understandable; observing their natural behaviors debunks the myths of sharks as mindless killing machines and turns visitors from passive ocean users into marine advocates and that, in its simplest form, is the universal goal of most shark cage diving operators: to share our love for sharks and help you fall in love with them too.
Wherever you decide to go, the majesty of seeing a great white shark will not disappoint!