The first time you go shark diving, the thought of leaping out of the boat and into the water amongst a throng of 3m to 4m blacktip sharks whilst ‘hoping’ to see some tiger sharks strikes you as lunacy….
Shark diving is an exhilarating experience.
The first time I dived off the coast of South Africa at Aliwal Shoal, I was nervous.
I had dived off the coast of Kenya where it had been fairly tranquil, waves were moderate and we hadn't seen any sharks.
Now I had come to Aliwal shoal where you launch for the trip out to the dive site from the Umkomasi river at Umkomaas, through the surf which seemed wild, in a semi-rigid boat with two 85Hp Yamaha engines and the skipper weaving in amongst the rollers waiting for a break in the wave pattern to make a run for the open sea behind the breakers.
When you make the run you're told 'feet in the footstraps, backs straight, face forward and hold on tight!'
The other divers were talking before the dive briefing about how they hoped they would see sharks, while I quietly thought – ‘quite happy not to thank you!’
I don’t remember the first time I saw a shark there, but one thing I do remember was how one second they were there and the next you had no idea where it had gone……
They seem to often appear at the end of the dive as you are hanging in the blue in the last few meters ascending to your safety stop.
After a few years of diving, and gaining a greater understanding of sharks, I have come to realise sharks do not have this over-riding desire to snack on humans, in fact they seem to have little or no desire to try us out at all.
Having said that, I have to admit that a Great White still worries me, and I would not be too enthusiastic about getting into the same patch of water as one of them without a substantial cage around me.
Anyway back to the Shark diving.
We launched from the beach at Umkomaas in the usual Semi-rigid boat.
The crew had loaded a washing machine drum which has been packed with chopped fish into the boat.
They had brought along anchovy oil in bottles and a fish crate with spare fish pieces in it.
To begin with we headed out to sea as usual until we have reached the shoal about 5 or 6km offshore and having picked a ‘likely spot’ the engines are shut off.
We dont, initially, kit up as we have apparently a bit of a wait ahead of us.
The skipper scoops some sea water up into the fish crate throws some fish pieces into that water, adds some anchovy oil and pounds it into a ‘soup’ whilst the washing machine drum is dropped over the side to a depth of about ten meters.
Skipper starts to ladle the soup out into the sea behind the boat creating what they called a ‘slick’ trailing out behind the boat.
After a fairly long time – like an hour - we see the first swirls and fins.... They are here!
When some time has passed and the skipper believes we have attracted enough sharks, the dive master jumps into the water with a snorkel to have a look and see how many are there.
We get the signal and about 8 of us roll off the side and descend – quickly! – to about ten metres.
There are a lot of sharks down there.
It is important to get your buoyancy right when shark diving, I found it a little difficult in amongst the swirling vortex of sharks to keep at a level without a steady reference point – then worked out I should keep an eye on the drum...... sounds basic but strangely enough I wasn’t thinking about that.....
It was fascinating watching the sharks -
many with scars and gashes in their bodies, a couple of times I saw a shark do a strange shudder which I gathered later was a signal of aggression (when I saw it I was fairly sure that was what it was anyway).
About half way into the dive a lone Tiger shark came in to have a look, after cruising in and around for a few minutes it moved off.
The time flew by and in what seemed like no time at all we had been down for over an hour in amongst the sharks. It was time to ascend - no safety stop. I felt quite vulnerable on the surface knowing there were a lot of sharks down there, with my legs hanging down....
Shark diving is a great experience and I can't wait to do it again.
I have added a few extra images from shark diving below - enjoy!
If you enjoyed shark diving click here to have a look at Aliwal shoal
If you are interested in Marine conservation issues, click here