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Sharks, Spielberg and Gansbaai

Written by  yvette vieira fts antoinette van den dikkenberg

It was one of the most memorable moments of an unforgettable trip.

One of my main desires when visiting South Africa was to dive in the cold waters of the Indian sea, in this particular case Gansbaai, to enjoy the famous and ill-famed white sharks. Ever since I was young, these ocean predators have had a great fascination for me, especially after seeing Steven Spielberg's famous film "Shark" (the first let’s be clear and the best of a saga that deteriorated in quality as were produce more films) and that catapulted not only the director to international fame but also this magnificent specimen to an unwanted stardom that helped contribute to the decline of the species in the oceans. It is true! The white sharks unfortunately nicknamed "man eaters" after all are not and although there have been few reported attacks of this species on humans over the centuries, there is this widespread belief of their alleged danger that arose because of film.

To demystify this misconception about this predator of the oceans every year are recorded shark’s attacks worldwide, only in 2017 in total were recorded 88 unprovoked attacks, i.e. incidents that occurred in the natural habitat of these fish without any kind of human provocation, with 53 occurring in the US, 14 in Australia of which two were fatal and only two in South Africa, according to the annual report of the international archive of shark attacks.

The fact is that despite the numbers, according to this site, "the total number of unprovoked shark strikes worldwide is notably low considering the billions of people participating in aquatic recreation every year. For decades, fatality rates around the world have continued to decline reflecting advances in beach safety, medical treatment and public awareness. This underscores the importance of global efforts to improve ocean rescue, health care, and shark education. However, the sad truth is that the world's shark populations are actually declining or exist at very low levels as a result of over-fishing and habitat loss. On average, there are only six fatalities that are attributable to unprovoked shark attacks around the world each year. In contrast, about 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year by fishing. There is an urgent need to conserve these animals and their associated habitats to ensure their long-term sustainability. "
After all this data and statistics, let's go to what matters, my adventure with the white shark that starts 200 kilometers from Cape Town, on Gansbaai beach better known as "the capital of the white shark."

 

This small fishing village, due to the high number of marine specimens that can be found in its waters, is a protected marine area and due much to the high concentration of white sharks in this underwater ecosystem. In one of the many scientific studies being carried out in this area, one of them aims to clarify some of the habits of this species and the way they reproduce that remains a mystery, so much so that the National Geographic offers 1 million dollars for anyone who can shoot or film a couple of white shark in full breeding season, because there are no images or footage of that specific moment and so extremely intimate.
Returning to my account, my trip began at seven o'clock in the morning at the headquarters of "shark diving. Co ", with a robust breakfast and a brief briefing on the trip, where it was described the correct way to move in the boat and the care to have inside the cage. After a half-hour trip on the Megalon II along the coast of Gansbaai, we stopped at what appeared to be the appropriate spot for sighting these magnificent specimens, and the bait was thrown into the sea, a nauseating gimmick consisting of several fish remains, but for sharks it was a difficult snack to resist.

   

The cage was already set in the water, and after entering this barren, semi-submerged space with five more adventure companions almost all European and much younger, I could not help but notice the beautiful blue topaz of these cold Indian waters, about 12 degrees Celsius, in the South African winter. But what surprised me most was not the temperature of the water, but the taste much less salty than that of the Atlantic Ocean that bathes the Portuguese coast.

After a while it seemed to me that it was endless, and I was already getting impatient, a flap appeared on the surface of the water, believe me if you like, I started to song for myself that part of the movie soundtrack, tum-tum- tum turuuuuuummm and when I dove the shark walked right in front of me and I really wanted to touch it, but I could not, because it is expressly forbidden, with the right to leave the cage, the purpose is to disturb as little as possible this magnificent animal and also avoiding the risk of losing your fingers, or your hand, or your arm, I leave the potential bloody scenario to your imagination.
It was just like the thousands of documentaries I've watched over my life about sharks, that moment when one of the greatest predator of the seas watches us with those bleak eyes as it passes through, as if it were in slow motion. It was superb! I was afraid? Well, honestly no. It seems like a contradiction, or you may think I am arrogant, but truth be told I did not feel any kind of fear, first, I was inside a cage, then the crew and the captain were, in my opinion, very professional and competent and besides, how could I be frightened, when in front of me was one of the most beautiful examples of the ocean? It was simply unforgettable! Each time one of the crew pulled the tuna head to the surface and the shark tried to bite it was one of those Kodak moments to remember later!

  

Curiously, our shark was after all a female named Scarlett and one of the specimens of the scientific study I have mentioned, according to the captain of "Megaledon II" she likes to travel to Australia and then returns to Gansbaai, in a kind of "walkabout”, an oceanic wandering that scientists still cannot explain and that extends to the remaining specimens of white shark, those traverses of the various oceans of our planet in solitary and without apparent purpose.
In the end, what puzzled me the most frankly was when I knew the length of Scarlett, about 3 meters long, but in the water while I was watching her she looked much smaller and I only had a notion of its wingspan after seeing the images and nothing made me happier. After all, I was face to face with one of the biggest predators in the ocean and still one of the most mysterious marine beings on our planet. Case to say WOW!!!!

* About "shark diving.co", I chose this company after having done several searches, although there are no specific comments on TripAdvisor. I really enjoyed the service provided, the professionalism and good disposition of the staff and for that I strongly recommend it.

Now, you have to take care of several aspects, one of them is that when you book a trip for a day, you have to schedule more than one date, because everything will depend on the weather, especially in the winter, so I was lucky, you have to book two potential dates, only in my second attempt I made the trip. If you have the days all scheduled on your trip to South Africa you have to manage the time well.
The second factor to take into account is that as I traveled to another continent the way to contact the company, it was through WhatsApp, or Facebook's Messenger, otherwise international calls are very expensive, so do not forget to have active multiple apps.

Finally, it is not necessary to take a diving course to see sharks, only diving when we receive a signal from the captain of the boat, since the cage has a rod where we lean we never touch the bottom of the structure. The balance of the boat and the potential nausea that comes from it is combated with the various sweets and snacks placed at our disposal. Eat, do not hesitate. Now, wearing and undressing the diving suit is an authentic odyssey, and on such a small boat is even more so. For boys it's no problem, but girls I advise wearing a lycra shorts already, a top or a bikini are much easier to change when you are swinging from side to side and there is no privacy. It is literally all in a bunch and faith in God. And do not forget to bring towels and warm clothes to change. Happy adventure.
https://www.sharkdiving.co/cage-dive/3-shark-cage-diving.html

* For those who know more about the statistics of shark attacks, I also leave the link:
www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/yearly-worldwide-summary/

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