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DIVING AND SWIMMING WITH SHARKS

Diving with sharks may not be everyone’s idea of fun but for those up for the challenge South Africa offers some of the most rewarding opportunities anywhere. At some sites divers are lowered into the water in large cages but at others expert guides lead “free diving’ groups in awe-inspiring dives or swims amongst various different species of sharks.

The best free diving sites for sharks are on the south coast of KwaZulu Natal where there are well known populations of ragged tooth and tiger sharks.  The ragged tooth sharks congregate in mid to late winter (July-October) to breed in the relatively shallow waters around the Aliwal Shoal and the Protea Banks. Large numbers of the sharks are regularly sighted and although they reach over three and a half metres in length they are considered by expert divers to be harmless. The dives are usually no deeper than about 20 metres although all participants must have recognized diving training qualifications.

All divers are given full safety briefings before entering the water from the boats.

The even larger tiger sharks, they grow to over five metres, congregate along the same coast usually from December to June. A few specialist operators guide dives alongside these animals although on calm days these graceful predators are easily viewed from the surface with a mask and snorkel.  Although these sharks are considered dangerous to humans the specialist operators leading dives with these sharks have conducted hundreds of excursions.

One of the world’s best known shark diving destinations is Gansbaai (Goose Bay) near Cape Town.  This is where significant numbers of White sharks (formerly called the Great White Shark) congregate and are easily viewed from the viewing boats, or from cages lowered into the water.

Large – they grow to over six metres – White sharks are regularly spotted in Gansbaai and scientists believe that the abundance of particularly large animals is due to the large prey population of Cape fur seals that live on the nearby Dyer Island.

Sharks can be seen in the bay all year round but the population is not resident and one female which was being monitored via a satellite tracking device was recorded swimming all way to Australia.

In 1991 South Africa became the first country to legally protect White sharks from fishing.

There are many shark diving operators based in Cape Town, Gansbaai and elsewhere along the coast. Most excursions take four to five hours with two to three hours on the water but some are longer.

Participants are provided with all the necessary equipment and given safety briefings before departing on the viewing and diving boats. Some operators also offer picnic lunches on the way back to shore.

On reaching an appropriate position and before lowering the cages crew members spread chum (animal or fish blood and offal) into the water to attract the sharks.

Some sharks surface right next to boats providing both thrilling and frightening viewing.

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