Swimming with the Sharks

The sun wasn’t due to rise over the South African hills for hours and I had just woken up. I look at the clock: 4:30 AM. Ouch. I’m scrambling to put on some clothes and find my swim suit when there’s a tap on the door. “Miss Labbe, your transportation has arrived.” I gathered the rest of my stuff and stumbled down the stairs in a half awake stupor. It was too early to be excited, even if it was for great white shark diving.

A large white van was sitting in my hostel’s drive way. Emblazoned on the side is a shark saying, “Send more tourists. The last ones tasted so good.” A mild wave of panic set in but was quickly stifled with a yawn. I climbed into my seat and fell asleep. Suddenly I hear the doors rip open. It was daylight and we were at the beach. We walk into a glassed in patio overlooking the Cape of Good Hope and sit down to small tables covered in muffins, fresh jam, sausages, and mimosas. Now this is what I was talking about.

Over breakfast we talked about what we were about to do and how to put on our gear, etc. Just minutes later, we climbed aboard the Predator II and myself and about 15 others were on our way to the infamous Shark Alley. Shark Alley is situated between the southern tip of Africa and Seal Island (one of the largest seal colonies in the world). The combination gives the perfect feeding and breeding grounds for great whites and Shark Alley is tauted as the only place in the world to have great whites year round.

Our guide, Brian McFarlane, got on our boat and set course, dragging chum behind us to attract the sharks. When we finally arrived, there were several boats in the area. “They took our bloody spot! They always take my bloody spot. You’ll see though. You could go on their tours, but you watch. In an hours time they’ll have no sharks and we’ll have them all. They always follow me hoping to steal my sharks, but they can’t. I’m too good.” I rolled my eyes at the machismo and figured, “They’re sharks. How can one man control them all.” Then I see a book on the table. National Geographic’s book on sharks, and there in black in white, “Great White sharks with Brian McFarlane, the only man to ride a great white by its fins.” WOAH. I picked a good guy. Maybe he is as good as he said.

And sure enough, within an hour, sharks were circling our boat and none were around the other boats. Brian said it was time and the first group got in wet suits and jumped into a cage on the side of the boat. A wooden seal shape was thrown into the waters to make the sharks think a seal was floating around the boat. It wasn’t two minutes later when a shark dove out of the water and ripped the wooden seal off its line, much to my amazement and the horror of those in the cage.


“Don’t you take my seal you dummy. Thats my favorite one!,” yelled Brian. He pulled up the divers and drove the boat in pursuit of the shark and chased it down until it spit up the seal. Brian collected the seal and said we could keep diving now.

Next batch went into the cage and came out. And then finally, it was my turn. I pull on my wet suit and jump into the icy Atlantic. It was freezing. Bobbing in the ocean, we strained to see any sign of a shark. Nothing. Just my luck. Brian was telling us to come out of the water until he got some sharks just when he spotted a baby great white in the distance. Back into the cage we went as Brian tried to lure the unsure young one. Repeatedly he sent a tuna head to the shark and drew it into the cage. Little by little the shark was coming, and Brian left the chum by my face. Gross… but if it meant I could see sharks… BAM! I get thrown against the back of the boat, cage bent inward to my face, and I’m staring down into the belly of a great white shark. A large male was circling beneath the boat out of site and came up to the cage to get the chum that was sitting by my face. As Brian wrestled with the shark to get it to release the chum and get off the top of the cage, the other 4 with me were screaming. Finally the shark returned to the sea and they undid the cage to let us out so they could fix the cage. We get out and an assistant asks, “So do you need a new wet suit.”


They let me back into the cage a few times, but nothing nearly exciting happened. At the end of the trip Brian told me I was a lucky charm. They spotted 29 different sharks that day. A record for that month. Brian said the male sharks all thought i was beautiful and wanted to mate with me, so he took my picture and said on bad days he was going to put it up on the side of the boat for good luck.

If you ever are in South Africa and want to go great white diving, here’s their website (http://www.sharkcagediving.net/brian-mcfarlane/index.html ).

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