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Experiencing the White Shark Projects (WSP) in Gansbaai, South Africa ranks in the top 5 of my all-time favorite travel memories and for so many great reasons. It is one of the few places in the world where you have the unique opportunity to be in the waters just inches from Great White Sharks in a safe and professional environment.
The White Shark Projects is dedicated to the conservation of sharks and allows a small group of people to cage dive/swim with them daily.
I was staying in nearby Hermanus and decided to do this and it took a lot of courage but I later felt my fears were unnecessary as I always felt safe and felt like a someone very special.
These 3-4 hour excursions allow you to get up close and personal with these ocean predators in THEIR environment and don't be surprised if your heart races a lot! And before you get into the water the team from WSP will share their knowledge about Great White Sharks to all onboard.
The adventure starts at the Great White Shark Lodge in Kleinbaai for a full continental breakfast and learn about the itinerary, equipment, etc for the day before walking to WSP's custom built 36 foot dive catamaran named "Shark Team".
There is a 20 passenger capacity and 20+ crew with some of the "crew" being oceanographers, marine biologists and students. All dive and safety equipment is included and there is both first aid and a life raft onboard as well as toilet facilities.
On board there will also be a paramedic, divemaster and specialists that will explain shark anatomy and behaviour. I also learned how WSP interacts with sharks in their natural habitat.
Sharks are chummed but never fed and once they surround the boat it is time to enter the dive cage which holds 4 – 5 people and those brave enough to get inside get to spend about 20 minutes face to face with the sharks. All wetsuits and equipment are provided.
There is no actual "diving" but you are in the water inside a cage and with your snorkelmask, you can pull yourself underwater and view the sharks from below eye level. Sharks can swim within 12 inches of your face.
For those that don't want to get into the water (and about half of the people onboard declined to do so), they can go topside and view the shark activity which might include breaching.
While onboard, I enjoyed a great complimentary lunch while watching the sharks all around the boat in clear, (but cold water). Following time in the water and while enroute back to the marina, snacks and drinks are available and once back at the Lodge, a certificate is awarded to all divers and video/photos of the trip are made available for sale.
You will want to bring sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, jacket, swimming suit and towel. Don't forget a camera. And any motion sickness pills if you are prone to seasickness because there may be choppy waters
WSP is a global research organization founded in 1989 and dedicated to the study and conservation of sharks.
You can expect to see sharks, penguins (from nearby Dyer Island), a wide variety of marine bird life and possiby Cape Fur Seals from Geyser Island. Because of these islands and marine life, "Shark Alley" forms a vast feeding ground for Great White Sharks.
NOTE: Great White Sharks have been protected since 1991 and South Africa was the first country in the world to do so. The more money that goes into shark tourism, the more people realize the value of living sharks.
WSP is the most successful shark dive organization in the world and interacts with more Great White Sharks than anyone else in the world.
If you are ever in the area, this is one experience not to be missed!
Updated Apr 16, 2013
Address: 16 Geelbek St, Gansbaai 7220, South Africa
Phone: +27 28 312 3347
This is an experience that you just HAVE to do! Despite what you may think - it is NOT at all scary. Great white sharks are beautiful creatures!You will see many operators who offer shark cage diving if you're around Gansbaai (pronounced Huns-by), Hermanus or Cape Town. Gansbaai is the best place to go shark diving - in fact most tour operators will also offer pick up from your hotel in Cape Town or Hermanus and drive you to (and from) Gansbaai.
We chose to go with the Shark Lady because they had a 2 for 1 offer so after checking out their website - we decided to give it a try .... and it was well worth it!
They take a maximum of 18 people on the boat with 3-4 people at a time together in the cage. You don't need any diving experience, since they use a breath holding technique. This means that you will be in the cage with your head outside the water, the crew will be on the look out for the sharks and then shout out 'shark on your left' at which point you take a deep breath, go under water and look left. (You will not see the shark if you're in the water - so you need them to guide you as to where to look!)
Before going out to sea, you will be given a good brief as to what you can do, what you shouldn't do, such as not stick your hand out of the cage, etc :) so it is all very safe and you are right near the boat so they can assist you if you start to panic or want to get out or something.
We were quite lucky as we had a beautiful, clear sunny day and we saw about 10 different sharks in total. We also had the opportunity to go down into the cage twice (about 15mins each time). But for anyone who can't sum up the courage to go into the cage, you can still enjoy it seeing them from the safety of the boat - although you pay the same price anyway.
A light breakfast is served on shore before you leave. Drinks and snacks are also served on the boat, together with a warm towel. Wet suits and goggles are also given to those who wish to go in the cage.
The day is also filmed by a videographer who will film all the people going into the cage, including them inside the cage....and the sharks passing by. (It's an underwater camera too). When you get back to shore, everyone gathers back at the shop where hot soup, snacks and tea/coffee is served while you watch the film of the day together (which is about 20mins long). You can then decide if you wish to buy a copy which cost about R200.
Overall it was an amazing experience which I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend. The crew were fantastic and the sensation was something you cannot describe. The first words I said when I got out of the cage were 'I want to go again!' :)
One thing I do recommend though - if you are prone to get sea sick - definitely take some sea sickness pills before you go. I'm not usually one to get sea sick and it was a calm day, but I still felt a bit nauseus by the end of the day! It is an ocean after all ....so be prepared so as not to ruin your day out!
Updated Jun 3, 2011
Address: Kleinbaai Harbour, Gansbaai
Phone: +27(0)28 313 2306
This is one of the most amazing things to do. Most people are really scared of sharks, but they are carefull predators, you shouldn't let the stories scare you. There is nothing more amazing than watching a 4 meter long white shark slowely swimming past your cage, hardly even paying attention to you. If you get the chance, do it!
There are a lot of companies doing this in Gansbaai and False Bay, all have been appoved by the government, so no worries about that.
Updated Dec 29, 2010
Address: Gansbaai and False Bay
We booked with White Shark Ecoventures there are a number of operators in the area we had just read good things about this firm.
We were staying in Hermanus so drove ourselves there, they will collect you if you are staying in Cape Town (it would be a really long day!). Their location can be tricky to spot as it is upstairs above a bank but there is loads of parking around the back by a small supermarket.
We also chose to drive down to the harbour and follow the bus down and made our own way back for lunch. If you have a car I would do that as we went back for lunch straight away and so got served first which was great as we were starving!
Do take your own towel otherwise there is a charge to rent them and wear your swimming costume under your clothes there are no private changing facilities on board apart from a small toilet.
It was explained to us that they do not give you long the first few times you are in the cage as they have no idea how many sharks they will attract or how long they will stay (tricky things these wild animals, don't read contracts...) so they try and make sure that everyone gets at least one encounter.
We could go in as many times as we liked and saw 3 sharks very close every time and for a good length of time each time which was great as we were there at the end of the best time of year so we were really pleased.
They do video your trip but we didn't buy the video simply because I know from experience that we would watch it once and never again but I did get some great photos (the top of the boat looking down over the cage is the best place).
The crew we had very very knowledgeable and we really enjoyed it. My husband was not that excited about going it was really my thing and he did not want to go in the cage but he said afterwards it was one of the highlights of our trip and how glad he was he went even though he stayed dry and out of the cage :-)
If you get the chance go, even if you have no intention of getting in the cage.
Written Aug 13, 2010
Want to swim with the real BIG fish.... ? :-) Well here you have the chance to dive with the Great White Shark. This is a unique marine reserve area, and situated within the area are two islands. Dyer Island, home to about 20 000 African Jackass penguins and Geyser rock, a seal colony hosting more than 60 000 Cape Fur seals, makes it THE shark paradise in Southern Africa. You view the sharks either from boats or as I did from the cages... I real MUST....
Written Oct 12, 2004
Phone: +27 28 384 27 87