On first deciding to come to Australia one of my main conditions was that I would get to go cage diving with GREAT WHITE SHARKS (Or if you are an Aussie, a ‘White Pointer’ or if you are a scientist ‘Carcharodon Carcharis’).
On January 10th 2016 my dream came true.
I have always been fascinated with sharks and knew it would be a crime to visit Australia without seeing one for myself. Some people choose to throw themselves out of an aeroplane or white-water raft over a cliff edge, those people are wrong, cage diving is the ultimate adrenaline rush.
After two days of driving halfway across the continent we arrived in the city of Port Lincoln, otherwise known as ‘The Seafood Capital of Australia’.
Port Lincoln is, surprisingly, the only place you can cage dive with Great Whites in Australia. Sharks inhabit most of the waters surrounding Australia but they are not easily tracked or spotted in any one place, most preferring to stay away from the shoreline and any encounters with humans.
The reason sharks are notorious in the waters of South Australia and specifically Port Lincoln, is due to Neptune Island. This giant rock 50 miles from the shoreline is home to over 50,000 fur seals (now its making sense isn’t it).
History geeks assemble – following Captain James Cooks discovery of the East and South Coast of Oz he named each small island individually as he sailed on through. The story goes that he named Neptune Island just so, as it was too off course and small to bother exploring and he left that island to King Neptune of the Sea. Probably a good shout considering the occupants.
We arrived at the pick up point at 12noon with the other crazy bunch of divers (including two fearless children under 12) and set off 50 miles out to sea.
The boat was angled next to Neptune Island and we yanked on our wet suits (to combat the ridiculous cold of the Southern Ocean). After attempting to get used to my lead weighted waistcoat in I went through the hole in the top of the cage.
We were inside the cage with 5 other people, all peeping out though the bars into the deep blue sea. The water was crystal clear and visibility range was up to 30 metres away. Having never used scuba diving equipment before,I found the experience disorientating and spent the first few minutes trying to ‘breathe like Darth Vader’ and not get confused with which blue wall was up.
The sharks cruised up to the cage from the blue abys and were inquisitive of us, circling and slithering away. Some of the sharks had slashes and wounds on their flanks from under water punch ups, which made them look even tougher.
They are beautiful, graceful and calm. When cruising along they looked relaxed, that was until they honed in on a lump of bait. It was like a switch was flicked and the sharks darted through the water with so much power and so many teeth.
We had 45 minutes in the cage and saw 6 sharks in total, one was an enormous 5 metres in length. I was informed by captain it was a successful day for shark spotting as with any wild animals there are never any guarantees.
Australia baffles me. I was shocked at the lack of safety briefing from staff whilst on the boat. The consensus is very much this, if you mess around you WILL fall off the boat and get mauled by a man-eating shark. Staff and passengers alike seen to very much respect this.
We did sign a death waver on boarding the boat but were assured noone had ever actually found themselves to be cage-less and in the sea. You are even encouraged to crack open the beers after your stint under the water. There are no railings and no safety nets, if you go overboard, you only have your dumb-self to blame.
HISTORY – The idea to dive in a steel cage and monitor sharks was born in South Australia by a man named Rodney Fox. Rodney was a champion spear fisher and was attacked by a Great White whilst competing back in 1962. The massive attack ,which led to over 500 stitches across his body only made him more determined and fascinated by the sharks. He created the cage as a tool to see if they really were the blood thirsty creatures people thought. He is still in the shark cage diving business now and is forever monitoring shark behaviour.
Another fact for you, Rodney Fox was contacted by Steven Spielberg to assist him in filming live footage at Neptune Island for Jaws the film and one of the metal cages is still chilling out on the island now.
I digress, seeing sharks in their natural habitat was surreal. No matter how many times I saw an ominous figure glide under the boat they never failed to amaze me. Our day ended with all of the patrons sufficiently well shark-spotted, a little sun-kissed and in complete awe.
As the sun started to set and the water turned from blue to black, I felt like it could be a scene from Jaws.
Cage diving with Great White Sharks was was an experience I will never forget and one I would recommend to anyone travelling Australia, anyone who might be feeling a bit brave.