The BEST Guide To Shark Cage Diving in Cape Town, South Africa

Shark cage diving: Dive with Shark Legend, Rob

The best time of year for shark cage diving in Cape Town

Deciding on the best time for you to go shark cage diving in Cape Town, South Africa, will depend on what types of sharks you are wanting to see. This will also depend on the various shark cage diving areas and the seasons in which each of these areas operates. For example, the last year and a half have seen the introduction of the Sevengill Broadnose Sharks into the False Bay cage diving area, as well as shark cage diving with the Bronze Whaler sharks. This has brought about an extension of the False Bay Shark Cage diving season, from what was only a 5 to 6-month season to become a full year season.

Diver in shark cage with a great white shark swimming past the cage

So let’s look at why it is now possible to cage dive from Simons Town, False Bay throughout the year. Firstly, it must be understood that the only permitted area for Shark Cage Diving in Simons Town, False Bay, is Seal Island. The real Seal Island, home to 65000 to 75000 Cape Fur Seals and set approximately 12km from Muizenberg and just under 15km from Simons Town. The island is “divided” into four quadrants, and it is in these quadrants that the operators have permits to offer Shark Cage Diving from. There are a limited number of operators in the area; 3 to be exact, of which African Shark Eco-Charters is the oldest, and proud to have as its skipper, the owner Rob Lawrence, who is fondly referred to as “The Shark Legend.”

Rob has physically been to Seal Island, more than any person alive today, and he still takes 95% of all the shark trips to the Island!

In the past, Shark Cage Diving trips were only offered between the months of February / March to the end of August to mid-September, with June through August being considered the peak season. It is during this time of the year that the Great White Sharks came to the island to hunt, and this results in the mind-bending activity referred to as “Airjaws,” which is when Great White Sharks breach! Though Great Whites would breach in other areas, it was not as prolific as what it was in False Bay, earning Seal Island the title of “Breaching Capitol of the World”. This brought with it, of course, every nature program producer and crew from all over the world, for years.

Since 2014, we in the industry, have noted a decline in the numbers of Great White Sharks at the Island. On the 11th January 2017, we had a juvenile Great White at the Island and this sparked in us a hope for an early and busy season. What happened instead, was that the Great Whites only returned at the end of May, giving us a very short Shark Cage Diving season, as they left again end of July. What happened in 2018 changed the course of the Shark Cage Diving industry in False Bay. When returning to the island in February 2018, again to check shark activity, the Blue Pointer, Skipper and crew were greeted by Sevengill Broadnose Sharks, which took an immediate and curious interest in the cage and occupants. We continued visiting the island intermittently for the following two weeks, to check whether the Whites would be there and chased the Sevengills away, but instead what we found was that the Sevengills had seemed to establish themselves, at least for the time being, at Seal Island.

African Shark Eco-Charters continued to offer Shark Cage Dives with these pre-historic looking Broadnose Sevengilled Cow sharks, informing guests that they would not be diving with White Sharks, and found that a very large percentage of their guests were happy to dive with the Sevengills, and actually had incredible, up close and personal experiences with them, all from the safety of the cage and boat!

The end of May saw the return of the Great Whites to the Island. They had been taking their time in getting there and had been spotted on numerous occasions, all along the coast, by the very qualified Shark Spotters, from March of that same year. They had been swimming more towards the coast, in areas not permitted for Shark Cage Diving. The return of the Great White Sharks to the Island meant that the Sevengills would vacate the area for a time. So the Great White Shark season for 2018 started at the end of May and ended mid–August. But this did not take away from the Cage Diving opportunities in Simons Town, as the Sevengills and Great White Sharks literally tag-teamed each other and so immediately ASEC was able to continue to dive with the Sevengills again.

What does this tell us? In False Bay, where the shark season was only a Great White Shark Cage Dive season, has now been extended to Shark Cage Diving all year round, with the time of year being the determining factor of the species of shark you are to dive with. Simons Town False Bay, now has two seasons, Shark season and Great White Shark season. 

Where can you shark cage dive?

Shark Cage diving in South Africa, as mentioned above is highly regulated by the government and specifically the Department of Tourism and Fisheries. The department gave Shark Cage Diving permits to only four areas where Shark Cage Diving is permissible; Simons Town False Bay, Breaching Capitol of the world. Gansbaai is traditionally has a high concentration of Great White Sharks diving close to Shark Alley which is a channel of water between Geyser Rock and Dyer Island, and lastly Mossel Bay. Mossel Bay has increased in popularity over the last two to three years, with the decline in White Shark numbers in the other two areas. The newest area for shark cage diving is Port Elizabeth.

Where are the great white sharks in South Africa?

Great White Sharks are found in most temperate waters, and as is true the world over, there tends to be a greater congregation of Great White Sharks near Seal colonies. It is considered prudent to remain aboard a boat when in the vicinity of a seal or sea lion colony, as this is the staple diet of the Great White Shark.

What types of sharks can I expect to see?

In False Bay and Gansbaai, the time of year will determine the shark species you are likely to go shark diving with: specifically, Great White, Sevengill Broadnose and Bronze Whaler, and the lesser-known as being a shark, Stingray. Then there is the possibility to dive with Blue and Shortfin Mako Sharks as well, though this is a deeper sea dive off of Cape Point.

Shortfin Mako Shark with its mouth open, exposing its teeth

Which is the most dangerous shark?

What makes a shark dangerous? I am not sure that I would classify any shark as being dangerous as such, in as much as it will not go out to specifically look to find a human to nibble on, as we have been force feed by Hollywood, excuse the pun. Rather sharks are wild animals and will protect themselves if threatened, will hunt for food to live and sometimes they too can misread a situation, circumstance, swimmer or surfer.

There have been cases, of Bull Sharks swimming up estuaries to find prey and they have been known to “attack” humans and cattle. Due to these sharks living in shallow waters, and habitats that are often inhabited by humans, the Bull Shark is probably the most dangerous shark to humans. Another shark that has been responsible for biting humans, is the Tiger Shark. It also visits in shallow waters, harbours, reefs, and canals, giving it proximity to humans that most wild animals do not enjoy, so increasing the odds of interaction, sometimes of a violent nature. But just as we as humans would defend ourselves our loved ones and possessions if threatened, or in danger, just so do these sharks.

Statistically, if taking the number of sharks “attacks” on humans as the basis, and we were to rate sharks on a “danger scale” from this information, then it’s the Bull Shark that would come out number one, after that the Tiger and third the Great White.

Can a dolphin kill a shark?

The quick answer here is “Yes”, dolphins can most certainly kill sharks and there have been a number of incidences of dolphins doing just that.

Dolphins are highly intelligent creatures, and once again, Hollywood has painted an inaccurate picture of these beautiful, albeit somewhat cruel creatures. These animals are mammals and there seems to be an unspoken word between mammals, where dolphins have been known to guard humans and other mammals from sharks and assist in other dangerous situations. Dolphins have also been known to kill sharks just “for sport”. Of course, highly intelligent, they will always weigh their battles and tend to only pick the ones they can win.

Common dolphins in False Bay swimming past a boat

Why are great white sharks never in aquariums?

Great White Sharks do not survive in captivity, more accurately, Great White Sharks die within days of being released from captivity!

There is widespread speculation as to the reasons for this, though one fact is that the animals do not eat in captivity! It is thought that they suffer chronic depression as they are unable to migrate as they would in the wild.  Another possible reason put forward is that possibly, the ecology of the man-made water parks and aquariums, are not as complex as those found in the wild, so perhaps there is some tiny bacterium or another life form, that man has not yet discovered, and this is missing from the man-made tanks. Who really knows? What we do know is that Great White Sharks do not survive in captivity, so let’s not try to force the issue and let’s leave them in their natural environment!  

Do dolphins really protect humans from sharks?

As mentioned in a previous paragraph, Dolphins most certainly have been known to protect other mammals and humans. There is a lovely story of Jojo the Dolphin who has made it his mission to keep his diver buddy Dean, safe from many sharks.

What kind of boat is used in Simons Town, False Bay?

The Blue Pointer is a 10.7m long by 3.6m wide butt cat, with an upstairs viewing deck, bathroom facilities, and enclosed cabin area. It boasts 2 x 12 man life rafts and a Simrad Broadband Radar. Offering 12 pax max plus crew with each trip, this means that the Blue Pointer is able to comfortably accommodate larger groups yet still small enough to remain intimate while offering the famous African Shark personalized experience, that they so pride themselves in, with the comfort of a brand new, top of the line fully certified and equipped boat. The Blue Pointer is the newest and most updated shark cage dive boat in operation at the time of publication.

On a typical trip, who will be on board?

Other than the 12 guests, African Shark Eco-Charters takes great pride in being one of the only owner-operated companies in Simons Town, with 95% of all morning trips being skippered by the Shark Legend himself, Rob Lawrence. This means that Rob is and continues to be, the person who holds the record for the most visits to Seal Island; more than anyone else alive today! And with that kind of experience, comes a remarkable amount of knowledge, which he is eager to share.

How much does it cost to dive with great white sharks?

How long is a piece of string? Depending on where you will be diving and what the operators offer, will play a large role as to what the costs will be. Almost more important than cost though, is to confirm what the operator offers in the event that there is no shark activity! Most offer nothing at all, then there are some that offer a full refund, others a partial refund and others a voucher to return for a free trip. The price, again depending on what area, is anywhere from R1 850.00 to R4 250.00 per person excluding return transfers. These prices change on a yearly basis.

Do you use a decoy or chumming?

For those who do not know, a decoy is a seal-shaped piece of carpet, wetsuit or rubber, that is towed behind the boat as it does a slow lap of the Island. This encourages the predatory behaviour referred to as “Airjaws”; this is when Great White Sharks breach! There is, of course, natural predation as well, and this is when the sharks hunt on lone seals, so no decoy is necessary. The number of sharks in the area is going to increase the number of natural predations and breaches that will be seen. In order to encourage breaching, a decoy is used.

Chumming is the use of fish that is thrown into the ocean, again to encourage sharks to come into the vicinity of the cage and divers. In the case of Seal Island False Bay, there is no need to chum, as Seal Island is a natural chum slick, and the sharks are naturally in the area. What most companies do is something called “baiting”; this is the practice of tying a fish head to a rope and pulling it at a 45-degree angle in the front of the cage. How this is done, is regulated as well, so as to avoid any damage done to the sharks or divers of course.

Do you SCUBA?

African Shark Eco-Charters is the only shark cage diving operator that offers scuba with every trip, no experience is necessary as the hookah method is used, which means only making use of the air-hose and regulator. Tanks are kept on board and the cage is not fully submerged. So yes, in South Africa, African Shark Eco-Charters is the only operator to offer SCUBA while shark cage diving.

Are shark cages safe?

In South Africa cages are regulated and tested. They have to be tested every two years and have to pass rigorous tests to maintain safety parameters, so yes, in South Africa, if the operator is a legitimate, permit holding and government passed operation, the cage is safe.

The number of people?

All shark cage diving operators have different boats and different permits which will govern the number of guests allowed on each vessel. With Simons Town operators, the numbers are much fewer than those in Gansbaai, where they can take up to as many as 44 people on one trip. African Shark Eco-Charters’ boat, the Blue Pointer, is permitted to take 12 guests and 4 crew members, though tend to keep the numbers around 10.

This is our Ultimate Guide to Shark Cage Diving in Cape Town, South Africa. I hope it has answered some questions you may have had and even those you didn’t know you had.

Before you go Shark Cage Diving, speak to the experts and make an informed choice as to where you want to go and what is going to suit your plans and budget. We’d love you to come shark cage diving with us, so book a shark tour in Cape Town or contact us for more info.

Till we meet again, keep that toothy grin!

Written By Nadine Bentley

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