Monday 26th May. The trip I almost got kissed by a great white shark.
Ok, ok that ‘might’ be a small exaggeration and sensationalised slightly… but who wouldn’t? I will remember the moment forever!!!
The start of a brand new week, Monday morning and our African Shark Eco Charters trip arrives at Seal Island for the first time in over two days (bad weather). A great group of customers have joined us, all raring to go and excited to see their first ever great white shark. A few divers on board, but none have seen a great white before. All of the three shark companies that operate out of Simonstown moored up together at the Launchpad and started trying to attract sharks. This involves using bait, decoy, splashing and generally making a lot of noise. For the first half an hour or so there were a few sharks in the area, moving between the boats but none were sticking around and playing. Rob made the call to move further up the island to our own spot, where we would not be competing for the sharks and would hopefully pick up a couple who would be more active with us.
Almost straight away we had a couple of sightings, so the patient guests who had been ready and waiting to get in the cage finally got their nice close swim pasts. However the sharks seemed to be slow, and not really playing much with either the bait or the decoy. They were very chilled, came in for a look and then would head off. None of the usual faces turned up, so it seemed to be a very relaxed performance by our Seal Island great whites. This may have been why I was so caught off guard by one.
I was on the side of the boat working the seal decoy – by this I mean throwing it out in-front of the cage so it floats on the surface of the water resembling a seal (and hopefully it will bring a shark up to the surface). The current/wind will bring the decoy back towards the boat, its only light and made of carpet, and when it gets too close you pull it up and throw it back out. I had been doing this for around 20mins, with no real signs of a shark, so just relaxed, chatting to customers but never taking my eyes off the decoy and surrounding water – they’ve surprised me before, you learn fast! But as I pulled it up out of the water by the side of the boat ready to throw it back out again, a huge grey and white face with very big teeth just came at me. None of the crew spotted him, not even me until he was right in my face! The great white shark came up out of the water, grabbed the decoy out of my hands and ran with it. He must have been sitting under the boat, maybe following it in while I pulled it in, and literally at the last second as I pulled it out of the water he lunged for it. Now to see that face (I hate using the Jaws analogy, but it really does put a picture in your mind!) with rows of brilliant white teeth, rolling his eyes back, and coming at you – only stopping maybe 2 feet away? I’m not sure there are many words you could use to describe how it felt! Probably quite a few rude ones, but this is a child friendly blog J Because I was so taken aback, I’m not even sure I shouted anything except possibly ‘wow!’ His bottom jaw when he gaped MUST have hit the side of the boat where I was standing, because he was just so close to the boat! He came right up, and out of the water, I can’t even imagine how close my hand was to his mouth!! What an incredible experience, you may think I’m mad but it’s definitely up there on the list of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to me. I saw right down his throat, and in his mouth! What an animal. I also completely know he wasn’t coming to eat me, he thought my seal was real and I just happened to be on the other side of it. But I’m very thankful I’m not a seal – now I know what they see!!
We’ve had two trips since that happened, and I don’t look at the decoy in the same way anymore…. Probably because our fake seal is now missing a flipper because of that shark, but also how fast it all happened. I love these animals!!! Their unpredictability is crazy. I’m sure that same shark came back to see me today as well. One came right up to me on the decoy again – by the boat, turned his head on his side and actually looked at me. Maybe he’s upset I didn’t give him his dinner, or maybe he loves me? I hope its the latter…! Very sadly there is no photographic evidence of this encounter, only a few peoples’ memories – so it may be the case of the fishermen and his monster catch. My tale may keep embellishing over the years, but one thing is for certain – I will never forget that snap shot in time staring down his throat!!!!
As for the rest of the weeks trips, we had a shark fully breach right next to the boat (about 10m away!), a few baits stolen, many natural predations – some successful, others not, and lots of happy customers. Shark season really is picking up. The visibility in the water has dropped considerably, and there has been a direct correlation with how many full breaches we’ve been getting. The boat viewing has been spectacular. Sadly the rest of the week was quiet in terms of numbers of trips due to a lot of strong winds pushing through the area, but every trip was still memorable thanks to the shark activity. I really think I am one of the few lucky people in the world who actually want to work every day!!! (Infact on my day off last week, guess what I did? Yep, went on the African Shark Eco Charters boat….).
Come and meet our sharks, I hope to see you all soon!!!