Cage Diving with Great White Sharks has always been number one on my bucket list, and I was beyond excited to turn this dream into reality. However, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied only going on one cage dive, so I decided to volunteer for a week with company called Marine Dynamics in Gansbaai.
Marine Dynamics runs Cage Diving and Whale Watching tours and they also have various wildlife research initiatives in the area.
The staff members at Marine Dynamics (in the office and on the shark boat) are friendly and knowledgeable. The volunteer co-ordinators were the first people I met, and they are extremely welcoming and helpful. They made me feel like a valued team member from the moment I arrived.
A typical day for volunteers consists of organizing the food and supplies for the Cage Diving tours, assisting passengers on the shark diving boat (between 4 and 8 hours at sea), and then relaxing at the volunteer lodge.
I absolutely loved the volunteer lodge, which has a communal area with a dining room and braai, pool tables, a computer, books and games, a large pool, and four chalets. The chalets sleep up to 6 people and have a full kitchen, small dining area, and a bathroom. They are so charming and cozy- I instantly felt at home.
The lodge itself is located in a somewhat remote (but very safe) area. It is quiet and peaceful, and a perfectly private space for the volunteers to unwind after a day on the shark boat.
When we weren’t helping on the boat, we were able to go on a Whale Watching tour and we also spent one afternoon at a local beach collecting trash.
Volunteering on the Cage Diving boat was an amazing experience. White Sharks are such fascinating and majestic creatures, and observing them for up to 8 hours each day was never monotonous. Just being able to see the sharks so closely everyday made the early morning wake-up calls and long hours worthwhile.
One of the most appealing aspects about the volunteer project is that a portion of the money you pay is used for White Shark research and conservation efforts for marine life in the Kleinbaai/Gansbaai area. Marine wildlife is a passion of mine and I love being able to base my travels around volunteer projects.
The Cage Diving Experience
One of the perks of being a volunteer is being able to cage dive multiple times. I was lucky enough to get in the cage three times during my week there.
The dive site is known as ‘the shallows’ and is roughly a 15 – 20 minute ride from shore. The staff on board immediately put the cage in the water and start to release chum to attract the sharks. White Sharks generally start to appear around the boat within minutes.The cage is quite large and can fit up to 8 people at one time. The water is almost always cold, but the thick wet suits help to keep you warm.
It was definitely an awe-inspiring moment when the first shark swam close to the cage. They are such beautiful and graceful creatures and they glide effortlessly through the water. Making eye contact with a large White Shark swimming only a few centimetres away is an experience I will never forget.
Sometimes the sharks would swim near the cage cautiously and slowly and then disappear back into the depths. We would then wait in silence until one of the shark spotters on the boat would notify us of an incoming shark.
At other times, sharks would come out of nowhere and strike the decoy with such speed and force that you could blink and miss the attack.
As the sharks fought with the decoy, their massive tails would sometimes hit the cage, rattling and jolting the sturdy steel bars. After all the commotion, the sharks would suddenly release the decoy and silently return to the murky water.
You may not be able to tell from the photos, but we were able to get up close and personal with sharks of various sizes, including some as large as 4.5 metres (15 feet).
I’m aware that Cage Diving with Great White Sharks is a controversial activity, but my experience with Marine Dynamics was absolutely positive. The company seems to be truly passionate about sharks and their conservation, and they are helping to educate people about these fascinating creatures. And, as I previously mentioned, they are heavily involved in research projects and local conservation efforts- not only with sharks, but also seals, whales, and penguins.
Over a year after I went Cage Diving, I read an article which listed a few questionable aspects associated with Cage Diving, and I began to reevaluate my decision. I wrote a post reflecting on not only my personal thoughts, but also the Cage Diving industry as a whole. Click here if you are interested in reading it.