Shark cage diving is one of the most thrilling—and unpredictable—travel experiences in the world. To help you know what to expect, Ker & Downey has compiled some of our most frequently asked questions regarding shark cage diving off the Western Cape in South Africa.
When is the best time to see white sharks?
South Africa is one of the few white shark hot spots in the world, offering the best opportunities to observe these sharks in their natural environment. The year is divided into two main seasons. January/February to August/September is when white sharks are observed mainly around Dyer Island; during the remaining months of September to January, the sharks use an area located one and one-half miles to the north in a shallow bay known as Shark Bay.
Your chances of observing sharks from the surface are higher than 90% from April through December. Sightings from January to March are difficult to predict, but the success rate is still higher than 50%.
Diving conditions are best from May to August when the underwater visibility is generally higher around Dyer Island. Diving is often limited during the months of September through February as the underwater visibility is often significantly reduced.
May to August also corresponds to the austral winter, and the Western Cape is known for its huge storms during this time. Consider staying two to three nights in the area in case your shark trip needs to be rescheduled.
How cold is the water?
The water is warmest from June to August (59-68 degrees Fahrenheit) and coldest from November to March (50-59 degrees Fahrenheit).
Do I need to go into the cage to see white sharks?
No. White sharks are very active at the surface and can be observed from the boat without having to go into the shark cage.
How long does it take for the sharks to appear?
There is not a set time that it will take for the first white shark to appear around the boat. The wait can be a few minutes, several hours after anchoring, or the sharks may occasionally not show up.
How long do the sharks stay around the boat?
White sharks present different personalities. One shark might come up to the lure, have a quick look and not feel confident about the situation and leave. Another shark might be more relaxed and remain around the boat for hours.
Generally the time a white shark will remain around the boat is between five and 10 minutes, but this is completely unpredictable and no one can guarantee the length of any viewing period.
Does cage diving in South Africa teach sharks to associate humans with food?
It is highly improbable that a shark will associate a person at a beach with a cage-diving boat in South Africa. Reasons being:
- White sharks are not resident and only remain in the area for a couple of weeks on average. However, in tropical waters, many species of sharks are sometimes resident to a reef system for periods of several years. This allows the tropical sharks to associate boat engine noises with food.
- In South Africa, the cage-diving industry is not allowed by law to feed the sharks.
- In the tropics, pieces of fish are thrown constantly over the side of the boat to attract the sharks and consequently program their feeding habits. In South Africa, the pieces of fish are attached to a float and a rope and pulled away from the sharks.
- White sharks are unlikely to distinguish the people in a cage from the cage itself.
Is it safe?
Yes. The South African cage-diving industry is regulated by a Code of Conduct and regulations from the Marine and Coastal Management Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Apart from minor injuries due to the boat or cage, seasickness, or dehydration, no injuries or accidents to guests have been recorded in more than 10 years.
Is shark viewing and cage-diving a good thing?
Yes, if it is done with respect towards the sharks, the other wildlife in the area and the general ecosystem according to the regulations in place. Though chumming and attracting wild animals with food remains controversial, scientists have been unable to show any form of habituation around Dyer Island. Through educational excursions, people's mindset and attitudes towards white sharks are changed. This change in the public's perception is vital to establish an appreciation, and thus conservation, of this wonderful species.
How many days should I book?
Every day is different at sea and we can never forecast what the conditions, situations or encounters will be like. If you want to see a white shark, then one day should be enough. If you are a shark lover, then we would recommend that you spend at least two days to get a better feel for the variety of white sharks. You should also schedule more than one day during the austral winter months (April through September) to avoid any disappointment due to bad weather conditions.
How deep is the cage in the water?
The cage remains afloat with about one foot of the cage above the water at all times. The cage is also solidly attached to the boat with two thick ropes that further prevent it from sinking or drifting away from the boat. The bottom of the cage is about six feet below the surface.
Will I scuba dive in the cage or just snorkel?
You will snorkel in the cage. In most conditions, it is preferred not to use scuba equipment because it produces a lot of noise and bubbles under the water, which often keeps the sharks from coming close.
If you insist on using scuba equipment and you are a qualified scuba diver with a PADI Open Water diving certification, then you will be provided with a regulator to dive in the cage once everyone else has had their share of the snorkeling experience in the cage.
How many people can go into the cage?
Up to four people can go into the cage at any time.
Does the cage have a lid?
Yes, the shark cage has a solid lid which will be closed once everybody is safely in the cage.
How long can I stay in the cage?
This will mostly depend on the number of people on the boat and the number of people who wish to go into the cage. Your first cage dive will be relatively short, just long enough for you to see a white shark. We will then alternate all the people who wish to dive in the cage. Once everyone has had a chance to see the sharks from the cage, you then can return for a second dive.
Is the cage safe?
The main potential risks involved in the shark cages are from injuries climbing in or out of the cage, and swallowing water or drowning. Make sure that you get used to a mask and ensure that you feel comfortable before entering the cage.
Reports that you may have read or images you may have seen involving white sharks attacking cages have all been triggered by the crew on the boat and are the result of unnatural provocation. The cage, although attached to the boat, is free floating, so should a shark charge the cage at full speed (which would never happen in a normal unprovoked situation), the cage will just bounce off and absorb the impact force.
Sharks have a sixth sense: the ampullae of Lorenzini are sensory organs spread mainly throughout the snout and head of sharks and allow the sharks to sense magnetic fields to find prey in darkness or murky conditions. The shark cages and boat generate a magnetic field to which the sharks are sometimes drawn by curiosity. The shark may mouth the cage or engines in a gentle testing manner. The cage is indestructible and you will be safe from the sharks.
Do you allow children in the shark cage?
Only children 12 years or older will be allowed into the cage, and only if a parent accompanies them. Parents will have to vouch that their child has previous snorkeling experience and is comfortable in an aquatic environment. You will be asked to sign additional liability waivers for those under 18 years old.
Do you allow children on the boat?
Observing shark cage diving is not recommended for children under 10 years of age. In most cases, you will be asked to sign additional liability waivers for those under 18 years old.
Can you guarantee white sharks?
No. It is not guaranteed that you will see white sharks from the surface or from the cage. On average, the success rate is higher than 80% throughout the year.
Do I get a refund if we do not see any sharks?
No, but in some cases you will be provided with a voucher that will allow you to come back on another excursion free of charge.
Do I get a discount for only doing surface viewing without going into the cage?
No. Guests pay for the space on the boat, whether they remain on the boat or decide to go into the shark cage.
How long will we stay on the ocean?
You will launch between 8:00 am and 10:00 am, depending on the tidal range. Return to shore is generally four to six hours after departure.
What is chumming?
To observe the white sharks they must be attracted to the boat and the cage. Chumming is the process in which a chum slick or odor corridor is created to guide the sharks to the boat.
Chum usually consists of minced tuna meat, mashed sardines, and/or fish oil, which are mixed with sea water in a drum. This mixture is then ladled back into the ocean, and will slowly drift away from the boat, creating the chum slick. Once the shark enters the chum slick, it will track it back to its source: the boat.
Can I bring alcohol on the boat?
No. Alcohol increases your chance of seasickness, and it is recommended that you abstain from alcohol the night before to avoid an unpleasant trip.
Can I smoke on the boat?
No. This is for the comfort of all passengers, as well as for safety hazard reasons due to the amount of fuel carried on the boat.
Will I get sea sick?
Hopefully not, but seasickness may be part of the experience. You may have spent some time on boats before and believe that everything will be fine, but you probably have never spent time on an anchored boat, and that is when problems may occur.
If you develop severe and unbearable seasickness, a shuttle can be organized to collect you and bring you back to shore. These shuttles are run by an independent company, and a $50 surcharge per shuttle (not per person) will be your responsibility.
What can I do to avoid seasickness?
There is no general rule to avoid this terrible feeling, but here are some tips which can help you prevent it:
- Avoid alcohol or drink with moderation the evening before your excursion.
- Take an anti-motion sickness tablet the evening before your excursion, and another in the morning an hour before boarding the boat. These are available at any pharmacy without a prescription. You may also want to wear the wrist bands during your excursion.
- Do not think about it. If you have ever been sea sick, then you will remember it, and some seasickness is psychological. Convince yourself that you will be fine, and forget about seasickness.
- During the excursion, stay outside of the cabin, remain in the fresh breeze, and avoid the toilet. Keep your eyes on the horizon from the start, and try not to look at your phone's screen or through your camera's viewfinders for too long.
For more information about adding a shark cage diving excursion off the Western Cape in South Africa to your next Ker & Downey journey, or for information about any other destination, contact your travel professional.