Great White Shark Diving

Diving with sharks-in open water and/or inside a steel cage-is considered by many shark and diving enthusiasts to be the ultimate thrill. However, diving in open water with sharks can be very dangerous, as some shark diving operations use bloody chum to attract the sharks. The smell of blood can be detected by sharks from a mile away, and can excite them and cause a feeding frenzy, which can lead to attacks on divers who are mistaken by the sharks for food.

Cage diving with great whites and other shark species is currently legal in South Africa (considered to be the most popular shark diving location in the world), Australia, and California. Shark diving is also permitted in the Fiji Islands and the Bahamas. Although shark diving outfits have been banned in Florida since 2003, divers circumvent the law by travelling 50 miles or so to the Bahamas. However, shark diving in the aforementioned waters can be extremely dangerous, as was illustrated in the case of Australian lawyer and dive enthusiast Marcus Groh.

In 2008, the 49-year old Groh took part in a Florida-based open-water dive expedition, which travelled west to the Bahamas. The company used chum to attract the sharks, and Groh was subsequently bitten by what was believed to be a bull shark, and bled to death after being airlifted to a nearby hospital.

Although open-water, non-cage diving expeditions with known species of potentially dangerous sharks is essentially an accident waiting to happen, some dive operators still choose to disregard standard safe diving practices in areas where predatory sharks are known to congregate.  Although shark cage-diving among dangerous sharks is relatively safe, open water dives in shark-infested waters where chumming is practiced is strongly discouraged. The presence of “crew members (that) will be in the water at all times to ensure diver safety”, as one shark diving website claims, does absolutely nothing to ensure divers’ safety in these encounters.

However, interactive shark diving in submersible, steel cages that are supervised by professional divers and operators can be an unforgettable experience. One such outfit offers cage-diving expeditions off the south east part of the Farallon Islands. The Farallon Islands, located 27 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, is home to a wide range of bird species, seals, sea lions, and great white sharks.

Seals and sea lions are the favored prey of great whites, and the Farallones are unique in that it is the only known destination where great whites, the ocean’s most solitary hunters, congregate in close quarters. This yearly occurrence has led to the most significant, informative, and truly baffling studies on great white sharks to date. Not only do they return to the same spot year after year and stay approximately three months, but the same sharks keep returning to this rocky island outpost known to nineteenth-century sailors as the “Devil’s Teeth”.

Shark diving off the Farallon Islands is done only with steel cages, with 2-4 people at a time. Chumming is not necessary as sharks are attracted by decoys. It is known that the same great whites return here every year because identifying characteristics such as a notched dorsal fin, scars and other identifiers have led to their being named and tagged by the scientists who have been studying them for more than a decade.

The presence of seals and sea lions allow cage divers to view natural “feeding events” that occur regularly in these waters. These great whites waters are adults, with some estimated to have been around for 30 years or more, and are in the 16-20 foot range. These animals are huge, the length and girth of which is equal to a large SUV. Seeing these massive sharks in their natural habitat, even from the safety of a steel cage, can be an unnerving experience. Since sea lions can grow up to 300 lbs, attacks on them can be extremely bloody and brutal. However, it’s a natural occurrence, so they aren’t being baited into an unpredictable feeding frenzy. Such an event can provide shark and nature enthusiasts and thrill-seekers, both above water and below, with an extraordinary glimpse of one of the world’s most magnificent, and misunderstood, predators with relative safety.

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