Just try to imagine a more extreme experience than going eyeball-to-eyeball with a great white shark. The idea sounds suicidal. But you can get a pulse-pounding glimpse of the predators dramatized and demonized by the Stephen Spielberg disaster movie, Jaws, without being devoured.
Welcome to the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of great white shark cage-diving. To win the privilege of getting right in a great white’s face, all you need is a diving licence, mighty nerve and a thirst to go outside your comfort zone.
Even if you’ve gone skydiving, wing suiting, or performed any of the countless other extreme sports, going cage diving will still ignite something inside of you.
Knowing that you are about to stare into the cold, black eyes of the ocean’s most formidable creature from point blank range is enough to fire up even the most seasoned extreme sports veteran.
Tempted to try?
Here are three of the world’s top great white diving hotspots.
Montauk, New York City
The surprising thing about some American shark diving experiences is how urban they are. You can even get within nuzzling distance of a shark off the waters of New York.
Welcome to scenic, windswept Montauk, N.Y. Courtesy of Sea Turtle Shark Cage Dives, you go 15-30 miles south of Long Island where, during summer, warm waters roll over from the Gulfstream, bringing with it a congregation of sharks.
Here, you get a grandstand view of them from a two-person aluminum cage. A typical Sea Turtle Shark Cage Dives day kicks off with a briefing and some boat orientation at the marina.
Once you set sail, the trip to the hotspot about two hours. On arrival, the crew starts chumming the water – making a slick that will lure sharks. That process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours.
In the meantime, every participant in the intense experience has the chance to test the cage and get a feel for the relevant maneuvers. The temperature will range from nippy to comfortable: 60 to 80 degrees. Additionally, visibility should be good: from 20 feet to over 100 feet. The sharks that divers see the most are thresher, mako and blue sharks.
During August, makos are plentiful, and 12-foot-long blue sharks are always up for a feast. How long you linger with these predators depends on when they show. Typically, you get two sessions of between 30 and 45 minutes each.
The whole voyage can take up to 10 hours. Besides sharks, you may also see tuna, whales, mahi-mahi (common dolphinfish), turtles, sunfish and porpoise. Sea Turtle Shark Cage Dives charges about $300 for a typical day.
False Bay (Valsbaai), South Africa
The world’s best-known great white shark hotspot, False Bay (Valsbaai), lies off the shores of South Africa. To get to False Bay, head for the country’s second-most populous city, Cape Town.
Then shuttle 40 minutes to seaside Simon’s Town. From there, first thing, you are ferried to False Bay – so-called because once it made sailors think they had rounded the African continent’s southernmost tip.
Now, False Bay is less famous for deceit than its stunning great whites that ply the ocean like jumbo jets. Divers itching to see them enter the steel False Bay shark-diving cage that floats just under the surface, two at a time.
A great white face-off then lasts just some 20 minutes. But that sliver of time may be the most intense of your life because the great white is an inquisitive animal. Watch it hypnotically circle your cage, more keen to ID than eat you, experts say.
Isla Guadalupe, Baja
Isla Guadalupe sits 160 miles off the coast of Baja, California. Isla Guadalupe is quickly becoming the world’s best destination for diving with great white sharks. The quiet corner of the Pacific supposedly harbors one of the planet’s most prolific white shark populations.
The temperature ranges from a reasonably comfortable 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Here, shark diving season runs from August through October, each voyage lasts five days and the visibility is 100 feet or more.
The going rate for a Isla Guadalupe excursion is over $3,000, but the experience is like no other.
Shark Diver, one of the cage diving companies that host the adventures, explain that you may meet two extraordinary fanged creatures, both of which have been tagged for reference.
“Shredder” is a 15-foot-long, 1800 pound great white shark with a unique dorsal fin, well known cage diver curiosity” and “Bruce” is a 16-foot-long behemoth that occasionally turns up to see divers.
The sparkling waters of Shredder’s domain offer over 100 feet of visibility. That means you are near guaranteed pin-sharp footage of Shredder the cable-cruncher or his friends looping your cage – if you can control the adrenaline, keep your hand still as the camera rolls.
Farallons, San Francisco
Our third cage-diving venue is roughly in the same neighborhood as Isla Guadalupe. Welcome to San Francisco’s Farallon Islands, nicknamed The Devil’s Teeth. The islands are a fair distance from San Francisco – about 20 miles off the coast.
Here, your adrenaline-fueled ocean trek kicks off just before dawn, where you board the shark boat at the Fisherman’s Wharf – Hyde St. Fishing Pier. You’ll set sail before 7:00 am so you can see early morning feeding events. This time, however, the sharks aren’t feasting on chum.
The spectacle is much more intense, as great white sharks turn up to dine on the seals that inhabit the Farallons. Total time at the dive site can run up to about seven hours. The islands around the action make up the Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary, which is 1,255 square miles of protected waters constituting part of a nationally significant marine ecosystem.
Chumming is out because those waters are protected under law. That means you will only see the gut-churning glory of natural feeding events. Sometimes, seal decoys are deployed to entice great white sharks. Shark season runs from September into November.
Dive Discovery, one of the cage diving companies for the Farallons, hooks you up to an on-board air source, which means no cumbersome air tanks on your back. Be ready to cope with a tough environment. Dive Discovery warns, “please know that seas can be very rough and the waters near the Farallons are known for being cold and murky.”
Neptune Islands, Australia
The last place on our list to witness great whites is Australia’s Neptune Islands, which lie off the south of the country, 70 kilometres from picturesque Port Lincoln. The islands’ shear edges into cool, deep water give great whites the temperature and depth they need.
Meantime, calving seal colonies present easy prey. Shark paradise.
Still, wherever you go in search of the apex predator, you never know if one will show. A Neptune Islands adventure firm, Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions – founded by a great white attack-survivor and Jaws film photographer – admits that. But the company also stresses its commitment to ensuring you see more than a grey flash.
With luck, you will get the full, exhilarating “tickle down your spine”, as the amazing, prehistoric, “definitely misunderstood” fish circles. The word “misunderstood” crops up often in relation to great whites. Although not weak, great whites pose less of a threat than their rap suggests – as the facts show.
Seven stunning facts about great white sharks:
- Great whites can sense one drop of blood in 25 gallons (100 liters) of water and detect tiny amounts of blood in the water up to 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.
- Of the 100-plus yearly worldwide shark attacks on people, great whites are implicated in up to half. But few great white attacks are fatal.
- Typically, great whites – naturally curious animals – only “sample-bite” then release their human victims in a case of catch-and-release – reassuring kinda sorta.
- Great whites are partial to eating seals whole. When great whites attack, as if they were not scary enough, their eyes roll back in their heads for protection. At least their heads do not spin too.
- When only enough food for one is available, great white sharks skip fighting over it. Instead, they engage in their own bizarre adrenaline sport: a tail-slapping contest. The great white that delivers the most thwacks wins the meal.
- Great white sharks are torpedo-shaped. Besides breaching explosively, in spurts they clock speeds of 25 miles per hour. Quite a clip, especially when you consider that people struggle to swim faster than 1 mile per hour.
- Propelled by their tails, great whites get around, operating along the coasts of all continents except Antarctica. So you never know when you will meet one.