Today I found myself face to face with one of the greatest predators on earth: the great white shark. I was there by choice. All my life I have been fascinated by sharks, and I have dreamt for years of joining in a great white shark dive.
So I found myself in Port Lincoln South Australia, aboard the Calypso Star, heading for the Neptune Islands where great whites feast on seals. Upon arrival the crew began burleying the water and within minutes a fin pierced the surface. A large cage, 5 m long by 3m wide by 2.5m high was pushed off the back of the boat, and the first group of adrenaline junkies donned wet suits and masks and entered it. The first shark to appear was a great white around 3 m long, soon to be joined by another, and another. And then the big sharks showed up, a good 4.5 to 5 m in length and with massive girth.
Soon enough it was time for my group, group number four, to get ready. A 7 mm wetsuit, gloves, boots, weight belt and mask later I enter the cage. It took a good five minutes to get used to breathing through a hose and regulator. The water is very clear. I expected I might feel nervous, but there were no nerves, just a real excitement about getting into the water.
A few minutes in and the first great white swims by. Minutes later I see a shadow out in the distance that turns into a great white shark swimming towards the cage, turning away before he reaches us to dive under the boat. For almost an hour I’m beneath the water with no more than five minutes between shark appearances, including one massive beast approaching 5 m. Some fly by at pace, some saunter past, some seem to be eyeballing me. At no point do I feel that they present a threat to me – I am after all inside a very solid cage – and at no point did they behave in a way that suggests they perceive I present a threat to them.
I’m struck by how effortlessly the sharks glide through the water, powered by an almost imperceptible swishing of their tail. This is truly their domain and they are masters of it. Schools of trevally that surround the cage quickly disappear whenever a shark arrives.
I don’t know why I wanted to dive with great whites. I don’t know why I got such a thrill seeing them so close up. All I know is that seeing these animals in their own environment filled me with excitement, a deep sense of joy and even greater respect for them.
Perhaps we all need to find our own great whites, to find those places at which nature simply dazzles us and commands our respect. Perhaps then we would be more motivated to treat this planet and its creatures as they deserve.