Octopus eats crab, seal
eats octopus, Great White Shark eats seal. Man as an entrée, though,
is not on the menu. Yet, the myth is still being perpetuated through films
and books that feed off our most morbid fear. After three trips to South
Africa to view sharks, weve managed to come home, all body parts
intact, with our addiction to witnessing the greatest predator in the
ocean temporarily satisfied.
Two hours north of Capetown on the east coast, the small fishing village
of Gansbaai sits on a rugged coastline near a lighthouse, situated on
ominously named Danger Point. This area is known as the Cape of Storms
because you never know what is in store for you at any point in the day.
The day can start with sunny skies and flat seas and turn into a gale
within hours. And in order to experience one of the oceans apex
predators, you must spend time on the water.
On the day we headed out with good weather surrounding us, our destination
was a narrow strip of water between Geyser Rock and Dyer Island called
Shark Alley. Geyser Rock is a rookery for hundreds of Cape Fur Seals,
while Dyer Island is home for penguins. Meal service is provided for the
sharks at any time of the day.
A hundred or so yards from the entrance of Shark Alley, Andre Hartman,
our captain, slowed the boat and his crew quickly established the chum
slick and dropped the cage over the side of the boat. As the clock ticked
away, Andre weaved through many stories of spearfishing on the coast.
At 47, his faced is etched with years spent at sea.
I was terrified of sharks, said Andre, his eyes watching
It was recently
discovered that touching the snout of a Great White at the surface
will cause it to raise up out of the water.
Asking what changed his mind, Andre responded that his fear has been
replaced with respect. I competed in spearfishing tournaments for
many years and had encounters with 23 Whites. Only two tried to bite,
probably because I had a fish on the end of my spear. Personally,
I could not imagine staring face to teeth at a Great White without any
bars in between. He explained that on several occasions, he observed sharks
from the safety of the kelp. As scientists are discovering, it seems that
because of the lower fat content compared to seals, humans are not actually
a meal of choice. Looking at Andres race-horse thin physique, he
should have no worries.
Shark on the bait!
Everyone jumped into position. Andre immediately took his place on the
platform at the stem.
We have a player, Andre shouted and the show began.
The massive Great White circled the boat methodically, drawn by the chum
slick floating on the surface. It stalked the bait hanging on the line
several times before approaching for a test bite. As Andre pulled the
tantalizing tidbit closer to the stern, the shark rose up to bite, and
Andre reached with one hand to tickle the underside of its nose. Within
seconds, a large gaping mouth appeared, and Andre pulled his hand back
from eminent danger.
Why would anyone attempt such a daring move?
Andre explained that in the early days he observed the sharks trying to
bite the engines or the transom of the boat. Feeling the hard metal, the
sharks would spook and leave. I didnt like the idea of the
animal hurting itself then vanishing not to be seen again. So one day,
when I had a shark that was moving slowly toward the motor, I pushed her
nose away. That is when I discovered it would raise up out of the water
after feeling something soft and warm. Since then, Andre has perfected
his technique and protected many sharks from becoming injured.
I was ready to face the challenge of the cage. Water temperatures off
South Africa can fluctuate between 50 and 62°F, requiring a drysuit
for this cold water wimp. All the cloth and extra weight can be cumbersome,
but it was all well worth it on this day. We had four sharks in the area
and none of them shy of the cage. As one shark would pass within inches,
another circled the boat sizing things up. One big female took exception
of another White in her territory and quickly turned to bite the intruder,
teeth flashing in the sunlight. After two hours of jaw-dropping action,
it was time to retreat to the warmth of the sun. I, like Andre, gained
new respect for this much maligned animal.
Great White Sharks are protected in South Africa as they should be throughout
the rest of the world. Studies by the scientific community continue to
eliminate mans most basic fear of this great predator. Andre Hartman
takes it a step beyond with his ability to see and touch the shark in
a way no one else can.
Special thanks to Andre Hartman and JP Botha of Marine Dynamics.