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Published: June 25th 2017
Geo: -34.4096, 19.2886
After her naked life and death struggle with the pigeon in the campground shower facility, it was probably a bit early to be talking to DH about another, slightly more dangerous, wildlife encounter in South Africa. But this was one of our WOW list adventures we had been targeting for quite some time- diving with Great White Sharks near Gansbaii. These were the big boys with the razor sharp teeth made famous in that Jaws movie. The film depicted the great white shark as a "ferocious man eater" as well as an evil mastermind. In reality, humans are not the preferred prey of the Great Whites however, of all shark species, this shark is, by far, responsible for the largest number of fatal unprovoked attacks on humans (although the total number of shark fatalities annually are only 20 and there is also evidence to suggest that the bull and tiger sharks are more aggressive to humans although the fatalities are fewer). So how did I convince pigeon-traumatized DH that getting close enough to where we could brush the teeth of a man-eating shark was a good idea. I threw out a few facts that I think are accurate (or
at least sound good). For example, in the United States, the annual number of people who drown is 3,306, whereas the annual number of shark fatalities is 1. People bite other people in New York City alone 10 times more often than sharks bite people worldwide. Wasps kill more people (100 every year) and falling coconuts are even more deadly, claiming 150 lives annually. Toasters kill around 600 to 700 people a year but I may have closed the sale by suggesting (speaking of sharks?) that I might end up diving with a number of women wearing those skin tight Neoprene wetsuits. She was coming with me and staying close.
Great White adults on average are 13–17 ft long and weigh in the area of 1,500–2,500lb and females are generally larger than males. The trouble is that the great white shark can reach 21 ft in length and 7,300 lb in weight (and use destroyed dive cages as toothpicks??). The great white shark's reputation as a ferocious predator is well-earned, yet they are usually ambush hunters, taking prey by surprise from below. We were going to try and find them near Seal Island, and since sharks in this area attack most
often in the morning, (within 2 hours after sunrise, when visibility is poor) we, of course, made arrangements for an early morning boat ride- important to see them while they're still hungry.
This is where things go a little bit sideways. We had always assumed that "shark cage diving" meant that you would be donning scuba gear and hovering inside a cage some feet below the surface while a number of great whites circled and tried to figure out how to get a nibble (just like you see on National Geographic videos). It turns out that "shark diving" would be more aptly named "bobbing for sharks". You do get inside a cage but it is fixed to the side of the boat and no breathing apparatus is required- you grip a handle until a spotter gives you the order to hold your breath, push yourself under, and get face-to-face with a shark. We tried all of the local shark 'diving' companies but they all do pretty much the same thing- apparently in this area scuba is pointless because the visibility is poor even at shallow depths and surface lures like chum, and fish heads on a rope are needed to ensure
sightings. "Bobbing For Sharks" doesn't have the same death-defying allure as the shark diving we thought we were going to do, and, to be honest, the adrenaline rush is unexpectedly muted even when you viewing a dangerous critter that is only inches/feet away from you. We actually experienced better views and chills from the boat deck especially when the shark broke the surface (just like in Jaws).
It's funny how things work. We just finished having a great time watching tiny meerkats pop out of the ground and sun themselves (largely because we didn't expect much of anything) and here we were a little disappointed with the unique close encounters with this massive killer (because we had such high expectations).
We had now seen 6 of South Africa's 'Big 7' so we headed to neighbouring Hermanus and were able to verify the town claim that it offers the best shore-based whale watching in the world. The star attraction here is the Southern Right Whale- Hermanus even has a Whale Crier and it is the job of the Whale Crier, to alert shore-based whale watchers to the whereabouts of whales, by blowing a coded message, via a horn made of kelp?
Southern Right whales come to the warm waters of Hermanus to mate and calve and, being both curious and playful, they are rather active on the water surface. This curiosity, their size, and the fact that they float when killed made them the "right" whale to harpoon back in the whaling days (hence their name), but since hunting ceased, stocks are estimated to have grown by 7% a year.The total population is now around 10,000 but they are still classed as endangered.
The southern right whale is readily distinguished from others by the callosities on its head, and along with a long arching mouth that begins above the eye, I found it was hard to photograph them since I was never quite sure which end, and what, I was looking at. Even when they were breaching (which they did quite a bit), they seemed to do it just beyond the true range of my lens. I may have to turn in my photographers license since I couldn't seem to capture any good shots of an animal that weighs in at 50 to 80 tons and measures 49 to 59 feet in length (I'm not sure if our fellow world traveler
from San Fran, Jen N, still tracks the blog but just in case she does, the testicles of right whales are likely to be the largest of any animal, each weighing around 1,100 lbs). We even hopped on a boat for a closer look (at the whale, not the testicles) but the sightings still seemed to be an unexplained series of lumps and bumps with a blowhole attached.
Having survived the sharks with only a couple of minor underwear accidents, and having enjoyed the whales, DH was somewhat disappointed to see our wildlife encounters in southern Africa winding down (although we are likely to pass on any future pigeon safari opportunities), but it was time for another big city. We're off to Cape Town with a quick stop in wine country.
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