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Thursday, March 12, 2009


Sometimes great things take place on Thursdays. For example, I was born on a Thursday, and todays Thursday will be just as important and memorable to me as that was. Why? Because today, I went on a boat off the coast of South Africa, suited up, and waited patiently with 14 other passengers as the crew started chumming...for great whites.

They had warned us that because the sharks are wild animals they can't guarantee any sightings, and the first boat out this morning saw no sharks at all. Well, our luck was much better.

It only took about 45 minutes before the first (and littlest at about 2 meters) made an appearance. We all gawked from the boat, then the cage was lowered in and they asked for the first five suckers who wanted in. Rahima and I probably would have knocked people clear off the boat to get in first, and lucky for them, no one was in our way. So in we went and waited for our little friend to come back.

The water is pretty murky so you kind of balance in the cage without scuba gear or a snorkel (apparently the regulator bubbles annoy the sharks and keep them further away) and keeping all hands and toes in the cage. When the sharks get close (lured by the chum and a bunch of fish heads all tied to a buoy) the crew baits it towards the cage (within inches literally) and they yell "down" and you hold your breath and submerge yourself to see the big fish swim by. It is really cold, but you are so excited, waiting at eye level to the surface for jaws. And when you see these sharks you forget about everything else. You just want them to stay right in front of you so you can study them...but they couldn't care less what you want, and why should they?

You can surprisingly see a lot more of the sharks from the boat than from in the cage, and even with that said, I had semi-jinxed shark luck. They are the only surface feeding sharks (sorry surfers) so they come up, jaws fin and all, and then grab their prey, sometimes even launching themselves clear out of the water because of the speed they use for their surprise attacks (as many of you have probably seen on Discovery. Yup, that's here.)

The first shark to really grab at the bait came up right as I looked down to pass someone a pair of booties. Then I went in the cage and saw it swim by, but no looking down its throat or anything. The next time, on the boat I turned to go get my fleece, and shark number 2 showed his face. The third time I looked left, it was right. So I saw a lot of fins and back and thrashing (and boy do they thrash like you wouldn't believe!) and underwater shark, but not that real picture perfect jaws face I had been hoping for.

So when we got the chance to go back in the water, we jumped in. After about 15 freezing minutes of waiting in the cage I joked that if I got out a shark would definitely come, and kind of believed it. Rahima told me to take one for the team and get out. So, numb fingers and toes, I climbed out, grabbed my camera and focused on the bait. And true to the day, about 7 minutes later the last shark came into sight. Huge sucker. About 3.5 meters and massive. He came right at the cage, mouth open and hit the cage sideways, about 5 feet from me in the boat and probably 5 inces from Rahima in the cage. We couldn't believe our luck. And I got a decent picture. It was perfect.

So like I said, sometimes great things happen on Thursdays. How was yours? ;)


Keiko said...

DAMN! That's awesome! I'm so jealous! I'm not even going to tell you how my Thursday went because it sucks compared to yours! Are you going to go on a dive in South Africa?

matt lipner said...

if i could pick one student to dangle out of the cage as bait it would be....ok my thursday wasn't that bad but nowhere as cool as yours! mose is super excited and jealous...

Weezy said...

all I can say is that the best thing about THIS Thursday is catching up on more stories about your travels...sharks, wow! I'd like to feed it my pink slip...

Jenny said...

where's the decent picture? i hope you put it on facebook or somewhere

Sara Marie said...

Oh, Annette. Chumming for sharks is bad!! Not to mention illegal in South Africa. Arggg. I was working on a research vessel out there. All I can say is that the local surfers have no cage around them, and the more people do this the more the sharks associate people with food. And the more the surfers get munched. Ouch.

Anonymous said...

@annette i'm so stoked you guys did this and saw some sharks!!! :)

@sarah marie i don't think chumming is "bad"... found this on the web:

The cage diving operators themselves offer some compelling arguments even though you would expect them to because of their bias. They say the sharks that they encounter are not resident in the area (they don't see the same ones every day) so there is not enough opportunity for them to associate humans with food.
Secondly, the bait that they use as a lure is not fed to the sharks and they always keep it just out of reach of the gaping jaws. The bait is sometimes taken but that is the exception and not the rule.

Thirdly, the shark perceives the boat, cage and people as one entity larger than itself in the same way that animals on a safari can't distinguish humans inside the vehicle. It's unlikely that the shark will recognize a swimmer or a surfer as the same thing that was in the cage.

And lastly, the practise of chumming has been in operation for a long time by fishermen with no controversy attached to it.