For my first weekend off during the internship, one of the other interns – Claudia and I decided we wanted to get up close and personal with the Great Whites and see them from a different view – underwater! We were booked in for the Saturday morning trip with White Shark Africa and had to be at the office by 8.15am where we enjoyed a buffet breakfast to fill us up before heading out on the boat. We watched the promo and research video showed in their office and also received a safety briefing where we learnt about the boat, and how the trip would be run. The talk was delivered by enthusiastic interns Mel and Dave who I later became friends with.
Once we were on the boat, Claudia and I went straight up to the top seating area so that we could enjoy the view on the way over. We were excited to see seals swimming through the water from the moment we left port so it was clear to see why white sharks use the area as an abundant food source. Once we reached seal island, the captain drove us around the entirety of the island so we got a close-up look at the seals that inhabit it and watched as they played in the surf and basked on the rocks in the sunshine.
We then anchored up next to the island and the staff started chumming basically as soon as we stopped while we received a briefing on safety whilst inside the cage. Inside the cage itself, there are another set of bars we were not allowed to put our hands and feet past for our own safety – so the shark doesn’t accidentally hit us as they go past since they are so large and powerful. We were told we would be doing the cage dive in two groups since there were quite a few of us wanting to get in the water. Those of us wanting to get in the water were then given wetsuits so that we were a little more comfortable in the water since it wasn’t quite Summer yet, as well as a mask.
There was a little hesitation for filling the cage for the first dive. For a lot of passengers this would be the first time they were getting into the water in close proximity to such a massive, powerful animal so the nerves were understandable. It was really great to see such a variety of people from all over the world obviously fascinated by great whites and willing to let go of their fears of these magnificent creatures. There were two spaces left so Claudia and I decided to make up the numbers and get inside – it was so worth it!
The cage was positioned on the port side of the boat with the bait handler positioned on the right of the cage, up on the boat. The bait (huge tuna head) was attached to a thin rope and then to a thicker rope and thrown across the front left-hand side of the cage and dragged in front and back towards the boat so it could be thrown out again. This process was repeated several times during our dive and another staff member would regularly say “shark up” when a shark was moving up towards the tuna head, allowing for an extra pair of eyes to keep watch (the sharks can get very sneaky and creative with sneaking up on the bait). The extra staff member alerting to a sharks upcoming presence was also indicative for us in the cage to take in a breath and hold ourselves down in the cage so we could see the shark from underneath the water.
While we were inside the cage, we had the sharks come right up close alongside the cage, mostly cruising past, following the movement of the bait and sometimes sharks would move very quickly front-on so we were able to get a close up view of the sharks. We saw four beautiful sharks in total, with the largest being about 3.2m.
It was a really great experience being able to see the sharks and having the time to relax and enjoy their presence after having our first day on the research vessel collecting data on them in a fast-paced environment (also very exciting!).
After our trip, we headed to the local park in Mossel Bay where we walked around under the trees and also the animal section where we saw plenty of birds, tortoises, goats and sheep. We also found a chameleon on a branch that had presumably snapped off of a tree (which we almost stood on!). We were lucky that one of the guards were friendly enough to come over and tell us a bit about them, since we were so intrigued and excited to having found it.
On Sunday, it was an absolutely stunning day so Megan (another Oceans Research intern) and I decided to go on a horseback safari at Botlierskop Game Reserve. On the taxi drive over, there was a puffadder snake resting on the side of the road, something we were really surprised to hear (especially myself – coming from a country where we don’t have snakes!). After reading through the safety and trip details and signing our waivers at the office, we were driven to the stable on a small cart driven by one of the staff.
Once we reached the stable, I was pleasantly surprised to see Mel and Dave (the White Shark Africa interns from cage diving) also there along with Thea, who was very fond of horses. Once we were briefed about what the trip would entail, we were paired up with horses based on our heights and introduced to them. They each had Afrikaans names and we loved hearing about what they meant in English and how it related to each of the horses’ personalities and temperament. I was paired with an 8 year old black horse named “Vastrap” which I was told he was named because he was steady on his feet.
During our horse trek, we saw wildlife as soon as we started, including wildebeest, waterbuck, springbok and zebras and were rewarded with spectacular views once we reached the top – we saw the beautiful, lush valley on one side and the ocean on the other – it was breathtaking and ended a wonderful weekend well spent!