From being in the headlines of many newspapers around the world to being the villain in countless horror and thriller movies, Great White Sharks have had a tough time around us humans. The media has characterized them into this man-killing machine that makes some of us think twice about where we choose to swim or surf, but this shouldn’t be the case.
So, a few months ago I started part-time work as a deckhand on a Cage Diving boat that operates to Seal Island, home of the famous breaching Great Whites. Like some people, I had always been a bit of a sceptic when it came to Cage diving, thinking that chumming for these large and truly majestic creatures was somewhat unethical.
On my first trip to Seal Island, we chugged our way eastwards, with weary yet jovial guests and the morning sun starting to light up the surroundings, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Still being quite sceptical about this operation, I was excited, I had never seen a Great White before, up-close, in real life. We had arrived at the island, dropped anchor, put the cage in the water, got the chum line going and flung the guests into their wet suits. Now we wait. After a good twenty minutes, I heard a loud cry from the viewing platform “shark on the bait, shark on the bait!!” This was it, my first opportunity to see a Great White. I peered over the guests in front of me and saw this huge shark swim gracefully past the cage, I was in awe of this brute and had to see more of them. After having a few more sharks come past the cage, it was time to head back to port.
Since then, on every trip I’ve been to Seal Island, I find myself thinking about the common misconceptions associated with Great Whites and other sharks from the people and strangers I’ve spoken to. I’ve decided to list the top five misconceptions I’ve heard people speak about, while being a deckhand on a cage diving boat:
Chumming at Seal Island has no effect on the shark attacks in False Bay. Why? Because chumming is done around the Island, a hunting ground for Great Whites where their natural prey live.
- Shark attacks occur frequently
You are 30 times more likely to be struck by lightning than bitten by a shark. Between 1580 and 2015 there have been around 500 deaths related to shark attacks. In South Africa alone, there were around 1400 road related deaths in the December holidays of 2014.
- Great Whites like to prey on humans
Of course, this is not true. There are many theories that offer logical reasons why sharks may attack humans. One of them being that Great Whites are extremely inquisitive and are actually really clever animals and may only bite purely for investigative reasons as they’re not familiar with us. Another theory is that they attack for defensive purposes, perhaps someone may have entered their territory and sharks could perceive that person to be a potential threat to them.
- Great Whites are common.
Well, they may hang around Seal Island in fair numbers, but the truth is, Great White numbers are decreasing. In their aquatic realm they are an apex predator, but due to man’s devastating effects such as fishing, it has caused these creatures to fall into the endangered species category.
- Sharks are more of a risk to us than we are to them.
Majority of victims from Great White attacks live to tell the tale. Unfortunately for the sharks it’s a different story. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each year, although this figure is quite high as it is, some scientists believe it could be even as much as 200 million.
Some interesting facts about Great White Sharks:
- Great Whites can obtain a length of 3.5m to 4.5m and have been found to grow much larger than that.
- Unlike most animals that have five senses, Great Whites (sharks in general) and some other species of aquatic life have an extra one, known as electro-reception that allows them to detect prey. This could also be used as an aid for travelling. Some say by using the magnetic discharge of the earth they could be able to navigate across oceans and around the world.
- Great Whites can reach speeds of around 50km/h. this is a useful characteristic when hunting agile prey like seals. They will swim at full speed towards the surface, usually breaching in an attempt to catch their prey.
- They do not have eye lids, instead they can roll their eyes back into their head to protect them.
- The average fully grown adult Great White can weigh anywhere between 600kg to 1100kg.
Most important of all, we need to understand that the ocean does not belong to us and that we are in fact just visitors. Great Whites are the apex predator of the ocean and deserve much more respect and appreciation than what has are already been given to them. Many have speculated that Cage diving and its practice of chumming has a direct influence on the increase of Shark attacks, but there has not been enough evidence produced to prove this wild accusation. Cage diving as a whole, is a beneficial and logical solution to educate people about Great White Sharks and their benefits to food chains and marine ecosystems. Seeing this creature up close in personal is truly an amazing experience, I encourage anyone who has not been on one these trips to try it out at least once.