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Frequently Asked Questions

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ON WHITE SHARK DIVING



THE ANSWERS

WHERE IS DYER ISLAND?
Dyer Island, about 5.2 nautical miles off shore, is situated near a small fishing village called Gansbaai, which is about 160km Cape Town, and is close to the most southern tip of Africa. Dyer Island has become known as one of only two unique areas in the world, where the chances to view the great white shark are exceptionally high. Other wildlife species such as Cape Fur seals, Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants, African Penguins, whales and dolphins are also likely to be sighted     ..return to question list

WHERE IS SEAL ISLAND, FALSE BAY?
Seal Island is situated off the coast of False Bay, on the Cape Peninsula, close to Cape Point, about 45min drive from Cape Town Central. Operators in this area are restricted by permit conditions and are only allowed to operate in our winter months, from about May to September.     ..return to question list

HOW LONG IS THE BOAT RIDE?
Depending on the time of the year, the boat ride to the area of shark activity varies between 20 minutes (in summer) and 40 minutes (in winter). In the summer months the sharks are found closer in shore.     ..return to question list

HOW LONG ARE WE AT SEA FOR?
The boat usually launches between 8am and 10am in the morning, and if it is an afternoon launch, this will usually be between 12pm and 1pm, depending on the tides. The harbour from which we launch is very small and shallow, and very affected by the tidal ranges in the various phases of the moon. The days cage diving trip is approximately 4 hours at sea, weather permitting. If at any stage, all the clients onboard would like the boat to return to the shore for whatever reason, the skipper will gladly do so.     ..return to question list

HOW DO YOU ATTRACT SHARKS TO THE BOAT?
White sharks are attracted to the boat by the means of “chumming”. This is a process where an “odour trail” is created (also known as a chum slick), which will guide the sharks to the boat. The chum usually consists of a mixture of mashed tuna, and/or other oily fish, such as sardines, and fish oil. This is all placed in a big drum off the stern of the boat, and throughout the day seawater is added to the drum and mixed with the chum. This very strong smelling mixture is then constantly ladled back into the ocean, and will slowly drift away from the boat, creating the chum slick. This chum slick can be seen on top of the water, spreading out with the currents and the wind. Now it is a game of patients and luck. As soon as a shark swims across the chum slick, the shark will follow the scent to the source (which is the boat). The shark will swim up the chum slick in a zig-zag pattern, a hunting strategy which prevents the shark from missing any potential food sources drifting from the main food source. Once the shark is close to the boat, bait and often a decoy (a lure often cut in the shape of a seal), is used to attract the shark to the surface and closer to the boat, enabling cage divers to view the shark.

Once the days’ activities are over, the team packs up and chumming is stopped. The chum slick is broken up very quickly, with the aeration from the propellers, and the wind chop on the surface of the ocean. This odour trail loses its effect almost immediately, and will no longer attract the sharks. Each day a new chum slick has to be created.
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HOW LONG DO WE HAVE TO WAIT TO SEE SHARKS?
Unfortunately we cannot answer this question as we have no idea how long it will take for the first white shark to appear. Some days it is a matter of minutes, and other days it can be a few hours, and occasionally white sharks may not appear at all. Patience is something you will have to bring along when viewing any wildlife in its natural environment. White Sharks are not resident around Dyer Island, and all the sharks we have in the bay are merely passing through. Some do remain for a few days at a time, and some even a few weeks, but none stay permanently in the area. We are seeing new sharks every day, and each shark has a different character and behavior pattern. Great White Sharks are large top predators, and are by nature incredibly curious, but elusive animals, so contrary to popular belief, it is not just a case of just throwing your bait and chum (a mixture of fish, fish oils or mashed fish) in the water and they all come rushing to feed.     ..return to question list

HOW LONG WILL THE SHARKS STAY AT THE BOAT FOR?
Once again, unfortunately we cannot give a definite answer to this question. Because white sharks are each unique in the behaviour and characteristics, it is impossible to pre-determine what each shark will do. Some will come in and have a closer look at the bait (usually tuna or fish pieces or fish heads), and not show any interest at all, and other sharks will have a few attempts to get the bait. Some sharks may not even approach the bait, and stay a distance away from the boat. Some sharks may only surface once, and leave the area, and others may stay around the boat for a few hours. Each day is different. The white sharks attitudes range from incredibly relaxed and curious, to slightly more feisty and aggressive in their attempts to get the bait. Sharks are extremely successful top predators, and behaviour based on caution and instinct has helped them survive over 400 million years. They are not the mindless, aggressive creatures that they are sometimes made out to be.     ..return to question list

WHAT TIME OF THE YEAR IS BEST FOR SHARK DIVING & VIEWING?
South Africa, and in particular, Gansbaai, is one of the few Great White Shark Hotspots in the world, where one can view these magnificent sharks in their natural environment, in very close proximity to the boat.
Shark Tours in Gansbaai are run each and every day of the year, as Dyer Island is a good place to see the sharks all year round. Shark trips to Seal Island, False Bay are restricted to the winter months from approximately May – September. The absolute best season is in our winter months, when sharks are particularly active in their feeding behaviour and the visibility is at its best. The following guide-line can be used, based on tours over the past few years. Please note that months may overlap slightly.

PEAK SEASON : APRIL to OCTOBER (99% success rate)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED*
HIGH SEASON: NOV. and DEC. (90 – 99% success rate)
INTERMEDIATE SEASON : JAN to MARCH: (80 – 90% success rate)

Our winter months, although best for white shark viewing and diving, are also renown for winter storms. To avoid disappointment, if possible schedule a few days for your White Shark Cage Diving experience, as the cage diving boats will not be able to launch during these storms.     ..return to question list

HOW MANY DAYS SHOULD I BOOK FOR?
This decision is entirely up to you, and should be based on the experience you wish to have.
Every day is different, with different sharks and different tourists, which makes each day unique. Some of the crew have worked with the Sharks for more than a decade, and still get excited and emotional to observe White Sharks today. Great White Sharks are intelligent animals, each unique in its behavioral pattern and attitude. White sharks display different characteristics, some being very shy or extra cautious, while others are seemingly playful and curious in the extreme. If you just want to see a Great White Shark, and have the chance to dive with them, then one day should be sufficient. If you regret only spending one day with these amazing animals once you have encountered them, booking a few extra days is always an option. If you are looking for a different experience and are more passionate about the sharks (a “Shark lover”), then we would highly recommend that you spend at least three or more days to get a better feel for the variety of White Sharks you may encounter. Please remember, if booking during our peak winter months, to allow for “bad weather” days, where the boats may not be able to get to sea.     ..return to question list

IS THE CAGE SAFE?
White Shark Cage Diving is 100% safe, as long as you stick to the basic rules and regulations, which will be explained during your safety briefing on the boat. As long as divers do not stick their hands or legs outside of the cage area, you are completely safe in the water. The cage is tied securely to the side of the boat at all times, and divers are assisted by a qualified dive master on board, especially while getting in and out of the cage. The cage is also fitted with a lid, which is closed once all the divers are inside the cage. As they say “prevention is better than cure”, and although it has never happened, there is always the possibility of a very active shark perhaps leaping and landing on top of the cage. The lid will clearly prevent the shark from joining the divers on the wrong side of the cage, and prevent injuries. Great White Sharks do not attack cages, and by nature are more curious than aggressive. The South African White Shark cage diving industry is strictly regulated by a Code of Conduct and Permit Regulations by Marine and Coastal Management (Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism). Any breach in these conditions can result in the loss of a permit.     ..return to question list

HOW LONG DO I STAY IN THE CAGE FOR?
This will depend on the number of people on the boat and especially the number of people who wish to go into the cage (very often there are a number of people only wanting to surface view, and not wanting to get wet). Usually four to five people enter the cage at a time. Your first cage snorkel dive will be relatively short, just long enough for you to see a White Shark. We will then alternate all the people who wish to dive in the cage, and once everyone has had a chance to see the sharks from the cage, you then can return for a second dive, if time allows.
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DO THE BOATS FEED THE SHARKS?
This is a very controversial subject, which has been the topic of many heavy discussions, especially since the recent spate of shark attacks off False Bay, South Africa. Shark bite statistics have increased world wide in the last few years, and not only in South Africa.

The White Shark Cage Diving Industry in South Africa is strictly regulated by permit conditions and a code of conduct, where it states that the cage-diving industry is not allowed to feed white sharks. The cage diving boats are also restricted in the amount of bait they are allowed to use each day, so believe me, the crew do not want to lose their bait to the sharks.

Although the sharks do get the bait from time to time (mainly due to bad visibility), this is not done intentionally. The bait is merely a lure to entice the sharks to come closer to the boat, as it is quickly and skillfully kept just in front of the sharks snout as it moves in after it (like dangling a carrot before the donkey). It is also important to remember that in order to train any animal to respond to behavioural training, positive and constant reinforcement is required. White sharks do not encounter the boats often enough, and are not positively rewarded for their efforts, which are intermittent to say the least.

What we also need to remember is that White Sharks are not resident around Dyer Island, and are merely passing through on their journey else where, and only stay in the area on average for a few weeks. Sharks found in tropical waters are slightly different, where many species are resident, and are a part of a reef system for many years, which allows them to form behaviour patterns associated with human activities (i.e. feeding of reef sharks in certain tropical areas, where sharks may learn to associate boat engine noise or divers with food).

The White Shark Cage Diving Industry, as well as many researchers, do not believe that the chumming and baiting activities used to attract white sharks by the regulated cage diving industry in South Africa are in any way linked to any shark incidents or attacks.     ..return to question list

HOW OLD DO MY CHILDREN HAVE TO BE TO GO IN THE CAGE?
If your children are 10 years or older, they can go into the cage, as long as they are accompanied by an adult on the boat. Younger children are welcome on the boat for surface viewing of the sharks, and once again, must be accompanied by an adult.     ..return to question list

DO I NEED A SCUBA DIVING QUALIFICATION?
No, this is not a requirement for great white shark cage diving. Unqualified divers are able to enjoy the same experience on snorkel, as those qualified divers on scuba. In fact, during certain months, when visibility is reduced, scuba is not recommended in the cage due to the potential negative effect from the noise of the bubbles, which tends to keep the sharks at a distance.     ..return to question list

DO I HAVE TO DIVE TO SEE SHARKS?
No, you do not have to dive if you do not want to. Surface viewing from the boat, for those not interested in getting wet, is just as fantastic and an experience not easily forgotten. White Sharks are surface feeders, so all the activity will be clearly visible from the boat, and very often actually better than in the cage due to limited underwater visibility. You do not need to decide this prior to the trip, you can decide while you are at sea whether to dive or not. The choice is entirely up to you. The price however, remains the same, whether you choose to dive, or just surface view.     ..return to question list

DO I NEED TO BRING MY OWN DIVE GEAR?
No, all diving gear is on board the boat and included in the costs. This includes wetsuits, masks & snorkels, booties, weight belts. If applicable, please bring your scuba diving card. Scuba equipment is on board, and used at certain times of the year, and is also included in the costs. If you have a prescription mask, please bring it along.
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WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING?
A swimming costume and towel, sunglasses, sun block, cap or hat (the sun can be very harsh even when it is overcast), warm clothing & a jacket (it can get a bit chilly on the sea, even if it is warm on the land), camera & binoculars (for whale, dolphin and bird watching).

Seasick tablets should also be taken either the night before or 2 hours before the trip, so please read instruction leaflets the night before your trip in order for your tablets to be taken in good time to be effective.

HOW CAN I AVOID FEELING SEA SICK?
Unfortunately there is no general rule to avoid this terrible feeling which some people are prone to, but here are a few tips which may help prevent it:

  1. Do not consume any alcohol the evening before your trip, or at least drink alcohol in moderation. Hangovers are a near guarantee for sea-sickness.
  2. Take motion sickness tablets. These can be purchased at any pharmacy without prescription, and please read the package insert carefully for the recommended use and dosage. It is usually a good idea to take one the evening before your excursion, and another one in the morning about 2 hours before boarding the boat. If you do not want to take tablets, there are wrist bands available that achieve the same result, and are also obtainable from most pharmacies.
  3. Try not to think about it or worry yourself about it. If you have ever been sea sick, you will remember it, and some sea sickness is psychological. Convince yourself that you will be fine, and forget about sea sickness.
  4. While at sea, stay in the fresh air and avoid closed and confined spaces such as the cabin and toilet. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and try not look down or look through your camera's viewfinders for too long (most compact digital cameras offer a screen, use this option). If the sea is choppy, avoid going on the top deck where the boat's movements will be accentuated (think of a pendulum, so the most movement on the boat will be at the highest point, which will be the upper deck). Wear comfortable and loose clothing items, or just make yourselves as comfortable as possible by opening buttons or belts.
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WHAT IF I GET SEASICK AND WANT TO GO BACK TO SHORE?
Hopefully this will not happen, but unfortunately seasickness may be part of the experience.
If you have tried all of the above tips, and nothing is working, and you really cannot take the feeling any longer, we can arrange for a shuttle boat to collect you and bring you back to shore. This shuttle is however run by an independent company, and a 400 ZAR surcharge will be added to your bill. If there is more than one person returning to shore, this cost can be split among all the seasick casualties.     ..return to question list

DO I NEED TO SPEND THE NIGHT IN GANSBAAI?
No, transport can be arranged from your hotel / guesthouse in the Cape Town area, but if you choose to stay for a few days, accommodation in Gansbaai or its surrounding towns can be arranged for you. There is a range of accommodation available, from Back Packers to 4-star luxury guesthouses, with magnificent views of Walker Bay or surrounding mountains. If you would like to avoid a very early rise in order to meet the transport, or drive yourself to Gansbaai on the morning of your trip, we would recommend traveling to Gansbaai the previous day, and enjoy a relaxing evening, and of course a slightly later rise on the morning of your trip. We can still arrange for you to be collected at your lodgings in Gansbaai in order to take you to the boat, if you do not have your own transport.
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WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN GANSBAAI?
Known previously as a sleepy fishing village, Gansbaai has become a booming tourist coastal town during the past few years. The area of Gansbaai stretches along over 20 kilometers of coastline from De Kelders to Pearly Beach, and offers some amazing sights and walks along the rocky shores of De Kelders, where some old caves can be visited, or along the beautiful beaches of Uilenkraalsmond and Die Plaat. De Kelders offers some amazing shore based whale watching from about May through to December, and during these months boat based whale watching tours are also available through us. The area is also known for its unique Fynbos Biome, through which stunning walks can also be undertaken, but a guided tour is highly recommended so that you can learn something about the hundreds of indigenous plant species. Gansbaai is definitely a place where you get to feel very in touch with nature. The larger town of Hermanus is about 40km away, where shore based whale watching is also possible during the months from June – December. Hermanus offers many shops, restaurants and other entertainment, as well as some surfing waves and beautiful beaches.     ..return to question list

WHAT TIME DOES THE BOAT LAUNCH?
Trip times vary every day according to the tides and weather conditions. Your collection time and launch time will be confirmed with you at approximately 16h00 the day prior to your trip. If you have not yet arrived at your hotel / accommodation, a message will be left for you, which you will receive when you check in.     ..return to question list

CAN WE RENT CAMERAS OR VIDEO EQUIPMENT?
Underwater disposable cameras are on sale at the meeting place in the morning. The services of a professional underwater videographer who is highly experienced in this field, is on the boat daily. Your personal experience will be captured on a high quality DVD (above and underwater) and a viewing of the video of the day will be shown while you enjoy refreshments after the trip. There are plenty of extra’s also on the DVD, which will be explained to you along with the ordering process on the day of your trip. The DVD or VHS will be made available to you after the tour at a minimal cost.     ..return to question list

DO YOU SUPPORT RESEARCH?
Yes, most definitely. Not only are our tours highly educational, but all operators actively participate in documenting valuable research information on great white sharks, which is forwarded to Marine & Coastal Management and various Marine Biologists world-wide. We are dedicated to the protection and preservation of the great white shark and its surrounding environment. One of our Directors is a fully qualified Marine Biologist, with a Masters degree in Statistical Sciences, and has been involved in many Great White Shark Research projects.     ..return to question list

WHAT ELSE CAN WE SEE AT DYER ISLAND?
An area full of life…you will be able to see up to 50 000 seals, birdlife, African Penguins and in the months from July to December, Southern Right whales are breeding and calving in the area. Dolphins are also spotted passing through the area, and are a real treat.     ..return to question list

WHAT IS THE COST OF A TRIP?
The cost of a 1 day trip ranges from R1375.00 – R1700.00 per person (depending on which boat you would like to go on and the type of experience you are looking for). Prices include transfers from the Cape Town area. Please see our website for special offers and package deals, as well as prices excluding transport costs.
We can accept cash or credit card payments.     ..return to question list

IS CAGE DIVING ALWAYS POSSIBLE?
On the rare occasion it may not be possible to lower the cage into the water, due to strong currents or exceptionally bad sea conditions, but this is a very rare occurrence. If this does happen, surface viewing will still allow you a personal and up close encounter with these majestic animals.     ..return to question list

DO YOU GIVE REFUNDS IF THERE ARE NO SHARKS?
Because we are dealing with wild animals, it is not possible to refund, but another trip at a lower tariff can be arranged for you, or at the operator’s discretion, a voucher may be given to be redeemed at a later date. Remember it is in our interest to satisfy the client by giving them what they paid for.     ..return to question list

 

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Africa Diver