Cage Diving with Great White Sharks – The Ultimate Close Encounter
Shark cage diving can be a part of Cape Town tours

“There’s nothing in the sea this fish would fear. Other fish run from bigger things. That’s their instinct. But this fish doesn’t run from anything. He doesn’t fear.”
― Peter Benchley, Jaws

Since 1975, the Great White Shark has been painted as something out of a nightmare. The movie Jaws created a whole generation of people who grew up with a complete misconception of this sea creature, and although this fish has a fearsome grin that would make most shudder, it is not the animal that people think it is. 

Great White Sharks are without a doubt one of the most misunderstood predators but they have their place in their ecosystem, and when viewed in the right conditions, they can become part of one of the very best “safaris” you ever have in Africa. 

Shark cage diving might be an Australian concept but it has been perfected right here in South Africa and is a regular attraction for those wanting to add some flavour to their Cape Town tour. A popular activity for those daredevils who fancy a close encounter unlike any other, shark cage diving will have you submerged off the coast of Gansbaai, fitted with a diving suit and standing in a cage, with the mighty Great White Shark a mere couple of centimetres away. 

The concept of sinking into the depths in a cage first became a thing in the 1950s but it only became a popular tourist activity much later, in the 2000s. 

The idea is attributed to the legendary Jacques Cousteau, who developed the cage when he was filming The Silent World. After that, the mantle was taken up by Rodney Fox, who had survived a shark attack and wanted to create a safe way for people to view sharks of all kinds. 

Then, in the 1970s, after Jaws became an international blockbuster, the interest in sharks exploded and so did shark tourism. 

Today, plenty of tourists sign up for the shark cage diving experience, both in Southern Australia and South Africa, and enjoy a safe adventure that gives them a renewed appreciation for these truly remarkable creatures.

Boat with tourists Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai

The Cape Town Tour Shark Cage Diving Experience

It’s safe to say that shark cage diving is not for everyone. Just like not every tourist has the desire to bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge, not everyone will want to take a dip into the cold Atlantic to see the Great White up close. 

South Africa’s shark cage diving capital is Gansbaai. This small town was once just a humble fishing village but with Dyer Island’s popularity and with the area becoming the ideal spot for diving with Great Whites, Gansbaai is now a busy attraction in its own right. 

To go shark cage diving one must book the experience. Some tour companies in South Africa offer the experience as a part of a Cape Town tour, while there’s also the option of booking your own shark cage diving trip. 

If you have decided that this is the sort of holiday that perfectly suits your adventurous expectations, here’s what you need to know about making the most of such a trip. 

Safety is the Ultimate Priority 

Shark cage diving is not without its risks, but like all adventure sports, it is considered exceptionally safe, what with the safety advancements that have been made and the various rules and regulations that are in place. The cages used are well constructed using sturdy metal, which not even a mighty Great White’s jaw can penetrate. 

Aside from the safe cage, the team who operate the experience are also properly trained and dedicated to keeping tourists safe throughout their dive. 

It should be said that you don’t need to have diving experience or a diving license to be able to enjoy an experience like this. You will be given all of the information you could possibly need before your dive and you will also be provided with the necessary diving gear. 

A Typical Itinerary 

Most shark cage diving trips will begin at sunrise. When you arrive at the location, there is generally a quick registration process and a comprehensive safety briefing, and after all the admin is out of the way, the group that will be diving will head down to the dock and board the boat. 

The boat journey itself is a scenic adventure, lasting anywhere from one to three hours depending on the distance to the prime diving location. 

As the boat moves through the water, you should keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, sea birds, and other marine life that might appear along the way. 

Once you reach the designated area, usually chosen based on recent shark activity and optimal sea conditions, the captain will safely anchor the boat, and you will be geared up. 

Entering the Cage

While each company will have their own way of doing things, the process of entering the cage is fairly straightforward. The goal is to make you feel as comfortable as possible before your dive and to do so, the team who you dive with will also be stringent when it comes to the rules and regulations. 

When you are comfortable, suited up and ready to go, you will climb into the cage, which will be correctly closed and lowered into the waters from the side of the boat. 

Sinking into the icy depths can take your breath away. Just beneath the water’s surface, on the Gansbaai part of the South African coastline, there is a fascinating world. You can expect to see so much more than just sharks, with other sea life as well as all sorts of spectacular plant life to be seen just below the surface. You will also more than likely see other sharks as well.

Tourists Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai

Your First Face-to-Face with a Great White

Great White Sharks appear all year round, but they are most commonly seen between May and September. To be sure that you have plenty of luck during your dive, it helps to call the company you are doing your dive with to find out if sharks are in the area. 

Worldwide, the shark numbers are dwindling, especially the Great White. Shark cage diving in South Africa is one of the few and one of the best ways to see these incredible creatures in their most natural habitat. 

As you descend in the cage, into the depths, you can expect to feel a rush of adrenaline surge through you. This is completely natural, so don’t panic. 

On sunny days, the sunlight filters through the water, casting an ethereal glow on the scene. And then, it appears; the colossal form of a Great White Shark, with its sleek body a perfect example of predatory evolution.

An initial wave of awe might wash over you as their size is truly breathtaking, and their powerful presence commands respect. As you watch the shark swimming around, you might observe a variety of behaviours. These are curious sharks and they are known for circling the cage, with their black eyes seemingly peering into your soul. It might also display its incredible speed with a sudden burst of energy, leaving a swirling watery vortex in its wake. 

Some divers even report witnessing the fascinating “gaping” behaviour, where the shark opens its enormous jaws wide, showcasing its formidable array of teeth.

The Importance of Great White Conservation

Sharks are vitally important for the health of our oceans. As apex predators, Great Whites are responsible for maintaining the delicate balance in the marine food chain. 

Sadly, shark populations have plummeted due to overfishing for fins and bycatch. 

This is where responsible cage diving operations come in. These businesses prioritise sustainable practices and education when it comes to the Great Whites, and the revenue generated from cage diving can directly fund research and conservation efforts. 

On the other hand, divers leave with a newfound respect for these magnificent creatures, becoming ambassadors for shark protection.

Great White Shark in the ocean

Planning Your Dive

Shark cage diving is a well-organised and well-planned sort of tour, and this means the effort from your end will be minimal. It is important that when you decide to go diving with the sharks that you choose a reputable and respected company or that you book through a travel agency that only works with the best.

This is not the sort of trip that you want to undertake with a less-than-perfectionist company, as a mistake made in this industry can have terrible results. 

When you get down to your side of the planning, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

Where to Go

Although South Africa’s Gansbaai is hugely popular for this sort of activity, it is not the only place in the world where you can experience this particular tour (although keep in mind that each destination will be unique in its own way). 

Other places where you can have a cage diving experience include Isla Mujeres in Mexico and Australia’s Guadalupe Island. 

Who Can Participate

Shark cage diving is generally accessible to a wider range of participants compared to traditional scuba diving. 

Some operators welcome children as young as 10, while others have minimum age requirements of 12 or 18. Health restrictions typically focus on ensuring you can comfortably participate in boat travel and cage entry/exit. 

If you have any concerns, consult your doctor beforehand.

Packing for Your Adventure

To ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip, pack some of these essentials:

  • Sunscreen and a hat: The sun reflects intensely off the water, so protection is a must to avoid getting terrible sunburn.
  • Seasickness medication (optional): If you’re prone to seasickness, consider taking medication beforehand for a more comfortable journey, but do avoid any medication that could make you drowsy. Be sure to consult with your doctor before you buy over-the-counter medication. 
  • Snacks and drinks: While most trips provide refreshments, bringing light snacks can be helpful. Check with the tour company before you pack your refreshments as each company might have its own rules or ways of doing things. 
  • Swimsuit and towel: You might want to take a dip after your cage experience (weather permitting). Keep in mind that if you are in South Africa, you will be taking a dip in the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean, and that is not an experience everyone enjoys. 
  • Non-slip shoes: The boat deck can get wet, so closed-toe shoes with good grip are recommended.
  • Warm clothes: Morning temperatures can be cool, so pack layers to adjust to the changing conditions.
  • A camera: To capture those unforgettable underwater moments, a waterproof camera is ideal, but some operators offer rentals or will even do the photography themselves, so be sure to ask. 

Remember, these are just general recommendations. It’s always best to check with your chosen operator for their specific packing list.

African Penguins near Gansbaai

Visiting Gansbaai as part of your Cape Town Tour

While Gansbaai is synonymous with Great White Shark encounters, this charming coastal town boasts a surprising number of fun facts and things to do for the curious adventurer. Here are a few to whet your whistle:

  • Ancient History: Evidence suggests people have inhabited the Gansbaai area for a whopping 80,000 years! Imagine the stories these lands could tell.
  • Shipwreck and Reform: The infamous HMS Birkenhead met its watery demise near Gansbaai in 1852. This tragic event is credited with influencing the now-universal “women and children first” protocol.
  • Goosey Name Origins: Legend has it the town was originally named “Gansegat” (Goose Bay) due to a flock of Egyptian Geese frequenting the old harbour. Thankfully, it was later changed to the more sophisticated “Gansbaai” (Goose Bay).
  • Penguin Paradise: Just offshore lies Dyer Island, a breeding ground for thousands of African penguins. You can visit the nearby African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary to learn more about these adorable birds and conservation efforts.
  • Hidden Caves: History buffs will appreciate the Klipgat Caves located near Gansbaai. These archaeological wonders hold evidence of early human habitation and offer stunning natural beauty.
  • Forest for the Future: The Platbos Forest boasts some incredible trees, with some giants reaching over 1000 years old! You can even participate in the Trees for Tomorrow project and plant your own piece of history.

Frequently Asked Questions about Shark Cage Diving

Q: Is cage diving safe?

A: Shark cage diving has a very good safety record. Reputable operators prioritise safety above all else and have sturdy cages, an experienced crew, and strict procedures. While sharks are still wild animals, responsible cage diving minimises the risks.

Q: What can I expect to see underwater?

A: The underwater world is a world like no other! The main attraction is, of course, the Great White Sharks, but you might also see other marine life such as dolphins, sea turtles, or a variety of fish. You will also see different things based on where you are experiencing your dive. 

Q: Are there any risks involved?

A: There are inherent risks whenever you enter the ocean. Seasickness can occur, and while rare, mechanical issues with the boat are a possibility. As for the dive itself, always remember, that sharks are wild animals. While cage diving minimises the risk, there’s always a chance a shark might interact with the cage in an unexpected way. However, reputable operators take all reasonable precautions to ensure your safety.

Q: I’m not a certified diver, can I still participate?

A: In most cases, cage diving doesn’t require prior scuba certification. Some operators have minimum age requirements, and some health restrictions might apply. It’s always best to check with your chosen operator for specific details.

So, Are You Brave Enough to Sink into the Depths of the Ocean?

We have a few Cape Town tours that can include the Cage Dive Experience.