Shark Diving: Chum = Chew + Yum

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Great White Shark: up to seven metres in length. A mouth housing as many as 3000 teeth at a given time, with a length up to 7.5 centimetres. Weighing up to 7000 pounds (3200 kg). They do not chew; rather rip mouth sized chunks of their prey and swallow it whole.

The Human Bladder: has an average maximum volume of about 600 ml, or close to 19 ounces.

Chum: A mixture of fish blood, oil and random bits. It is poured into the ocean to attract sharks. While watching the helper pour it into the water, I had a disturbing linguistic insight. Chum = Chew + Yum.

The Cage: A metre deep, two metres high, and three in width. Five divers at a time descend into the cage with their masks and snorkels. It's like a tin box of assorted chocolates for sharks. Each diver has a different, chewy centre waiting to be sampled.

The Sign: a baited hook of fish heads is thrown into the water. The captain trawls it back and forth. A shark is sighted. The call comes - "DOWN!". You take a breath, push yourself down, look into the grey/green water and suddenly there it is. Three to four metres of teeth and fins thrash towards the fish heads, and then swerves, gliding in front of the cage. It cuts through the water like a laser. A black eye stares at you. It sees you. Great whites have the best eyesight of any of the world's sharks. It looks at you from the eyes and brain of a creature that has remained basically untouched by evolution for the last 200 million years. It seems to say "Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do you?" And then it is gone. You rise to the surface and tell yourself to start breathing again.

The Sensation: Thrilling. Exciting. Fascinating. Surprisingly (disappointedly?) not terrifying, but awe inspiring. Imagine snorkelling in the world's largest bath tub with four metre long rubber bath toys that just happen to be able to bite your head off. Kind of like that.

Amount added to the volume of the ocean by yours truly: Proudly none.

Great White sharks are considered a threatened species. They are also one of the most understood and feared ones. Long the bad boys of B Hollywood films, their behaviour and biology is much more complex than once thought. Most of the shark diving operators in South Africa are dedicated to the conservation of and education about these creatures. It is not without criticism. There is a rigorous debate over whether this type of activity teaches sharks to identify humans with food, and increase risks to swimmers and surfers along the country's coastline. It is worth investigating which operators have a reputation for responsible operating and which do not.
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