Shark Cage Diving in South Africa with the Sharks of Southern Africa
You slip into the shark cage; cool water rushes into your wetsuit, and your senses are on high alert as you peer between the aluminum bars. This is it! The moment you have dreamed of. The opportunity to see a shark in its natural habitat is a dream come true.
You slow down your breathing…suddenly the baitfish scatter and a shadow looms from the deep. The shark’s entry is measured, cautious, befitting an apex predator of such incredible majesty, and wholly contrary to the idea we have of these creatures from popular culture.
Planet Earth is blessed with over five hundred species of shark and South Africa enjoys the lion’s share of these because of the unique conditions created by the confluence of three great oceans. The rich coastal waters of South Africa are one of the best places in the world to observe and interact with marine wildlife. While the great white shark is probably the creature that comes to mind when we think of this species, there are many other sharks as captivating; bronze whaler, seven gill, mako, blue, blacktip, tiger and bull shark can all be found in our waters.
Other charismatic sea creatures are plentiful here too, including inquisitive seals, comedic African penguins, thousand-strong pods of common dolphins, plus South Africa’s most distinguished yearly guests - the magnificent migrating southern right, humpback, and brydes whales.
South Africa’s shark cage diving industry gives guests, without any previous diving experience, a unique and often life-changing underwater adventure with many different shark species over five locations. It is by far the most accessible cage diving in the world with the anchor locations very close to the shoreline.
For most visitors, Seal Island in False Bay is the easiest to access as trips depart daily from the naval village of Simonstown which is only 45-minutes from Cape Town. A historical landmark where the breaching sharks were discovered, Seal Island was where this behaviour was documented by Discovery Channel and led to the now-famous Air Jaws series seen on Shark Week every year. The bronze whaler, seven gill, mako and blue shark are the most regular sightings.
The next location, Gansbaai is where the roots of the South African cage diving industry lie. Just three hours from Cape Town, Gansbaai, also known as the great white shark capital, is where you find the bronze whaler shark. The sightings of the great white shark are sporadic and unpredictable.
Further up the coastline, at the start of the Garden Route, is Mossel Bay. This area offers a good chance of seeing great white shark, with dedicated sunrise breaching trips in the months of June to September and with cage diving all year round.
Bird Island off Gqeberha is as wild as it gets. This site offers great white shark breaching and cage diving all in one trip. As the dive site is offshore, the weather conditions need to be perfect with a recommended three-day window period.
Last but by no means least, is the shark cage diving in KwaZulu Natal at Aliwal Shoal, just one hour from Durban. Sightings include black tip and the tiger shark in season.
Concerned about the ethics of shark cage diving?
The cage diving industry is regulated, and operators adhere to a strict code of conduct which includes not feeding the sharks. Interestingly, the time spent at sea, is used to gather data for research. This research is then used by scientists to understand the oceans and their inhabitants instigating sustainable practices to conserve the oceans for future generations. So, when choosing a shark cage diving operator, it is important to ensure their commitment to the conservation of all sharks and marine life. Your choice holds great power and can equal sustainability or demise.
There is no qualification needed to cage dive. The breath-hold technique is common practice including the use of snorkels although select operators offer hookah (an on-board air supply system).
As the vessels return to shore each day, there is more than enough opportunity to explore the striking coastline and scenery of Southern Africa.
- When to go: All year- round.
- How to get there: Depending on the location - fly direct to Cape Town International for the Cape Town and Gansbaai locations. The O R Tambo airport in Johannesburg has flights connecting to Durban, George (Mossel Bay) and Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth)
- Airport transfers: All locations offer airport transfers.
- What to bring: It is advisable to take motion sickness meds before your trip if you are prone to sea sickness.
- Diving mask, face masks. Windbreaker/ weather jacket. Dress in layers, closed shoes, beanie, scarf, hat/cap, polarized sunglasses, bathing costume, sun block, lip-ice, camera, and towel
- What’s included: Guided shark cage diving tour, light meals, and dive gear.
- Duration: Half-day trips.
- What can one do after the shark trip? Most of the shark trips are 4 hours in duration. Thereafter there are often opportunities to join other diving activities including kelp forest, seal, reef, wreck dives as well as many other adventure tours.
The following Shark Diving operators are recommended by Dirty Boots and cover all the major locations for viewing Great Whites in South African waters:
Apex Shark Expeditions in False Bay, Cape Town
Marine Dynamics Shark Tours in Gansbaai, Overberg
Shark Cage Diving KZN, on the South Coast of KZN, near Durban
White Shark Africa in Mossel Bay on the Garden Route
White Shark Projects in Gansbaai, Overberg.