South Africa offers some of the very best scuba diving in the world, and in my opinion, any passionate diver should make it a priority to travel here and explore the extraordinary underwater landscapes on offer.

For example, diving the Aliwal Shoal is incomparable—nowhere else in the world will you encounter the massive schools of fish and the huge number of huge sharks that come to feed. It’s definitely worth doing.

Alas, the great white underbelly of South Africa’s amazing undersea wildlife is the growing phenomenon of shark cage diving—where tourists (mostly unlicensed divers) pay between $110-$150 to swim in a submerged steel cage right next to great white sharks who have been lured next to these boats with chum (dead fish, offal, and blood).

Given that just yesterday I was in Gansbaai, (the self-professed “Great White Shark Capital of the World”), several of you encouraged that I give shark cage diving a try.

At National Geographic Travel, we take great pride in our dedication to authentic, sustainable tourism that leaves a positive footprint on a destination. In my opinion, shark cage diving fails to meet that standard on every front. So for those readers who asked, allow me to explain why I will never go shark cage diving:

It’s Inauthentic

Sharks are, by nature, timid animals. Any diver who’s spent any significant time in the water with sharks (without a cage), knows that that they are inquisitive, but cautious creatures who will disappear at the sight of humans. Some larger sharks will approach for a better look, but in my experience, sharks very rarely stick around. They are busy predators hunting their next meal and need to get on with it.

As an avid diver, I have been underwater with many, many sharks—in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. I have had sharks that are larger than me brush up against me, and I have stared face to face into their glowing green eyes. These were exciting moments for me, but also beautiful, spiritual, and most importantly, authentic. Nothing beats watching nature up close, acting naturally in its natural habitat.

But sharks acting naturally does not fit our schedules and itineraries, thus shark cage diving operators must resort to the only thing that will get sharks to overcome their apprehension and swim extremely close to boats and humans: blood.

As sophisticated predators, sharks can follow the scent of blood and fish oils in the water, or simply pick up the vibration of a struggling fish. When chum is dumped into the water, humans are triggering a response from all the sharks in the area, without delivering the payload that sharks would expect in the wild.

Not only is the very premise of these types of great white sharks’ encounters completely inauthentic, it’s repeating an unnatural situation for the sharks, over and over again.

It’s Unsustainable

In Gansbaai alone, there are 8 different shark cage diving operations, each averaging 3 trips a day. Depending on the most conservative numbers provided to me by locals, that equals 5,000 visitors per week. This adds up to over 250,000 human encounters with sharks per year, which equals an inordinate amount of blood and chum being dumped along the South African shoreline every day.

It also equals $30 million in annual business, and there lies the rub. A business is in the business of making more profit, which means there will always be the pressure for more boats, more outings, and more tourists. Though the shark cage diving operations are, for the most part, well-regulated—big money is often louder than reason.

Five years ago, a Gansbaai shark cage boat capsized, and two American and one Norwegian tourist drowned. Though formal reports blame the accident on a “freak wave”, several other shark boats chose to stay in that day due to the visibly rough weather. The pressure to make money with nature will always push the limits of nature.

Commodifying predators is problematic in any form.

Among wildlife professionals, there is a clear ethical standard that you should never bait a predator. In Banff National Park, feeding a bear will earn you a hefty fine or even land you in prison, and anyone entering areas that have been closed due to bear activity risks a fine of up to $25,000. A “fed bear is a dead bear” goes the saying, because once bears have associated humans with food, they will have a hard time keeping away.

Whether you can compare grizzlies to great whites is another argument, however nobody can dispute the fact that shark cage diving involves the active baiting of predators on a daily basis. In my opinion, luring great white sharks inshore, sometimes within a mile of some of the most popular beaches in South Africa, is sheer stupidity. Scientific organizations have shown that chumming does in fact, change great white shark behavior.

In its current form, shark cage diving is not sustainable, and I only see it leading to more accidents and tragedies, for people and for sharks.

It Perpetuates Myths

Despite claims that such close encounters with great whites help “raise awareness”, the motivating factor and resulting reality of the entire shark cage diving industry is the thrill of recreating a “Jaws” moment for paying customers.

From what I’ve seen, tourists return home, not with a change of hearts towards great white sharks and a commitment towards saving them, but rather with their proud underwater photo or video next to the ocean’s apex predator—a phony symbol of bravado and fearlessness, not unlike the hunting trophies of the Victorian era’s great white hunters.

Advertising and selling testosterone-fueled “adventure” as a checkmark of courage or masculinity does not encourage a culture of tender feelings and awareness towards great white sharks, no matter how much rhetoric you cage it in.

It’s Not Good Conservation

Nearly every shark cage diving operation claims to be involved in some form of wildlife conservation, yet deeper investigation yields little results from these claims. Other than operators taking photos of the sharks and picking up trash from the ocean, I see very little evidence of the shark cage diving industry giving back to the oceans.

Furthermore, shark cage diving does little to stop the biggest threats against sharks today. Shark cage diving has not ended the Asian market for shark fin soup, or countered overfishing, or preserved ocean habitats, or passed legislation to ban the killing of specific species of sharks. Nor have I ever met a reputable marine biologist who condones the commercial business of shark cage diving.

In my opinion, shark cage diving makes a mockery of real conservation efforts to preserve an animal that is in rapid decline (so far, we have lost 90% of the world’s shark population since 1950). I encourage anyone interested in actual shark conservation to get involved with projects led by National Geographic’s Explorers such as Sylvia Earle and Enric Sala. Support the Shark Sanctuary in Palau, or go diving with reputable South African dive companies who encourage natural and positive interactions with local sharks—and there are plenty.

Prime Great White Shark habitat, the rich coast along South Africa's Western Cape, near Gansbaai (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic)

Prime Great White Shark habitat, the rich coast along South Africa’s Western Cape, near Gansbaai (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic)

On The Other Hand . . .

Now that I’ve told you quite blatantly why I cannot support shark cage diving, I would still encourage travelers to visit Gansbaai. It’s a great little seaside town and a marvelous place to experience the beautiful coastline of the Western Cape. The whale watching (Southern Right Whales) is some of the best in the world, and you can watch the animals right from shore. At the end of the day, tourists making wise decisions can alter the market towards a more sustainable situation.

Should you choose to totally disregard my opinion and still go cage diving with great whites, please consider the following:

  • Most operators sell their cage diving package tours from Cape Town, although the shark boats actually leave from Kleinbaai, near Gansbaai (2 hours away). That means your day of shark diving breaks down to 4 hours round trip in a car, plus at least 2 hours by boat (getting to and from “Shark Alley”) and if you’re lucky, less than 30 minutes actually spent in the water.
  • Choose wisely. Some shark cage diving operations are better than others—including better safety records, better practices, and better cages. Before you pick a boat, ask lots of questions, for example, “How long will I actually get to be in the water with the sharks?”. Rarely does the price correlate with the quality of the experience.
  • Pick a large boat—the larger the boat the less chance you have of becoming seasick, which is the number one complaint that passengers make on shark boats (these can be very choppy waters). In many cases, people getting sick forces boats to cut a trip short and head back to shore. Consider taking seasick tablets.
  • Dress warmly. Although this is Africa, on a warm day, the water ranges from 50° to 60° F and the strong winds will make you wish you’d bundled up.
  • Check the weather—when you’re diving, visibility is everything. Shark boat operators are keen to merely fill up their trips, but for the best experience, you will most likely want to go out on a day when you can actually see or photograph the sharks clearly.
  • For the record, it is quite possible to see great white sharks for free in South Africa. Look across False Bay on a sunny day or cruise by a seal colony or chat with any surfer. Having a vested interest in avoiding shark encounters, they tend to keep tracks of the sharks better than most.
  • As of last year, shark cage diving was outlawed in Western Australia after scientific studies along that coastline showed that chumming caused significant change in great white shark behavior.
  • The debate around shark cage diving is a highly controversial subject in South Africa with avid supporters on both sides. Be aware that whether you choose to dive or choose not to, you are picking sides in a battle that is just beginning to heat up.

Comments

  1. Robert van Rooyen
    Gansbaai
    November 21, 2013, 6:36 am

    Good Afternoon Andrew.

    Thanks for a great article. Living in Gansbaai we are exposed to this debate on a daily basis. Without choosing sides myself, let me say that nothing is ever as plain as it seems.

    Firstly, thank you for the exposure you have given Gansbaai – our “little fisherman’s village with a great white heart”. We appreciate a person of your media presence highlighting such an important issue, and shining some light on our town.

    I am actually one of the founders and administrators of the community run marketing platform http://www.gansbaai.com. I noticed you linked to the whale watching page, thank you very much for that! I thought I would inform you that the gansbaaiinfo site you linked to will in the near future be taken down and redirected to the new site. If it is not too much trouble, perhaps you could adjust the Gansbaai link to be directed at http://www.gansbaai.com already? We would really appreciate the exposure this gives for our little seaside village.

    Once again, thank you for generating awareness and encouraging people to visit Gansbaai. We need all the help we can get. Have a great rest of year and may your adventures continue!

    All the best,
    Rob

    • Andrew Evans
      November 21, 2013, 12:08 pm

      Thanks for the comment Rob. Yes, I know this is a complex issue and I am only sharing my personal opinion here. On another note, I really enjoyed my brief visit to Gansbaai and hope to return some day. It’s a terrific place and I will continue to encourage many to visit.

      All the best,
      Andrew

  2. Gina
    November 22, 2013, 12:17 am

    Thank you for this. I had plans to visit Cape Town last year (unfortunately my trip was cancelled), and I admit, I was considering doing a cage dive because I am fascinated by Great Whites. However, your extremely well-written and informative article has convinced me if I ever do get to go, I’ll pass on the cage diving.

    • Andrew Evans
      November 22, 2013, 12:44 am

      Good decision, Gina. I hope you still make it to Cape Town–one of my personal favorite cities on the globe. You’ll love it! And go diving if you have a chance.

  3. Lisa (@MsBoice) "Accidental Birder"
    Utah
    November 22, 2013, 12:22 am

    Thank you for the article. Shark cage diving has never appealed to me mostly because I would most likely pee my wet suit. Besides that, I have great appreciation for the counsel to limit inauthentic encounters with wildlife. I see this happen all the time with baiting birds (snowy owls, for instance) just to get a good photo. It’s reckless and teaches bad habits to the wildlife that puts them at risk. Thank you making people aware.

    • Andrew Evans
      November 22, 2013, 12:43 am

      Thanks Lisa. I agree with you completely. We must be very considerate with how our passion for animals ends up affecting them. Did not know about the bird baiting, thanks for sharing. AE

  4. jane smiley
    Kital Ella, Sri Lanka
    November 22, 2013, 8:10 am

    Andrew,
    I commend you for bringing this to people’s attention. Sri Lanka with its recent surge in tourism is experiencing similar negative influences on the wildlife here. Now Yala park is daily flooded with tourists in jeeps in hot pursuit of seeing a leopard even if it is a terrified one boxed in a culvert surrounded by jeeps of tourists. for this reason I’ll never visit Yala again. I went before the tourist boom and found countless jeeps racing around in a park to protect wildlife. Shouldn’t the wildlife be protected from tourists as well??? I found it a tragic, disheartening situation and pitied the poor creatures having their only sanctuary being invaded daily. Do tourists ever consider the consequences of their actions to get that great photo on their phone? I think not. A pity. Responsible and tourism would do well to become better acquainted. Thanks for attempting to educate people about the effects of their actions

    • Andrew Evans
      November 22, 2013, 11:33 am

      Thank you for your comment Jane,

      I have experienced exactly what you are talking about when it comes to wildlife parks, in particular in Bandhavghar National Park in central India, with tigers. We have forced wildlife into very small spaces and then bombard them with human interaction. This is not sustainable in it’s current form, and we will have to make new choices regarding how we invite tourists in responsibly. In my experience, I have seen situations like this work, in particular with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda or the chimpanzees in Tanzania, however both these examples are the result of charging visitors very large amounts of money in order to limit how many humans interact with said species.

      Thank you so much for reading–

      All the best,
      Andrew

  5. Shark Cage Diver
    Cape Town
    November 22, 2013, 11:17 am

    Hi Andrew

    I thought I would give my opinion as you have given yours. I wish not to start a fight but merely point out a few facts that you purposely left out as it does not fit into your negative perspective around a sustainable industry.

    Firstly I would like to mention that the Great White Shark has been fully protected by the South African Government since 1991. This is as a result of cage diving due to the amount of tourism it has brought in.

    You also forgot that it is legal to hunt and kill these vulnerable species of shark in Australia and that it is actually encouraged by the Australian government.

    Something also quite interesting is that the shark nets that does not just kill sharks but also any and everything else it comes in contact with is also fueled by money. Something that the White shark cage diving industry in Gansbaai is fighting very hard to stop.

    On the concept of chum it seems like you do not quite understand how it works and that you have not even seen how chumming is practiced, nor have you done any research as to what is actually used as chum by the Cage diving companies. I would highly encourage you to go out on a cage diving boat and actually see what happens instead of writing about what you imagine happens out on the water, what you wrote around chum is complete rubbish, you do mention that there are evidence and you have investigated all the facts around it. Please could you provide us with your said findings in instead of just your opinion.

    As for your name calling on Dr Sylvia Earle and Enric Sala please do your research properly as they do support the efforts of Shark cage diving in South Africa. There is even a Shark Cage Diving company that was elected as the official representative of Mission Blue, an initiative by Sylvia Earle.

    As for the fact that you need to choose your operator carefully and make sure that you get what you pay for, that I can completely agree with, however that is something most people do nowadays with the internet and the wealth of information that is accessible on almost all mobile devices these days.

    You also mention there that Shark cage diving does nothing to stop the killing of sharks and stop shark fin soup… this I must say is complete and utter rubbish and you were pretty hard up for words to have to have written that little line. If you had gone with any of the 12 shark cage diving companies in South Africa you would have heard them go on and on about this.

    Also, did you know that the Great white is not hunted for its fin at all… Considering that a fin fetches around 8 USD whereas the complete jaw fetches 100,000 USD (thats right one hundred thousand US dollars). Again please go look up on the facts before you just publish a random article on what you think happens without any experience on the subject.

    What I find surprising is that National Geographic actually published this article as it is very distasteful and your facts are completely off.

    As for your comment about marine biologists being pro cage diving… well did you know that these cage diving companies that earn all this money you are talking about actually sponsors these marine biologists with fuel, boats, staff and anything else they need to do their jobs, did you also know that non of the shark diving companies ask for anything in return for the what they do for the universities or marine biologists.

    I do urge you to please stay away from writing conservation related articles in the future as your opinion is not a basis or substitute for facts.

    Regards
    SCD

    • Andrew Evans
      November 22, 2013, 11:27 am

      Dear SCD,

      Thanks for your input. I always invite lively debate on important subject, and sharks are important to me. I’m sorry that you find my opinions “rubbish” or that you feel entitled to make assumptions about what I have or have not seen or done in my life, especially when it comes to sharks.

      The purpose of this piece was an explanation to my readers about a personal choice that I have made as a traveler in South Africa–and that is a choice not to engage in commercial shark cage diving. My readers are intelligent and educated travelers and I am confident that they can inform themselves on making wise decisions when it comes to interacting with predators, be they sharks, tigers, or bears.

      Thank you so much for reading-

      Best wishes, AE

  6. […] Why I Won’t Go Shark Cage Diving [National Geographic] […]

  7. Zaid
    November 22, 2013, 11:53 am

    Great article. At the expense of seeking personal thrills, we shouldn’t be taunting the sharks. I hope more people realise this and stop seeking these shark cage diving tours

  8. Kristina
    Pasadena, CA
    November 22, 2013, 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the great article. Well researched and well articulated. I wish more people would do their research before participating in similar activities!

  9. Tracy
    London
    November 22, 2013, 1:07 pm

    Hi Andrew,
    Thank you for an incredibly well written article. I am a South African & have always found the idea of baiting wild animals for our pleasure & thrill seeking, quite disturbing. Especially when something goes wrong during that encounter & “it’s the animals fault”.
    I especially appreciated you comment; “commodyifing predators is problematic in any form”, what a powerful statement & so pertinent to the way we treat animals these days. Commercial / trophy hunting, captive marine predators, dog fighting & even badger hunts. I wish that there were more people like you who stand up for their beliefs & actually highlight the truth to the blissfully ignorant.

    A paraphrase from Blackfish the movie, 50 years from now our children’s children will look back & realise how barbaric we are.
    I hope it doesn’t take that long.

    Keep on writing!!

    Tracy

  10. Vivienne Grant
    South Africa
    November 22, 2013, 1:26 pm

    Way to go Andrew! Brilliantly handled … I’ve shared on FB and know that my circle of friends will re-share too … and so the word will spread, and if just one more person realises how detrimental this activity is to marine life, we’re one step closer to making a positive difference.

  11. Shark lover
    Cape Town
    November 22, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Unfortuantely I have to agree with “Shark cage Diver” …… You do not know what you are talking about….. Sorry, freedom of speach….

    • Andrew Evans
      November 22, 2013, 10:46 pm

      No need to apologize for sharing your opinion. Thanks for reading! AE

  12. Ian Miller
    Durban
    November 23, 2013, 1:03 am

    With you all the way on this one, have had an encounter with a Great White on Aliwal Shoal ! A very rare and fantastic event without cages or chum, just swam passed us at the N/E Pinnacles while we were doing a safety stop at the end of a dive. Luckily on of the divers had his video camera handly and captured the whole event……classic footage. Leave for Cape Town this am for a weeks holiday, no cage diving on our agenda…….. Just “the mountain” and wine farms.

    • Andrew Evans
      November 23, 2013, 3:26 pm

      Thanks Ian. How lucky that you got to see a Great White on your dive! I’m jealous. I love diving the Aliwal Shoal and think it’s one of South Africa’s greatest treasures. Thanks for reading, AE

  13. Kari
    November 23, 2013, 9:19 am

    I can fully appreciate people having their own opinions about cage diving (pros and cons) and I think it’s great that people are educating themselves enough to make their own decisions, but please be sure to get the facts right and not rely on hearsay. I just need to make one correction with regards to the unfortunate accident that happened in Gansbaai. For the record, despite what you were told, all 8 of the cage diving boats were out that day. Unlike some days when some boats chose to stay on land, that day they had all set out as normal. i lived and worked in the industry in gansbaai at the time. I’m not commenting on other days with other weather, but that day they were all in the same place at the same time and one boat was unfortunate enough to be affected.

    Also, there have been many marine biologists working on these platforms which have, and continue to, contribute greatly to the research of sharks. I personally know many of them with relevant scientific publications in peer reviewed journals, all of which are helping to better understand the science and conservation status of great whites. I’m not asking you to change your opinion, just giving you a few more facts. Thanks!

    • Andrew Evans
      November 23, 2013, 3:24 pm

      Thanks for your input Kari! Appreciate it. AE

  14. Bethany Bella (@BethAnnie22)
    USA
    November 23, 2013, 11:34 am

    Wow, this article is actually really insightful as to how shark cage diving isn’t truly an “authentic” part of tourism. I agree – human beings should search earnestly in travel for the most authentic and enlightening experiences that are available to them. Travel isn’t about retrieving a postcard. It’s re-connecting with a lost part of your soul.

    • Andrew Evans
      November 23, 2013, 9:27 pm

      Thanks Bethany! Well said.

  15. Anna
    November 23, 2013, 6:34 pm

    This article is incredibly frustrating. Clearly you got connected with the wrong group.

    Yes, there are some cage diving companies in Gansbaai that are purely commercial. However, having spent a month volunteering with Marine Dynamics and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, I can tell you that not every company functions how you describe.

    The DICT is entirely dedicated to conservation and research. They work their butts off and have contributed a HUGE amount to white shark research.

    I’m sorry, but your article is incredibly misleading and completely ignores the true and genuine benefits of ecotourism.

    The sharks are in no danger. The tourists are in (virtually) no danger. The staff works hard, and they believe in protecting the animals.

    • Andrew Evans
      November 23, 2013, 9:26 pm

      Thank you for your comment Anna. I never questioned how much or how little any of the shark cage diving operators work, nor do I doubt their belief in what they’re doing. I am merely explaining why I do not want to participate in something that is bad for sharks. Also, I must beg to differ with you–shark cage diving is a far cry from real ecotourism. Baiting predators is not and never will be ecotourism. I am sure that this debate will rage on for decades, but as a traveler, I have made my decision. Thanks again for reading.

  16. Philippa
    Cape Town
    November 25, 2013, 6:22 am

    Dear Andrew
    Thank you for your post and for highlighting the some of the issues around cage diving. For many years I shared your opinion about the industry. I hate the idea of such an inauthentic “ecotourism” experience.

    However, as a journalist, I know that it is hard to remain objective. When you already have a strong opinion about something, it is difficult to express a balanced view. Your post does make it clear that this is an opinion piece and your argument is compelling, however you make many statements of fact that are not entirely true. For less discerning readers, this may be misleading.

    I recently went on a cage diving trip for research purposes. It is not an experience that I would choose to repeat because like you, I tend to search out more authentic travel and wildlife experiences and have been privileged enough to have the time and resources to do so. Despite my personal opinion though, I have to admit that there are some positive aspects to the industry.

    In response to your argument:

    1. Cage diving is an inauthentic experience
    This is something that I absolutely agree with. I did not enjoy watching sharks being teased by a reward that was certainly not worth their effort, but after a short time around the boat, each of the individuals left and carried on with their day.

    Whilst the experience is inauthentic, I did note the look of amazement on the faces of people coming out of the cage. Many of them expressed how beautiful and calm the animals were. I think this experience would have gone a long way to demystifying ideas around the ruthlessness of great whites.

    Also, there was a marine biologist on board who was able to educate clients about the sharks and answer any questions they might have.

    As a National Geographic contributor, you have the privilege of being able to travel all over the world to seek out authentic shark encounters which have no doubt helped to grow your respect for these amazing creatures. Many people only have 2 weeks a year in which to travel. Cage diving might be their only opportunity to see a large shark and appreciate what incredible animals they are.

    2. It’s unsustainable
    Research funded by a particularly concerned cage diving operator is currently being carried out to asses the sustainability of the industry and determine how many boats should be operating in the area.

    It is true that chumming lures sharks into an area. What you did not mention is that in Summer, sharks are resident inshore regardless of chumming. This has been proven in False Bay as well and has to do with environmental factors rather than cage diving. I can point you to the relevant scientific papers should you wish to read them.

    3. It perpetuates myths
    This is something that I strongly disagree with. Please refer to my response under point 1.

    4. Cage diving is bad for conservation
    There are 8 operators in Gansbaai, 2 in False Bay and a couple more in Mossel Bay. All of these are making big money. In my opinion a significant chunk of that money should be poured back into conservation and it is true that many of these operators are not doing much.

    In your post, you suggested that none of the operators are engaged in meaningful conservation work. This is misleading and blatantly untrue. The work of the DICT certainly deserved a mention. They have numerous projects in place to preserve ecosystems around Dyer island and fund more than one marine biologist.

    2 weeks ago a whale carcass washed up on a beach in False Bay. This caught the attention of many sharks in the area and beaches were closed all along the shoreline. When the navy’s attempt at removing the carcass failed, it was a local cage diving operator who chose to use his time and resources to help.

    Not all of the operators are making the contribution that they should, but you could have been more fair to the ones who are.

    You work for one of the best respected natural history publications on the planet. Your readers are likely to take your opinion very seriously and consider your statements well researched facts. Even when expressing an opinion, this is something that you owe them.

    Whilst I agree with your sentiments, and have no desire to get onto a cage diving boat again, I think that the way in which your message was delivered was very misleading. Based on this blog post, I could never make a well informed decision about something as controversial as cage shark diving.

    One more point I need to add is that cage diving operators in Australia were not just chumming for sharks. They were feeding them. This is illegal in the South African industry.

    Scientific opinion is constantly in flux. There are also scientific papers that argue that chumming has little or no effect on shark behaviour or habituation as the reward is just not worth the effort for the animals. I could provide the relevant links to these as well.

    • Andrew Evans
      November 27, 2013, 3:37 am

      Glad you appreciate that I am merely sharing my opinion (and an opinion which you seem to mostly agree with) and that I am writing as a traveler, not as a journalist.

      I agree with that it is important for any traveler to inform themselves and consider the impact they are making on a place when visiting. My opinion and choices regarding shark cage diving are quite heavily informed, and there are more in the scientific and conservation communities who support this opinion than not.

      In the end, this is an issue that South Africans like yourself will have to resolve. As foreign visitors, tourists like myself can merely make informed choices, but as I stated clearly in my post, the current status quo of shark cage diving is not sustainable.

      Thank you for reading. Best wishes, AE

  17. Liz
    Adelaide South Australia
    November 27, 2013, 6:25 am

    I support your opinion that shark cage diving is having a negative impact on shark behaviour. In early 2011, my brother was working as an abalone diver in South Australia and was taken by one, maybe 2 Great Whites never to be seen again. It is a general opinion amoung divers working in the area that shark sightings have increased since the shark cage diving was introduced. It appears sharks are being inadvertently conditioned to associate the sound of a boat with a supply of food (the chum used to attract them for the sake of tourism) which naturally increases the risk for local divers. We are hoping tighter restrictions are placed on the cage diving industry before another diver is taken.

    • Andrew Evans
      November 28, 2013, 9:59 am

      Thank you for sharing Liz. I am so sorry about your loss. How horrible. I know that in Australia, they have outlawed cage diving in Western Australia and are still working on it in South Australia. I am confident that Australia’s example will be emulated elsewhere in the world.

      My condolences to you and your family-AE

  18. Marine Dynamics shark tours
    Gansbaai
    November 27, 2013, 11:08 am

    We appreciate that this blog is your personal opinion, but it can be very damaging when much is based on opinion and not facts. We appreciate all comments related to this post which have highlighted the work of our company and related Trust.

    Our company Marine Dynamics has supported three students through their Master’s degrees on shark research with one continuing on to her PhD, which will also look more closely at impacts of the industry and what chumming is. Being on sea every day provides incredible opportunities to document behaviour; assess wound healing and take fin ID photos. The fin ID’s have been crucial in providing the first published regional population study which is crucial in assessing the number of sharks and their relevant conservation status. http://tinyurl.com/kcaz8vt / http://tinyurl.com/l94xtpg

    Our tagging studies have shown that some sharks do not approach the boats and hopefully our further studies will shed more light on the concerns you raise. More can be read at the Dyer Island Conservation Trust website.

    Our sister company Dyer Island Cruises recently hosted the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration and we had the opportunity to share with them the area and the research projects we are involved in. We work with the National Geographic film teams on a regular basis. We may add though that much of the films made are sadly still adding to the misperception of the shark as a vicious killer, and every day we work hard to dispel these myths.

    This industry may appear very lucrative – your figures are more than double what is actually done in this area – but it is very tough with sea and weather conditions dictating. Every day we get to see the impact that visitors have from seeing the great white shark, with many ambassadors leaving Gansbaai. Some translate this into action with support toward the research. We see people cry to finally see this shark they have dreamed about. It may not be ‘authentic’ and many wildlife experiences are sadly not, but the awareness and protection of this species that the industry helps promote is invaluable.

    As a recognised eco tourism activity, we were recently shortlisted in the World Responsible Tourism Awards and have won other awards. We host many scientists and conservationists. Should you return to Gansbaai, we would welcome your visit and share more on what can be achieved.

    PS. Shark Alley is just 15 minutes from harbour, not 2 hours.

    • Andrew Evans
      November 28, 2013, 9:58 am

      Dear Marine Dynamics,

      Thanks for your input. I do not doubt that you perceive your experiences with sharks to be positive, and that you see positive impacts for your guests.

      I have to question the scientific integrity of any study that is funded or supported by a private corporation with a real interest in specific outcomes.

      To be clear, you do not work with National Geographic film teams. You work with independent TV production companies, some of which may or may not sell their footage or final productions to the National Geographic Channel, which, in the United States, is primarily owned by Fox. The National Geographic Society is extremely protective of how our brand is used throughout the world.

      Secondly, I personally disapprove of most shark documentaries on television, as well as the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” for the exact same reason I disapprove of shark cage diving–it perpetuates dangerous myths. This is a separate discussion altogether. The purpose of this piece was to explain to my readers my decision to not take part in an increasingly-popular tourist attraction which I see to be problematic.

      I apologize if my numbers were not 100% accurate. I made it clear that I was crunching numbers, and these are based on conversations I had with people in Gansbaai and Cape Town. The point is that baiting predators for profit is an unsustainable practice.

      I am sure that your sister company, Dyer Island Cruises offers wonderful tours, and I encourage all visitors to go out and experience the wealth of whale watching and sea life available in this beautiful part of South Africa.

      Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and information, and thank you for reading my blog.

      Best,
      AE

  19. Eco Diver
    Washington D.C.
    November 27, 2013, 11:40 am

    Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for sharing this! I was lucky enough to travel to South Africa this past summer and I made the choice to go cage diving out on Seal Island. I went with a small company, and it was fantastic! I think they set a great example of how this popular tourist adventure can be done right, you should check them out! http://www.ultimate-animals.com/contact-african-shark-eco-charters/about-african-shark-eco-charters/

    Our experience was very different, and much better than what I heard from fellow traveler’s who went with other popular companies.

    We were lucky enough to be on board while the upcoming documentary film “Great White Shark Legend” was being filmed. It was a great experience, and I felt everyone on board was very conscious of the sharks and their environment. We were very lucky to be able to observe these stunning animals in their natural setting!

  20. Eco Diver
    Washington D.C.
    November 27, 2013, 11:40 am

    Here is the website with all of the info about the upcoming film! http://www.greatwhitesharklegend.com/about-the-film/

  21. Craig Ferreira
    Cape Town
    November 29, 2013, 3:54 am

    I already commented on this article, however, reading it again upset me and I will explain why.

    To understand where I am coming from, here is a brief history. From 1990 to 1994 I was operations director for the SA Museum Shark Research Centre and from 1995 to 1997 I was Dir. of The SA White Shark Research Institute. I have lectured at London, Stockholm, Cape Town and Cambridge Universities and at the Royal Geographic Society. I wrote the first scientific paper on Population Dynamics Of White Sharks In Southern Africa and have worked on numerous documentaries and international research expeditions. I have been intimately involved in white shark science, conservation, education and tourism since 1990 and have also written a book called Great White Sharks on Their Best Behaviour, blah, blah, blah.

    What upsets me with this article is that like so many others I have read over the years, it is based on nonsense. I am all for opinion as I have strong opinions, however, this article has its opinion based soundly on thumb sucking. Just about everything stated in the article is false and all it serves to do, is paint a negative picture on an industry where many people are working diligently to promote non consumptive business, conservation and education. This article portrays the industry as greedy and dishonest and without ethics and that is not true.

    Point of fact is that this industry has done more for shark conservation and awareness than any other entity on the planet. I was part of the team that successfully campaigned for the protection of the white shark, thus I have always had a deep interest in the positive aspects of the white shark industry. While there have been bumps in the road, unscrupulous operations, politics and infighting, there has also been enormous benefit on all fronts.

    For those readers out there who have taken this article as gospel, please be aware that it is not an honest article based on solid research. If you are concerned about the shark and the industry, then please do your own investigations before condemning it as the writer has.

    There are always two sides to the story and there is room for improvement and people should be concerned as this places pressure on the industry. Having said that, I can with all honesty tell you that most people support the industry once they have a proper understanding of it.

    Andrew, I think you need to come down to Mossel Bay for a week, and spend time with White Shark Africa before you write articles of this poor quality. That is an invitation which you are welcome to accept.

    Craig Ferreira

  22. Anoop Savio
    Bangalore India
    December 1, 2013, 11:36 am

    Just wondering, what if the sharks doesn’t think like the way we do? :)

  23. Mary Tebje
    England
    December 3, 2013, 10:18 am

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article Andrew, I found it and the comments very interesting, representing both sides of the story.
    Debate around tourism and animal encounters is long overdue as there is more of it (in and out the water), that seems to result in death and injury as tourists seek ever-closer ‘encounters’ with the wild.
    Fuelled by travel writers and bloggers in their quest to go that bit further to wow us all, tourism organisations keen to position themselves as unique and offering memorable experiences and tourism suppliers ready to meet the resulting demand.
    Nothing wrong with that, but how should visitors respond?

  24. craig martin
    Liverpool England
    December 3, 2013, 11:11 am

    I recently visited Gansbaai and did 5 cage dives, I was there for 10 days and on 5 of those days none of the boats went out due to bad weather, I didn’t think the swell looked too bad but the companies put safety first, this seems to contradict the ‘make money at any cost’ attitude stated in the article. I found viewing the Great Whites an exhilarating experience that I would never have been able to do if these companies did not operate, Very little chum was put into the water and on a couple of occasions we waited upto an hour for a shark to appear. The sharks were not even interested in the boat, only the fish, which is their natural behaviour anyway isn’t it ? People will find fault with anything involving the viewing of animals as in most cases the animal is mistreated or confined, but I believe that going a mile out to sea to observe a great predator in its natural environment is the least harmful of animal viewing activities

  25. Dr. Bert Overduin
    Cambridge, United Kingdom
    December 3, 2013, 12:02 pm

    Hello Andrew,

    I recently went cage diving in Gansbaai with Sharklady Adventures and I utterly disagree with your article.

    Many of your statements have been already addressed and disproven in other reactions, so I just want to focus on one, i.e. “It Perpetuates Myths”.

    Before the going out on the boat, we got a very thorough briefing by the resident white shark researcher, who told us a lot about white shark biology and behaviour and dispelled any popular myths. Think about it, if the operator was only interested in making money and providing customers with a thrilling “Jaws” moment, why would they employ scientist at all?

    Having seen the reactions of my fellow cage divers after they’d been in the cage, I can safely say that this definitely is an activity that will change many a person’s view of great whites. Everyone was just in awe of what an amazing animals they are and there was absolutely none of the macho testosterone-fueled “adventure” stuff going on that you are suggesting.

    So, in contrast to what you are claiming, I am 100% convinced that cage diving raises awareness for these magnificent animals and that it rather dispels than perpetuates myths.

    Cheers,
    Bert

    P.S.

    Finally, as an aside, when you talk about “eco-tourism” and “authentic experiences”, it would be good to realise that not everyone is, when it comes to time and money, as fortunate as you obviously are ….

  26. André De Wet
    Former Gouritsmond SA, now UK.
    December 3, 2013, 12:38 pm

    It has been a life long dream to go and do a cage dive with Great Whites and last August I finally had the opportunity. My 8 year old son joined me on the trip and could not stop talking about it for months, infact if anyone ask him what he enjoyed the most about his holiday in SA he tells them all about his experience…. Now how many 8 year olds can boast about doing a cage dive with Great White sharks? I can with all honesty say that my experience with Shark Lady adventures were excellent and feel that they have changed my perceptions of Great Whites. I have done a number of dives at Aliwal Shoal and too be honest I have seen on many occasions that people damage the sealife on the rocks to take momentos and does not care what they do and there are a lot of divers that go there, the majority of the divers take care as do the majority of the shark cage divers/ operators. We are all out to enjoy the wonderfull natural life that SA has to offer, why the negative publicity? Has the amount of attacks in the area increased since these tours started? I feel your attack on the operators are unfair and I’m sure if they were not there the village of Gansbaai will never be the same. Regards from a cold England

    • Andrew Evans
      December 5, 2013, 7:28 am

      To answer your last question, yes, the amount of shark attacks in the area have increased. Whether or not there is any correlation to the shark cage diving operations has not been proven, therefore I chose not to address it. Glad that you and your son had a good time on your holiday. I believe it’s a personal choice, and I am merely explaining why I choose not to be involved with what I see as a harmful industry. Best regards to you and your 8 year old son.

  27. Janet Bazzone
    North Carolina USA
    December 3, 2013, 9:04 pm

    I had the great privilege of going cage diving in Gansbaai. I had previously only seen sharks at zoo aquariums and on television. I learned so much about sharks from the crew and staff at Sharklady Adventures. I was left with the impression that they really cared about the sharks, the ocean, the environment, and even people! I can see how you might skew information in your article to help lean opinions your way, but that’s a bit unfair. None of the outfits I passed by looked like they or anyone associated were making millions. I’m so glad I went cage diving Before I read your article. If I had read it and believed your opinion, I would have missed out on an amazing and life changing experience. Because I went, I now have a tremendous respect for the shark (not just fear as I has before) and a great respect for the people (the cage diving operators) who share this with us.

  28. Caz Lee
    Cape Town, South Africa
    December 4, 2013, 5:28 am

    People can either go and view sharks at an aquarium. Which gives a shark no freedom and restricts its natural movements along the coast line. Or you could go and see our beautiful sharks in their natural, unrestricted environment. I think the choice is simple. No one cares more, and is more passionate about these sharks than the companies who make a living off of their presence and to ensure continued research and education is done to ensure a better understanding of these sharks who have been for years been portrait as killing machines.

    • Andrew Evans
      December 5, 2013, 7:25 am

      Thanks for sharing your opinion, Caz. I agree that both uShaka Marine World and Cape Town’s aquarium are fabulous places to have close (and protected) encounters with sharks. I’m afraid I disagree with you that the shark cage diving operators are the sharks’ biggest advocate. Most of the real advocates I know are very much against shark cage diving, as it interferes with a shark’s natural lifestyle.

  29. Marc Lyon
    December 19, 2013, 10:26 am

    Thanks for a thought provoking piece Andrew. You actually hit the nail on the head with fairly limited exposure. Quite refreshing if you compare it to the amount of shark cage diving industry spam on the internet. I decided to comment when I saw the blatant industry trolling, commenting under different names.

    The amount of disinformation, obfuscation and murky money matters surrounding the shark cage diving industry in South Africa is simply astounding. Unfortunately the South African government, who administrates the licensing and monitoring of the industry is itself under the spotlight for questionable and at times corrupt practices. (Corruption watch, and the annual Mo Ibrahim Index, should give you an idea)

    My family and I have lived in the Walker Bay area (Gansbaai, Hermanus) for three generations. I grew up surfing and fishing in the area and have met a few of the role players myself. The genesis of the industry, the notorious characters that started it and the incompetent and suspect manner of the government’s administration thereof reads like the script for a B-grade movie.

    But like any questionable activity there are two sides to the coin: supply and demand. It is the demand side and the blatant exploitation of marine resources to the benefit of a few people that prompted me to write my own article about the industry (http://reprobate.co.za/the-shark-cage-diving-industry-above-board-or-submerged-in-controversy/). There are actually several additional concerns than those expressed by yourself, which I embroider on. (Note:I have to point out that your $30 million should read ZAR30 million and was the estimated direct ticket sales for the industry in 2008. Probably double that now, but still quite a bit less than your figure.)

    From a general conservationist point of view, shark cage diving can not in any sense be seen as ethical eco-tourism. It is invasive and manipulative to the extreme. As far as I am aware not one of the shark boat operators had a history in nature conservation prior to the official protection of the species in 1991. In fact quite the opposite. Commercial conservationist converts are a dime a dollar in an economically depressed area where abalone poaching or shark cage diving are the only ways to the big money.

    There are multiple ‘shark conservation’ front companies or websites run by the operators themselves, not with conservation as the primary goal, but to act as a conduit to their businesses.

    I have travelled to more than 50 countries globally, with particular emphasis on wilderness areas, and shark cage diving is just one more disconcerting trend in the push to commercialise nature for the emasculated masses worldwide. I travelled to the beautiful Luangwa valley in Zambia last year and was shocked to see hordes of tourists careening across the park with high powered torches at night time in order to spot the park ‘s famous and elusive leopard population. A Disneylandesque horror show to say the least.

    I do not know of one major African nature conservationist who supports shark cage diving, which brings home probably the most salient point about the industry – it is a superficial thrill for people with very little experience of nature. The industry makes it money out of ignoramuses and consumer society slaves.

    Another dark underlying theme is that the pro-industry pundits are almost exclusively privileged Westerners and white South Africans – both the commentators and operators. The needs and interests of Gansbaai’s majority black population are of no concern to Sally from South Ken or Stefan from Stuttgart, they’re just here to get their jollies.

    Ps. To the person who added several woolly, uninformed statements about the industry – calling yourself a journalist does not make you one, and it is puerile in the extreme to use it to give superficial gravitas to your comments. Embarrassing.

    • Andrew Evans
      December 29, 2013, 8:08 am

      Thanks so much for your lengthy comments Marc. I appreciate your professional insight, and thanks for the correct figures for prospective earnings. I realize there are many who argue on either side of this issue, but I appreciate your support of some of the personal views I laid out on my blog. AE

  30. […] Most Commented-on Post: Why I Won’t Go Shark Cage Diving […]

  31. Helen
    cape town
    January 10, 9:32 am

    I think you wrote this article to back up your already present prejudice ! You should have gone on a dive.
    You have done a industry that is trying so hard to create job creation education and conservation a great disservice.
    I do not think you have researched this objectively or authentically.

  32. Kirsty Marmarellis
    Cape Town
    January 11, 1:42 am

    I have read this article & all of the subsequent comments with absolute fascination. As an owner of a tour operator company selling tailor-made holidays to South Africa I am often asked to book shark dives for our clients. I have not personally enjoyed one if these tours & have never quite got to decide on how they affect shark behavior, therefore I read all of the above with huge interest absorbing each of the opinions. I am still rather undecided I am afraid, but one thing really still stands out for me ….. why is it acceptable to throw blood & fish remains into the sea in order to view a creature? Whether you are feeding a predator or tantiluzing it’s senses in order to eat is much the same thing isn’t it? Would we accept throwing a bloody mess out in a game reserve in the hope of catches a lions attention? Absolutely not … so why then is it acceptable in the sea? Anything unnatural that is brought into the perfect balance of nature for the benefit of humans is surely wrong. Anyhow, I suppose it could be said that fences around game reserves are unnatural & yet so much can be said for the conservation done by the owners of private game reserves. That said – there doesn’t seem to be an increase of lion attacks on humans in the Kruger Park, but there is most definitely an increase if shark attacks in the False Bay Area. It is all a very interesting debate, so thank you Andrew! I think in future I will send this link to my clients & they can make their own informed decisions. All the best, Kirsty

  33. warren van der Merwe
    Durban
    January 11, 4:32 am

    I think Shark Cage Diving should be Banned, last year whilst they were filming for the Shark man documentary my friend was attacked by a Great White and killed at Koel Bay ( false bay ) and I firmly believe it was because of the chumming and onshore wind that blew the chum to shore, yes I understand surfing is a risk but chumming is definitely not reducing the risk. If you meant to be filming a Shark Documentary in its Natural Habitat, why chum??

  34. werner schlebach
    Fairland, Johannesburg, South Africa
    January 12, 11:29 am

    Debates like this are only good and helpful. Thanks to all participants. – As a city person I experienced little about life in the wilderness and I have probably nothing to contribute to a debate like that. Instinct however tells me that Andrew Evans could be correct in stating ‘bating for profit is not sustainable’.
    I would like to expand that notion into politics: Ultimately humanity has to ban wars to sustain planet earth. Please National Geographic send Andrew to Murmansk/Russia to investigate the shocking results of the 40 year ‘Cold War’…a neighborhood your readers won’t “fall in love with”. – Why are we having so many bloody wars still in Africa??? – Werner Schlebach, Johannesburg, Africa.

  35. Ronell
    South Africa
    January 12, 2:09 pm

    Dear Andrew. How dare you have an opinion!? Haha. Love the article. To everyone else: If you want to see a shark in it’s habitat, get in the water and go for a dive! If want to participate in conservation, there are many NGOs who will gladly accept your contribution, you need not get into a cage and poke the proverbial bear.

  36. Mike
    Cape Town
    January 12, 2:40 pm

    Hi Andrew. Great article! As a surfer living in Cape Town it is definitely an interesting read. For what it’s worth, human to shark interactions have been happening for many years in the Western Cape. I would venture to say that there is possibly no link between cage diving and shark attacks just based on the number of attacks that take place. I have not done a great deal of research, so this may be unfounded, but sharks attacks in Cape Town seem to be pretty constant. You hear of the occasional bump or maybe even an attack, but these things are bound to occur from time to time. They occurred before the cage diving operators were present and will continue to occur. On a purely logical level I do however agree that in terms of baiting the sharks in for tourists to view them without them actually having the opportunity to feed is unsustainable. I personally would not go cage diving, and I would definitely not encourage anyone else to go cage diving either. I think this article would make some operators quite upset, but honestly they are exploiting the environment for a quick buck. Sadly, I think this is the case for many sectors of tourism in Africa. There is no long term view. If you have the money, you can pretty much experience what you want. Your comparison to bears is entirely different, but it highlights a train of thought that we should have with our sharks too. They are wild animals, and should be left to be just that – Wild.
    Thank you for taking the time to write such a great article. I would have liked to have seen an interview of some sort with one of the operators asking the pressing questions of day to day operations (How they chum the sharks etc.), but maybe that is an article for another time.
    Please do visit us again. It’s always a pleasure to have tourists in our country who respect our home for the wild place that it is.
    Mike

  37. Gordon Stevens
    Australia
    January 12, 3:49 pm

    As a lifelong surfer (47 years and counting) and an ex pat Saffa , I have been following the rise of shark attacks in both the West Cape and Western Australia with some interest

    The circumstantial evidence that the WA attacks are linked to the WC attacks is pretty convincing. In either event , the rise in attacks and the growth of the chummers cannot be co-incidence.

    These sharks have been taught to relate to humans as a source of food , therefore placing humans in chummed water is akin to MURDER. It does not matter that the attacks happen many 1,000′s of Km’s away , a conditioned shark is a conditioned shark , and upon seeing a human form in clear water, if it relates that shape to the shapes it has seen in yummy bloody water it going to go in for the meal .. Curiosity plus conditioning = human death = Murder ,
    There is no other way to look at it…

    A simple fix would be to totally ban chumming , forfeiture of boat and jail time being minimum sentences. There are other ways of attracting sharks that do not indirectly lead to human deaths..

  38. Mandy
    Cape Town
    January 12, 4:02 pm

    Thank you for this excellent article Andrew.
    I have long been vehemently against shark cage diving since I witnessed the attack on my friend Tyna Webb in 2004, the first shark victim in Fish Hoek Bay.
    I am an avid open water swimmer. I swim quite happily, albeit with caution in Table Bay but will not risk swimming in deep water in False Bay.
    Let’s all rally against this destructive profiteering industry. I am right behind you. In my view anyone who artificially lures wild predators for human interest should not be allowed to continue their practice.

  39. Jasper Mocke
    Cape Town
    January 12, 7:47 pm

    Andrew, I am in the water in Cape Town for 4 hrs a day training as professional surfski paddler. Seeing a great white 10km’s off Cape Point, completely isolated and at their mercy is an exhilarating, authentic experience. Despite living here my whole life, 29 years, I have never been shark cage diving for many reasons in your article. I agree completely. To other readers, regarding the comments. Read Andrew’s title, ‘Why I won’t go shark cage diving’. The one goes first in a debate like this is always at a disadvantage. Andrew has set himself up to be taken apart by commentators. Two comments especially, Craig Ferreira and (so called journalist) Phillipa would do well to write and article, ‘why I WOULD GO shark cage diving’.

  40. Mike
    January 13, 7:10 am

    Why don’t they put in a large, floating cage that stays in one place where sharks are most likely to frequent on a daily basis. Perhaps using camera’s and a little research (maybe all these brilliant students being sponsored for their Masters/PhD’s) we could work out just where to install it, and then take the tourists out to that spot where they can see the sharks, if they’re lucky.

    Option two would be to find another way of “calling” sharks that is not chumming. Surely if we have the know-how and ability to send people to the moon we can find another method…?

  41. Francois du Toit
    cape town
    January 13, 1:35 pm

    I agree with mike, baiting and influencing the environment in a hectic way is not wise. If people really want to see sharks, jump in a cage without chumming and be patient… any other ploy is just greed.

  42. Hollyann Duggn-Jones
    Cape Town
    January 14, 1:46 am

    Hi Andrew, one company that makes sure they educate tourists about Ocean (shark) sustanibility and does alot of charity work for the communitites, takes people on Shark Cage tours to fund their projects.
    They make sure they do no chumming shark cage diving-which does exist and is much better!
    Please check out her blog about what she managed to achieve in 2013 and what she will continue to achieve in 2014 http://www.lesleyrochat.com/2014/goodbye-2013-hello-2014

    As for the sustainable tours which are worth going on as tourists money goes to good use, is with founder Lesley Rochat on http://sharkwarrior.com/tours-transfers or you could merely just donate or buy merchandise if you don’t agree with Shark Cage Diving.

    At the moment they are focusing on the #NOsharkcull in Western Australia and are asking Colin Barnett to please reconsider his petition to cull sharks.
    Follow the debate on https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shark-Warrior/392438354121030

    Thanks for reading and seeing other sides to the debate.

  43. Simon
    Cape Town
    January 14, 1:49 am

    Andrew, many thanks on an insightful article. I have written a number articles from a surfer’s perspective, having surfed the False Bay area for over 35 years. In most instances, any connection between increased shark activity and chumming has been dismissed by some influential local shark scientists, despite Australian research to the contrary. These “experts” dismiss any evidence that refute their entrenched views, clearly in an attempt to maintain and protect the status quo of the shark cage diving industry in the Western Cape. I’m am left speechless when shark cage divers and experts refuse to see the similarities and associated behaviourial responses between feeding sharks or any other wild animal such as a baboon or lion. Surely once animals begin to associate humans with food, a dangerous link is established, but clearly shark cage outfits and certain experts think otherwise.

  44. Martin
    Cape Town
    January 14, 2:17 am

    As a passionate scuba diver who frequently dives with sharks all around False Bay and the Cape Peninsula, I personally do not support shark cage diving as, to me, it portrays a false image of sharks in their natural habitat. Chumming puts the sharks in a feeding mindset without actually leading to any proper food, thus making them appear aggressive and more often than not creating a fear rather than fascination during these cage dives. Once you have dived with sharks in their TRUE natural habitat, in clear water and when not feeding, you begin to realise just how unnatural cage diving really is.

    It’s nothing more than a money making scheme in my opinion, feeding on people’s natural inquisitive nature when it comes to predators and rewarding it with a rush. You get what you pay for I guess. Like going to a theme park.

  45. Grant Hendriks
    Cape Town
    January 14, 5:09 am

    Great article.

  46. Eli Martinez
    South Texas
    January 14, 10:53 am

    Hello Andrew, thanks for your article and the debate that follows but I have to agree to disagree, while I understand your disdain for cage diving…and the grip about it being a money making enterprise that is not sustainable. The reality is it is very sustainable and has been for many many years. There has been cage diving operations there for over 20 years, which screams of sustainability. Yes it has problems, but like in all things, as time goes by, tweaks are made to make them better. You also mention that the operators are not conservation minded. The cage diving operation in SA has led to the protection of the white shark because of the tourism business, which screams of conservation-of course that is just my opinion.
    Another thing you mention in your piece, is the money. Yes operators make money but so does the entire community; restaurants make money, hotels, tourist shops, everyone benefits from shark tourism. And as for your views that people do not leave the experience as positive shark advocates, well that is your opinion and just because you feel negatively about it, and would not see sharks in a positive light from the experience, does not mean other people don’t.
    And so what if people want photo trophies of their experience…that is what it is all about isn’t it? That is how we all fall in love with an animal or a place, by seeing the photos that other people share. Again I understand you do not like cage diving but there is WAY more to these operations and this community than what you have taken from it. Look not everyone is as hard core as you are and the high majority of these people will never experience the sardine run, or Cocos Island for a chance to get your natural encounters, that you rave about. These cage dives are their opportunities to experience one of the greatest animals our oceans has to offer and if even just one person leaves the water each day with a positive experience then the sharks have won.
    As for the accidents involving sharks, that is a whole new rant, but here is the gist of it; you can blame shark operators all you want, but the facts are if they would just put a ban on surface activities (such as surfing, snorkeling, and surface swimming) for a couple months a year, during peak migration periods for whites and tiger sharks, accidents with sharks would drop 80-90%. Anyway, thank you for your opinion, this was mine.

  47. Lola
    Oakland, California
    January 14, 4:14 pm

    Eli:
    If you view something that has lasted 20 years as ‘sustainable’, you have a very narrow view of an earth that is billions of years old.

  48. Fiona Ayerst
    South Africa
    January 15, 6:06 am

    It’s wonderful to see that people care so much about sharks… now here’s a challenge for you all – spend the same time you spent reading all this stuff- actually doing something for the health of our oceans. even going outside and picking up all the glass and plastic will save a few turtles and seabirds…amongst others. Researching and telling people about sustainable sea food choices is also a great thing to do.

  49. […] Why I Won’t Go Shark Cage Diving by Andrew Evans […]

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  51. Stevie Hendrix
    Kuching, Malaysia
    April 16, 7:19 am

    Hi there Andrew,

    I am a Marine Biology major from the US who is still in university. I have always had a passion for marine life, whether it be the conservation, observation, or simply obtaining new information that can help us preserve our oceans and learn from them. I really enjoyed reading your article, as well as reading your replies and small debates with other commenters. I just wanted to let you know that your article made a difference in my opinion, and I appreciate that even years after this was published, I still see it making a difference. People don’t always realize the power of words and shared experiences.

    Thanks again,
    Stevie

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  53. Michael S
    United States
    April 23, 12:36 pm

    Hi

    I am planning a trip to SA and diving with Sharks was on my wish list. I understand your points but what are the alternatives available to people who dont share your resources for open water dives like you mentioned.

    Thanks

    Mike

  54. Chris U
    Bournemouth, England
    May 10, 10:34 am

    Hi Andrew,

    Read your article with great interest and appreciate that you were only giving your personal reasons for not wanting to ever go shark-caging.
    However, the tone of your article was very officious and dogmatic regarding perceived legitimate reasons for being anti shark-caging. There is no proven evidence between shark-caging in South Africa or Australia and fatalities caused by Great White Shark attacks. The same period you mention has seen Great Whites a protected species. The same period has seen tourism in South Africa boom so more people are going in the water swimming, surfing and diving. This is due more to the increasing affordability of travel rather than the shark-caging.
    Furthermore all the reputable shark-caging operators do not use chumming as a method to enable encounters – they go to where the sharks are and rely on the shark’s natural curiosity which varies greatly with each individual shark. Some will come and investigate, some won’t. Some stay briefly, others linger for longer.
    I would bet my bottom dollar that nigh on EVERYONE comes away from such encounters humbled, full of a deep sense of appreciation and awe for such magnificent creatures and sponsors of anti shark-finning and culling.
    Far from creating or perpetuating a myth, such encounters dispel the ‘Jaws’ impression of Great Whites.
    Whilst I respect that you like everyone else is entitled to have an opinion on shark-caging, given your credentials as a contributor to the National Geographic travel section your statements should be founded on fact by extensive research not just flying a misguided ‘I’m flying a leave nature alone’ flag which comes across as just misinformed and self-righteous.
    It is individual people that have to take responsibility for going into the sharks natural environment. Increasing numbers of people engaging in sea activity so there will be more shark attacks. End of. Nothing to do with responsibly operated shark cage tourism.

  55. John Russell
    Florida
    May 29, 11:49 am

    I think feeding wildlife is ridiculous.. only irrational folks that would lead you to believe Sharks are the only animal on the planet not influenced by food. Protect and save sharks and divers.

  56. Rowan Kimberg
    Australia
    June 3, 6:20 am

    Hi Andrew, I’m quite disappointed in your article. What it fails to acknowledge is that Eco-tourism is always a compromise. Having worked in the Safari Industry for many years I consider vehicles, roads, boats, accommodation, industrial noise, perimeter fencing and all the other man made infrastructure to allow tourists access, all a form of compromise. So chumming up some burley fits quite well into many of those compromises. Having been one of those surfers you mentioned….. I have surfed with a Great White in Strandfontein South Africa and I can tell you the experience was just as intrusive on it’s behaviour as my Sharkdive a few weeks later at Gansbaai. The operators did not gee us up with adrenaline stories and spew tons of chum into the water. They had about 6 tuna heads they threw out on a rope. The operators told us that they cannot allow the shark to touch the tuna head or the sides of the boat or cage. If that happened they would have to move away from the spot. It was emphasised that the purpose was to educate us and break down our negative perceptions of sharks and enable a global movement towards shark conservation. After all we only love and protect what we know, the unfamiliar will always remain just that.
    Finally a comment on Australia. Australia has one of the worst conservation records and still openly kills Great Whites. Just recently the shark cull on the west coast of Australia went ahead despite public protest. South Africa on the other hand led the way in Great White Conservation. Please don’t discourage this very successful effort to educate people about sharks.
    Love your magazine
    Rowan

  57. Rowan Kimberg
    Australia
    June 4, 6:07 am

    Hi Andrew,
    Been doing much thinking about your article. I copied this excerpt from an article published on the behavioural changes Great whites seemed to make around the shark diving boats.
    …Shark Cage Diving
    Kock told Clifton shark files that “a study I co-authored showed that contrary to our hypothesis that white sharks were being positively conditioned to associate cage diving boats with food, the animals in our experiment all stopped responding to the chumming and baiting activities over the season.”
    “Our conclusion was that we saw these results because the food presented to the sharks was not reliable, nor enough to cause white sharks to change their natural feeding habits, and stop predating on seals and other sharks and fish,” said Kock.

    If you would like me to reference the article let me know as I’m hoping you respond to my email.

  58. Andrew McKinnon
    Port Lincoln, South Australia
    June 16, 10:34 pm

    Hi Andrew

    Firstly thankyou for your article. I thought it was a great insight into the shark cage diving industry.

    I work for a company in Port Lincoln, South Australia, called Adventure Bay Charters. We operate 1 day cage diving with great white sharks off the Neptune Islands.

    We are creators of Australia’s first advanced eco-certified shark cage diving experience, we offer visitors the once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with the legendary Great White Shark in its natural habitat.

    To ensure we are protecting the natural environment, we use audio sound vibrations to attract the sharks to the boat rather than chum and berley. The benefits of using sound vibration is that it is omnidirectional (that is, it travels in all directions underwater), it’s instantaneous and completely eco friendly – and funnily enough, the Great White shark’s favourite choice of music is the rock tunes from AC/DC – go figure!

    Adventure Bay Charters has pioneered the use of acoustic attraction for great white shark cage diving in Australia. By playing music through underwater speakers we encourage curious sharks to venture around the boat to investigate the source of the sound.

    We have being trialling acoustic attraction for many years now and the results so far suggest that this is a viable alternative to chum & berleying.

    Two of the main concerns regarding the Great White Shark Cage Diving industry is the use of baits to distract sharks from normal feeding activities and the damage caused to sharks by attacking the shark cage and boat. We see very different behavior from sharks attracted by acoustics compared to attraction by chum & berley. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when sharks are not lured by food they are not as aggressive and do not attack the shark cage or vessel.

    We engage the public’s awareness of sustainability and environmental protection through the use of this branding.

    If you ever venture down to Australia we would love to have you on board.

    Kind Regards

    Andrew McKinnon
    Adventure Bay Charters

  59. meagan
    June 24, 12:20 pm

    I comment as an inexperienced diver looking to buy a home in florida and shark diving is on my bucket list not as a thrill seeker but the shark to me has always been a seriously misunderstood majestic creature that we will never fully understand. While I do see your arguable point on how the sharks seem to be wrongfully baited to the boat I must point out I have seen countless documentaries where marine biologists have baited sharks for research. I fail to see the difference. When I have seen underwater documentaries there are what looks to be cage like devices that hold chum to attract sharks as well. I find your opinion that cage shark diving is inauthentic to be very snobbish of you. Some people merely want the experience of being in the water with these amazing deep sea creatures rather than (life threatening) swim freely among them. As most of the people that do go on these trips want the experience and memory and yes a good photo they see no reason to jeopardize their life as there is no 100% guarantee there won’t be an accident. Also saying that just because people want to participate in this amazing activity doesn’t mean they don’t support the preservation of these creatures and the stopping of shark fin soup as I have watched many documentaries on that horrid activity as well. I am not well researched in the art of chumming, however, I see no harm in it of it is done by professionals and as long as the shark is unharmed. With the amount of people that free dive with sharks I fail to see the negative effects of whether they are in a cage or not it is still diving with sharks. Just because some people are not experienced divers enough to confidently dive without cage protection doesn’t mean it’s not authentic. I will be engaging in this activity and I fully support the preservation of these underwater beauties. It doesn’t make anyone a bad person just because they aren’t professional and we’ll traveled as you are and free dive. I’m sure there are companies out there that will gladly take people free diving If they so choose to feel the need but I also fail to see the difference of the thrill seeking aspect. To me it is all a thrill there is no difference. Anyone can get the thrill of going to a zoo which by the way can also be (by you) called not authentic, but it is a whole other thrill to go and see them in the wilds of their natural habitat. It is just as amazing to see the creature and doesn’t mean that people don’t appreciate them.

  60. meagan
    June 24, 12:36 pm

    An afterthought that I had is also that cage diving should (In my opinion of course) be encouraged if the person is inexperienced and uneducated about sharks.personally I don’t know their behaviors enough to feel safe and confident enough to free dive. I don’t know what their physical signs are when they are agitated or hungry or scared or getting ready to nip at you in curiosity. I am also scared that if a shark were to nip and draw blood (not meaning to just basic curiosity) that it would start a frenzy and attract other sharks. I think someone would be up poo Creek without a paddle. So in closing I deeply love reading articles written by professional divers just to get different angles and facts but I will get defensive when I feel someone is downplaying a major moment in someone else’s life whether it be in your standards of authentic or not. To them.its real.

  61. […] Digital Nomad has a very informative post on National Geographic, about why he won’t go shark cage diving. […]

  62. […] What, no shark cage diving? Most of you probably have heard South Africa has some of the world’s best shark cage diving — and it does; however, in my opinion it’s not the most ethical or authentic adventure experience one can have and it doesn’t feel right to recommend such an excursion. Andrew Evans of Intelligent Travel wrote a very insightful article on this, which you can read by clicking here. […]

  63. Graeme Williams
    Melbourne, Australia (but writing from Fiji)
    July 20, 2:10 am

    Andrew,
    thank you for your article, which seems to be generally well-received. It is interesting however that your critics, such as ‘Shark Cage Diver’ and ‘Shark Lover’ chose to remain anonymous.

    As for SCD’s claim that the ‘Australian Goverment’ encourages the killing of great white sharks, this is a blatant lie as the GWS is fully protected in five of six states in Australia and it is only recently that the West Australian State Goverment has launched a culling program for sharks over 3 metres, resulting in the death of hundreds of bronze whalers but no GWSs.

    Shark tourism can occur, without ‘cage diving and here in Fiji where I am writing this from, there is a ‘shark dive’ that has been operating for some time (bull sharks c.f. GWSs) and whose success as a tourist initiative has led to the establishment of of Marine Protection Areas (MPAs). Not only that, the owner of main dive company is personally committed to the welfare of these powerful creatures and has personally identified over 200 individual adults. All of this without the need for cages and it is not uncommon to see forty bull sharks on a dive along with as many reef sharks at a higher level.

    Keep up the crusade.

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  65. […] Digital Nomad has a very informative post on National Geographic, about why he won’t go shark cage diving. […]

  66. Mumun
    Indonesia
    August 18, 7:28 am

    Educational! Thank you!

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