Thank God for Steel

On one of my last days in South Africa, my housemate Sachi and I went to a great white shark cage dive.

We were picked up in the pre-dawn hours and driven to Kleinbaai, a little over 2 hours east of Cape Town. We were given a breakfast as part of the package, in addition to the standard liability/indemnity forms that dominate just about every activity one can do in South Africa. Even the field trip for my biology class, and the form actually said that they agents of the university could intentionally cause me harm without being held liable for any damage to my person. Everyone always says that the forms are not legally binding, but they give me confused and ill looks when I suggest that if not legally binding, then there is really no point to them. I guess I am just being a difficult American.

I am pleased (for lack of a more appropriate word) that I had the foresight to consume a small breakfast of only very soft foods (fruit, some scrambled eggs, tea). While I was the first of our party to succumb to seasickness (still feeling the effects of my body turning itself inside out), I was also the one who had the easiest time of it. While those motion sickness bands you put on your wrists help with bus rides, they seemed to be no match for the Southern Atlantic. Fortunately, I was able to wash them well before my flights home, so my wrists did not smell like salt water and chum.

It was an amazing outing, and the sharks are amazingly beautiful and powerful animals. They are incredibly threatened and in need of drastic conservation. I am especially grateful to my father for sending me a water-proof camera to use in South Africa and Fred for making this trip a birthday present.

We then went out on the boat, a foam-hull catamaran (no sinking, decreased likelihood of capsizing) out a ways to a location where a chummed cage is maintained to keep the animals in the vicinity. Some of the birds have also learned to follow the boats, and schools of other fish also flock to the cages to get a bite.

The cage we climb into.
Casting the fish head

The view above water from within the cage
The view below water
Although the trip was billed as one of the amazing extreme sport opportunities in South Africa, the actual experience was rather mundane. Besides seasickness, there is an exercise in patience. At one point, I pondered the idea that rather than shark-viewing, our outing was a psychological experiment to see how long a person can tolerate sitting in very cold sea-water (we had a balmy 12° C that day) in a metal cage while someone drags a giant fish head over you.

However, when the first sharks appeared, they commanded awe. When one quite enthusiastically chased the fish head at our cage and jammed his nose into the bars between one girl and myself, we also developed a true appreciation for modern engineering and the steel bars keeping us from truly swimming with the great whites.

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