There is no denying that I was petrified to go cage diving with great white sharks. Admittedly, I had a complete panic attack during my first dive that included crying, hyperventilating and almost giving up completely. I was overcome with fear; I couldn’t function. Once I got in the water and watched the actions and reactions of over a dozen different great white sharks, everything changed. I was mesmerized by how they moved and the way they behaved. It is utterly fascinating and an eye-opening, life-altering experience.
I spent five days with Islander Charters to get the great white shark adventure of a lifetime. It included 12 hours (over three days) of surface-supplied air, cage diving at Guadalupe Island, Mexico. I needed to learn more about the behavior of great whites to try and overcome my fear of such ancient creatures. Once you have the experience, you will never look at sharks the same way again. You will still have a healthy respect for them, but the fear will change to curiosity, knowledge and understanding.
I could see for myself that they are not blood thirsty, man-eaters lurking below the surface waiting to attack anything and everything in the water. Great white sharks have an incredible sense of smell and can smell blood in the wide, open ocean from a staggering three miles away. They also have an incredible sense of hearing that allows them to sense even the smallest vibrations in the water. While these senses make them the ultimate predator, they also make them very aware of their surroundings. I watched as many of the sharks were picky about their food. Even when the water was filled with blood from a recent tuna catch, the sharks didn’t become frenzied. They didn’t always go after the bait and usually studied it before taking a bite.
I could see that they weren’t aggressive toward each other or us. When two male great white sharks would appear at the same time, they would pass each other and size each other up. The larger shark generally rose up toward the bait while the other shark disappeared into the darkness. There seemed to be a hierarchy that eliminated aggression. That hierarchy seemed to apply to us as well. We weren’t food. We weren’t competition. We weren’t important. They were aware of our presence but not bothered by us. Many of the females had bite wounds along the gill areas, but we learned that it was a part of mating. Even when the dive master was out of the submersible cage and a massive, 16-18 foot female curiously swam by, she wasn’t aggressive toward him at all. She knew he was there, she swam around him and then continued on her way. He just wasn’t part of her diet.
They were confident but cautious. The sharks weren’t aggressive toward the cages or us at all. They never bit at the cage or even brushed against it. They did get close and at times I felt like they were studying me, but they never showed signs of aggression like hunching their backs, lowering their pectoral fins or flaring their gills.
Individual sharks not only look very different, they have different personalities too. It was easy to see the specific markings on each shark so I could tell when a new shark was around but I was shocked to see the changes in personality. Some sharks were quite bold and brave and didn’t seem intimidated by the boat, the cages or the dives. Others were more standoffish or a lot more cautious. Generally, the larger, more mature sharks that Islander sees trip after trip were calmer and more fluid in their movements. Ironically, the smaller great whites were the more unpredictable ones that demonstrated bursts of speed and aggression.
Why You Should Dive with Great White Sharks
I could explain the feelings I had and what I witnessed while cage diving with great white sharks for hours but I could never truly do it justice. Before having the experience, I was horrified of great white sharks. Looking at pictures gave me chills and I always said that I didn’t have to worry about getting eaten alive by a shark because if I feel in shark infested waters I’d have a heart-attack before they got to me. I used movies and tv shows as my basis for knowledge and I had a ridiculous version of what what out there. Now, that intense, debilitating fear is gone. Getting in the water with them and learning from the trained crew aboard the Islander has completely changed my perspective on these beautiful, majestic, graceful animals. I still don’t want to swim with them in open water, but experiencing their behavior for myself has disproved many of the myths that were ingrained in my brain since I was a child. Nothing is as educational as first-hand experience. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn from a few days of cage diving with great white sharks.