Shark: Up Close and Personal

Shark: Up Close and Personal

Posted by Michael Starbuck on 15th Aug 2014

We love to hear about people's wildlife encounters here at The Great Projects, and today, in celebration of Discovery Channel's annual 'Shark Week', we have our very own Marketing Executive Sam blogging about his experience diving with perhaps the most feared predator on earth: the Great White Shark. Have a read of it below:

"I've always been intrigued by sharks ever since, slightly embarrassingly, I watched the film 'Deep Blue Sea' when I was around ten years old. Ok, so that film is ridiculous and paints sharks in a completely false light, but still it intrigued me and introduced me to my now favourite species of animal. Nearly 14 years later, I am still obsessed and a shark conservationist through and through (the team at The Great Projects can vouch for me here - it is often all I talk about). My quest to locate these magnificent creatures has seen me travel the world, whether it be swimming with baby black tips in peninsular Malaysia or scuba diving three miles out to sea off South Africa with an incredible tiger shark (without a cage I may add!)

But perhaps my biggest thrill with regards to my shark encounters has been cage diving with great whites off the cape in South Africa. Ever since that first moment watching 'Deep Blue Sea' and subsequently 'Jaws' (still a fantastic film it has to be said – even though it has done sharks no favours), I had always wanted to get up, close and personal with this leviathan of the deep. Four years ago on a ten month travelling spree, I got my chance...

Talk on the boat trip out inevitably turned to what people were expecting of the experience. Some were apprehensive; others terrified. One lady on board even told me that she was only doing this to get over her fear of sharks – 'Jaws' it appeared had had a profound effect on her, and the news that someone had been killed by a shark earlier in the week on the east coast of the country probably didn't help to calm her nerves. As an avid shark enthusiast, I was pretty excited, but I also couldn't help but feel a bit of nervous energy. These were after all the largest marine predators around – and soon we would almost be within touching distance…

It remains to be said, the whole experience was probably my most memorable and rewarding wildlife encounter to date. Great white sharks are fascinating creatures that, as I soon realised, each have their own distinct personality. There were the teenagers skittishly swimming on by, unafraid of the cage and swimming closer to the cage each time in the hope of getting a good view of the strange wetsuit-clad people staring them down. Then there were the shyer sharks that kept their distance, seemingly intimidated by their smaller and more energetic counterparts. Finally, there were the big boys (the four and a half metre pluses) – calmly gliding up from the depths as if they were completely uninterested in the whole process but just showed up to see what all the noise was about.

But none, and I repeat none, seemed to represent these mindless killers that the media consistently portrays them as. In fact, most appeared far more wary and inquisitive of the strange things in the cage than we were of them. All in all I was told that fifteen different great whites showed up during our three hours at sea, and being able to spend time with them in their environment was truly rewarding. Everyone on board loved the experience (minus a few spells of seasickness) and said lady who said that she was terrified of sharks? She got over her fear within the first two minutes underwater…


Sadly, unlike that lovely lady (who mentioned to me that she wanted to take up diving to see more varieties of sharks), many people still have a huge fear of sharks - mostly fuelled by biased media articles and the aforementioned films like 'Jaws'. But it's important to note that for every human killed by a shark (on which the average figure is 12 per annum), around 8.5 million sharks are killed in the same time span. Shockingly, it is estimated that 100 MILLION (yes you read that right) sharks are killed every year – victims of the shark fin trade, long line fishing nets, shark protection nets and trophy hunting.

The situation has reach crisis levels, with many species (including the once widespread oceanic whitetip and various hammerhead species) now considered 'critically endangered.' Though recent news stated that the shark finning trade in China had significantly decreased (see here), there is still clearly a huge market and demand for it - sharks are still being ruthlessly slaughtered at a completely unsustainable rate. What's more, the bottom line is that people are still scared of sharks – more so than lions, bears or tigers. They are the rulers of the marine realm – an environment of which we are completely alien and vulnerable in. It makes sense to be afraid of them surely? Well, to me, not at all. Sharks are the rulers of the ocean and they should be respected as such. But they shouldn't be painted as the mindless killing machines that they constantly are. After all, they are essential in keeping our oceans healthy and in check and, as I found out, appear to be more wary of us than we are of them. I would recommend anyone to go under the water with these magnificent animals and see how they actually behave. Trust me, it'll prove your initial perceptions completely wrong!"

If you are wanting to find out more about cage diving with great white sharks and joining a trip like this for yourself, why not join 'The Great White Shark Project'? Not only will you be able to have the experience that Sam had on a daily basis, but you will also be able to work alongside trained shark conservationist staff on a truly unique shark conservation project. The project runs for one week plus, so if you're interested, please don't hesitate to 'Enquire or Book Now' via our website here. Alternatively if you have any more questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch via email ([email protected]) or phone (+44(0)208 885 4987). It is 'Shark Week' after all!


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