Guide to: Diving with Pelagic Sharks

All about diving with Blues & Makos in Cape Town.

16 February 2020

By Danel Wentzel

The South African coastline is a hotspot for shark activity. From diving with Ragged tooth sharks and Hammerheads in the warmer waters of the East coast, to Great Whites and Blue sharks in the cool waters of the Cape. This post is aimed to cover all you need to know when planning your next Pelagic shark dive in Cape Town, as well as share my recent experience diving with these magnificent animals.

The early bird gets the shark.

The day started with an early meet and brief at the centre. I choose to do this experience with Shark Explorers, as they are one of the top charters in Simonstown and their staff is always super friendly.

After meeting everyone, signing paperwork and getting gear we all enjoyed one last cup of coffee before hopping on the boat. The boat ride out covered some serious nautical miles, since the dive site is located offshore from Cape Point.

Our first 30 minute ride was steady and comfortable, taking in the gorgeous views of lush green mountains of the South Peninsula, cruising past the penguin colony at Boulder Beach and finally stopping at the tip of Cape Point for some mandatory selfies and a quick snack while we prepare for the journey ahead.

Now it's time to head off to the Agulhas current! Depening on the ocean this band of warm, clear, tropical water can be anything from 20 to 50 nautical miles offshore.

Calling all sharks.

Since we're floating in the vast open ocean, trying to find a tiny shark is like finding a needle in a haystack. The dive operators use sardines as chum to create a fishy soup behind the boat, accompanied with a chum drum (hanging at 5m below the boat). Sharks can take anywhere from a few minute to a few hours to show up. On my trip we sadly had to wait a bit longer before we found them, but the wait definitely was worth it. We kept ourselves entertained by chatting and going for swims in the clear, blue water just around the boat.

We enjoyed the yummiest sandwiches for lunch on the boat, made with love by the Shark Explorers team.

After lunch we still had a bit of a wait that followed. On our third chum line, we were just ready to start calling it, when all of a sudden a Blue shark made an appearance!

What are Blue Sharks.

Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) are curious, open-ocean predators that live throughout the global ocean, from the tropics to cold temperate waters. They spend most of their lives far from the coast and are truly a pelagic species. The common name comes from the blue color of the skin, unique among the sharks.

Though they may reach lengths of up to 3.5m, Blue sharks specialize in relatively small prey, including small pelagic fishes and small squids, and they undertake regular feeding dives to deeper pelagic waters.

Blues are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are reported to be among the most heavily fished sharks in the world mainly as result of bycatch in the tuna and swordfish fisheries. However, significant demand for shark fin soup has led to them being increasingly targeted in pelagic shark fisheries.

Ready to dive!

Ernest our trusty DM was first to hop in the water. He went down and waited for us at 5m next to the chum drum. While Skipper Brocq (@brocqmaxey) helped everyone kit up and lunge into the water one-by-one, Ernest kept the shark busy an entertainened with some nose tickles. I decended down the line and waited. For a second I thought the shark got bored and left, but then I could see a cobalt blue, streamlined figure appearing in the distance.

Everywhere I looked around me was blue. Ocean water colours, the art and perfection of nature. Hovering in the big blue with a blue chum drum being your only reference point is challanging enough without having to worry about sharks around you. For anyone wanting to do this dive, I recommend nailing your boyancy first as most of the dive you spent hovering at 5m.

As the figure got bigger and bigger, I realised that it wasn't slowing down. To my surprise the 3m Blue shark was swimming straight in my direction. I put my hand out in front of me and gentle nuged the shark away. He retreated, circled, and came back. It was only after my second time nudging the shark I realised he was enjoying the stimulus of my hand rubbing his nose.

Sharks have a complex electro-sensory system. Enabled by receptors covering the head and snout area. These receptors sit in jelly-filled sensory organs called the ampullae of Lorenzini. These tiny pores are extremely sensitive and can detect even the faintest of electrical fields like the tiny muscle contractions in prey.

All dives must come to an end.

We spent 67 minutes with the shark. And just like that, they dive was over. Just like all dives, they eventually must come to an end. Charters generally only do one dive since the time taken to track the sharks down vary greatly. It was an absolutely incredible dive and one I will never forget. In my 8 years of diving I've never had a marine encounter quite like this one. Although we only saw Blue sharks on our dives, another common species you can expect to see are Mako sharks.

As we headed back and saw Cape Point on the horizon getting closer, and closer, we got told there was an Orca in the Bay! These giant killer whales aren't a common sight in False Bay, and seeing one is high on my bucket list. it didn't take too long for Skipper Brocq to track donw the Orca. It was incredible seeing this gorgeous creature breach just a few metres from the boat.

Planning your shark dive.

Overall I highly recommend this experience to every ocean lover. It is a completely humbling experience being submerged in the vast big blue ocean, surrounded by creatures a lot larger and more powerful than you. Here's a few things to consider when planning your trip:

  • Pick the right charter. Since you'll be spending a good few hours on the ocean, pick a dive charter that you know will take good care of you. Shark Explorers are definitely ahead of their competitors, offering great local prices as well as excellent service (and snacks).

  • Make sure you have control over your bouancy. The last thing you want is to find yourself slowly sinking down to 100 metres. Mainting good buoyancy trough out this dive is extremely important as you'll be hovering at 5m for most of it with only a blue drum as your reference.

  • Go in season. The best time to go is December to July, as you'll have the greatest chance of finding sharks.

  • Keep weather in mind. Your dive charter will most likely update you on conditions. When going on a far boat ride it is crucial to have the ocean be as flat as possible. Once you head out past the point, there is no more protection against the elements and a choppy boat ride might be the difference between you having a good trip or spending most of it feeding the fishes at the back.

I hope this post helps you with planning your Pelagic Shark adventure! I know I will definitely be going back soon. Who knows, the next trip I might finally be able to find the Mako's.

If you are keen on joining my next trip, you can click on the button below to book your spot today!