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A great white Australian adventure


Growing up in Central Canada I didn’t have many chances to swim in the ocean. We often went to Florida where we got our “ocean fix” but the thought of going out too deep scared me. There were sharks out there!
 
When I moved to England I had many opportunities to go in the sea. Each time though, I never went much deeper than my waist. As soon as I stepped into the water I could hear the theme from Jaws and see that big, grey fin coming straight towards me.

So during my time in Australia when I read an article about a woman doing a cage dive with great whites in Southern Australia, why was my first thought “I have to do that!”?

For some unknown reason I began to get more and more excited at the prospect of “swimming with sharks”. I found myself adding in a stop in Adelaide on my way to Melbourne and before I knew it, I was boarding the teeny tiny plane that would fly me from Adelaide to Port Lincoln.

When my alarm went off at 5:30am on the morning of the dive, I had only been asleep about four hours. The anticipation of the following day had kept me awake most of the night. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve.

I made my way to the marina and by 7am we were on our way. It was a fairly smooth ride, only turning choppy towards the end.

About three hours later we arrived at Neptune Islands. Our boat was anchored and our crew began “baiting” the sharks. Bags of fish oil were hung over the side. Large pieces of tuna were tied to ropes and thrown out to sea. And what can only be described as “fish much” was poured into the water. One crew member began banging the metal cage to attract attention. Then we played the waiting game. The tension and anticipation could be felt. I scanned the water from my position on the top deck, determined to be the first to spot the shark.

Twenty minutes went by, then half an hour. Then suddenly there he was, swimming just below the surface. My heart stopped. I held my breath, keeping the moment to myself before pointing him out to the others.
 
After that first sighting things began to move quickly. The cage was thrown into the water and we were given our safety briefing. There would be four people in the cage at a time. Who would like to go first? I heard someone shout “I’ll go!”  I turned to see who it was only to realize it had come from me!
 
We quickly changed into our wetsuits and were loaded down with weights. At this point there were no sharks in sight. I sat on the edge of the boat and lowered myself into the cage. I was given my breathing regulator and began to panic slightly. I’d never been scuba diving before, never breathed underwater. We were surrounded by sharks and here I was worrying about my breathing regulator! After a few panicky breaths, I realized I’d be fine and settled into my spot in the front left corner of the cage.
 
The four of us began to scan the water in a frenzied, over-excited sort of way.

Nothing.

One of the crew members poured more blood and fish mush next to the cage. (It was NOT enjoyable when that stuff came floating towards you!).

Still nothing.

We picked up the weight on the bottom of the cage and began banging, creating quite a loud racket. The disappointment was just beginning to settle in when, out of the dark water, he came swimming straight towards us. I will never forget the feeling in my stomach at that first sighting. He looked much bigger from this angle.

The great white swam by, taking no notice of us. But within ten seconds he was back. Then there was another one! The crew was throwing fish towards them, hoping they’d take the bait. They quickly did. One great white opened its huge jaws to take the fish and continued swimming…straight towards my corner of the cage. He slammed into it, dragging his whole body along the side of the cage. The force of it threw me backwards but I couldn’t take my eyes off the giant shark.

There were several more “cage attacks” during our 45 minutes under the water. With the exception of those first few minutes, sharks were almost continuously swimming around (and into!) us. Our time went by way too quickly and suddenly it was over.

Or was it?

Although the action wasn’t as good above water, it was still quite exciting! The view from the top deck was fantastic and you could see the sharks coming from a fair distance away. They’d go after the bait, coming right out of the water and crash into the cage. When they came close to the bait, they’d be lured to the cage so we could have an up-close view of the “big chomp”.

The sharks were playing with us as well. They’d swim up to the bait as though they were going to take it, only to turn at the last minute, taunting us. They’d approach the cage and gently nudge it, as if to say hello. One shark swam on its side with its head out of the water, mouth half open, showing off. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. And don’t worry; they got their fair share of tuna that day.

Five different sharks were spotted throughout the day, the largest one being about 4.2 meters long. None of them were as fierce as I was expecting. In fact, I was quite taken aback by how calm they seemed. When they approached the cage (with their mouths closed!) I didn’t feel the fear I was expecting to feel. I was in awe of these amazing creatures. When they came at the cage with their jaws gaping, teeth bearing, that was a different story! But it still wasn’t fear I was feeling. I’m not sure what the word is when your blood is running through your veins faster than it should and your heart is pounding so hard you can see it through your wetsuit. It was exhilarating, pure excitement, the adrenaline rush I needed. It was a once in a life time experience, one I will never, ever forget.

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