Sunday, June 24, 2007

Shark Safaris are a MUST, in South Africa!

I’m not one to go bungee jumping in New Zealand or canyoning in Costa Rica, yet presenting myself as great white bait in an underwater cage in South Africa has always held a certain appeal. I’ll admit it—I’m obsessed with sharks.

And the chance to see the greatest predator of them all in a purportedly safe environment appeals to me in a totally primal way. I have, however, pondered the ethical questions that go along with cage diving. So I was interested to read about Joshua Hammer’s experience in Kleinbaai (two hours from Cape Town) in a detailed piece in the New York Times.

Hammer’s February visit fell during the off season for shark viewing. And while he never actually saw a shark underwater—only from the boat—his trip managed to pack in some serious thrills. And at the end of his story, I was left thinking that just the pursuit of these nomadic creatures—one great white was recently tracked 12,000 miles during a return journey between South Africa and Western Australia—is adventure enough.

Of course, there’s another side to these dives, also known as “shark safaris.”

Critics maintain that luring sharks into human encounters by chumming the water (a common shark safari practice) conditions them to associate humans with food—the Pavlovian response at its most petrifying, if you ask me.

Oddly, Hammer didn’t address the issue in his story. But a Guardian piece from last October
examined the ethics of cage dives, presenting views from both a celebrated marine biologist/shark tour operator and a local waterman wary of increasing attacks on humans in the area.
If you’re considering a shark safari yourself, it’s worth feeling out all angles before diving in.


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