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Encounter with a Great White Shark - Rob Erasmus

I offered my services to the S.A. Museum to voluntarily collect specimens for their catalogue collection and in October they asked if I could supply them with some hermit crabs material. Having dived at Sunny Cove, Fish Hoek in False Bay, on many occasions and knowing the area well, I chose this site on Tuesday 5th October with perfect conditions, the water being 16 C and the viz. in excess of 10m. Because of the circumstances and conditions the dive was planned to a max of 8 meters for 40 minutes, being no further from the shore than about 30 metres.

Returning along the bottom after about 30 minutes something made me turn around. I was greeted by the vision of a very large shark. My mind went into an automatic shark identification mode, not wanting to believe what it was seeing. But there was no doubt. It was a very large Great White Shark, and it was swimming intentionally directly towards me.

Deflating the BC and exhaling to sink to the bottom was the only option. The shark passed about a metre directly above. It was a large female that was estimated to be between 4 and 4,5 m in length. It was also noticed that her left pectoral fin had a large portion of the tip missing. She circled and lined up for another pass. Believing she was showing more than just general interest it was realized that some form of protection was needed and quickly backed over the flat rocky bottom towards a small crevice. The crack was not large enough to provide protection for the upper part of a divers body. By this time she was coming in for a second pass, lower than before. She once again passed directly overhead, less than a metre away, and she was huge. My mind was now racing, thinking that if she came in any lower she there would be no chance of escaping her. Being too worried to do anything that might antagonise her, like stabbing her, waving my arms, blowing bubbles or screaming, it was decided to remain as calm as possible. Easier said than done when a massive potential man-eating shark is eyeing you out. She was so big I truly believed that there was nothing that could be done if she decided to attack. That is how big she was.

She circled and came if for her third pass, directly at head height and when she got to about 3 metres she opened her mouth and pumped her gills. I was looking right into her mouth. At the last moment I turned my head to the side and tried to shrink into my wet suit. She passed about a foot above and I put my hand up, running it down her belly. Once again she turned and this time swam off into the blue. After a wait about five minutes cover was carefully broken and a hasty swim along the rocky bottom towards the shore was made. Upon reaching the shore the result was uncontrolled laughing and shaking.

I contacted numerous shark experts relating what had just been experienced. Communications with Chris Fallows confirmed that a large Great White female with the left tip of the pectoral fin missing had been observed off Seal Island, False Bay 4 months previously. But they thought she was a bit shorter, namely 3,8 metres.

I have had an interest in sharks for many years and have been diving since 1984. I have also had a number of Environmental courses registered with NAUI. My shark experience ranges from underwater tagging operations of large Ragged tooth Sharks in the southern Cape area to cage diving investigations in Mossel Bay.

What I have learnt is that Great White Sharks do occur close inshore in False Bay, in this case less than 30 metres from the shore, and in very shallow water, namely 5 metres. This one was particularly bold and she knew she was in control of the situation. I can only believe that my touching her made her decide to leave. My advice to divers is to stay alert and remain calm. To antagonise a shark of that size, in fact a shark of any suitable size, could quite likely result in a dangerous physical encounter.

Rob is a NAUI diving instructor with 20 years experience, an aquarium volunteer diver and has a keen interest in sharks, nudibranchs and underwater photography

The links below will launch very good sites of attack accounts and statistics in a separate window.

Spear Fishing Shark Stories
Shark Attack Statistics
The International Shark Attack File