Bronze whaler seen from shark cage in South Africa

South Africa Shark Cage Diving: 10 Things to Know Before You Go 

Last updated Nov 10, 2022 | Bucket List, South Africa

There are only a handful of places in the world that allow you top to participate in this adrenaline-pumping adventure. South Africa is one of them. Do you think you have the stomach for staring eye to eye with a 15-foot, 4,000-pound fish? Honestly, I was 50/50 whether I was actually going to do the South Africa shark cage diving once I got on the boat. But, I am happy to say I did it and survived to tell about it! Thankfully, I kept all of my fingers and toes.

Read on to find out the 10 things you need to know before doing this epic experience. 

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Video of Our South Africa Shark Cage Diving

What does it feel like bobbing up and down in a shark cage waiting for that thrilling moment when a great white shark graces you with its presence as it swims by the cage? Check out our video below.

YouTube video of our shark cage diving experience 

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Know the Differences Between the 3 Diving Sites

Distance from Cape Town: 45 minutes

Dive operators: 3 companies operate

Highly rated dive operators: Apex Shark Expeditions, Africa Shark Eco-Charters (this company offers scuba gear using a hookah system so you do not have to mouth breath the whole time)

Best time to go shark cage diving (depends on the shark): May-August but recently mid June/July has been the best chance to see great white sharks (may see breaching). Breaching is when a great white shark swims at high speeds and launches out of the air to catch fast-moving prey like a seal. South Africa is one of the few places in the world to witness this event. 

You can see seven gill cow sharks year-round.

November-March is the best time to see mako and blue sharks

Distance from Cape Town: 2 1/2 hours

Dive operators: 8 companies operate

Highly rated dive operators: Marine Dynamics, Great White Shark Tours, White Shark Diving Company, White Shark Projects 

Best time to go shark cage diving: You can go year-round, but June-September has better water visibility and a higher chance of seeing quite a number of great white sharks (although huge storms can occur during this time).

Gansbaai is known as the shark capital of the world. Why? Because of Dyer Island (home to many South African penguins) and Geyser Rock (home to 60,000 Cape fur seals). The channel between these two islands is known as Shark Alley, where the great white sharks enjoy their drive-through meal. 

Distance from Cape Town: 4 hours 15 minutes (not feasible to do as a day trip from Cape Town but it would be convenient if you are already doing the Garden Route)

Dive operators: 1 company operates

Highly rated dive operator: White Shark Africa

Best time to go shark cage diving: June-September

Mossel Bay tends to have calmer and warmer seas than False Bay and Dyer Island since it sits in a protected bay. Great for those who tend to get seasick! The dive site is only 10 minutes from the shore.

Great white shark breaching in South Africa

Iconic photo of a great white shark breaching

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How to Pick the Best South Africa Shark Cage Diving Site

Which location is best? False Bay? Gansbaai? Mossel Bay? 

Pick your location based on which area is having more GREAT WHITE SHARK SIGHTINGS during the time of your trip to maximize your chances of seeing one.  

How do you know who is getting more great white shark sightings? By reading some of the dive operators’ blogs! 

I would highly suggest reading the following blogs to get a sense of which location is getting more sightings around the time of your trip:

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Marine Dynamics

This highly rated and reputable shark cage dive company provides comprehensive daily reports on Gansbaii shark sightings.

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Apex Shark Expeditions

This well-regarded company reports on shark sightings in all 3 locations (Gansbaai, False Bay, and Mossel Bay), but it does not report every day. 

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Great White Shark Tours

They did not have a blog at the time we went, but now they are providing one that gives reports on their great white shark sightings in Gansbaai. 

Which location did we pick? 

Gansbaai! Why?

Because the blogs we read were showing they were getting almost daily sightings of the great white sharks in Gansbaai. Apex Shark Expeditions, however, said they had not seen a great white shark since 2019 in False Bay! Mossel Bay was just too far for us to drive since we were not doing the Garden Route on this trip.

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3 Tips on Booking Your Cage Diving Tour

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#1 Do not book until you get within about a week of your trip.

Only do this though AS LONG AS THE COMPANIES SHOW PLENTY OF AVAILABILITY. Most of the dive operators’ booking systems will show how many available slots are left. That way you can continue to check the blogs for sightings right up until your trip to figure out which location you want. Plus, then you can try to pick the “better” weather day by checking the forecast.

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#2 Be flexible.

Set aside several days for possible shark cage diving in case they cancel due to bad weather. Consider letting the company know you are willing to change the day if a “better” weather day comes up than the one you picked. Rocking seas are no joke.

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#3 Book a day towards the beginning of your time in Cape Town.

If you book towards the beginning of your trip, you still have options if they have to bump you to another day. 

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Best South Africa Shark Cage Diving Company

There are several highly-rated shark cage diving companies in False Bay, Dyer Island, and Mossel Bay that you cannot go wrong with. I’ve listed several of these companies earlier in this article under the differences between the diving sites.

Most people will say Marine Dynamics is the best, but we picked GREAT WHITE SHARK TOURS for several reasons:

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MULTIPLE CHANCES IN THE CAGE

More cage time = more of a chance of seeing a great white. I could have gone in three times but chose to go in twice. It is freezing! If you read the TripAdvisor reviews on Marine Dynamics, you go in once and if you are lucky, maybe a second time.

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ONE OF THE BEST REPUTATIONS

At the time of writing this article, Great White Shark Tours has almost 2,000 reviews with a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor.

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OWNER BRIAN MCFARLANE

The owner, Brian McFarlane, is a well-known professional diver and skipper and has a wealth of experience working with great white sharks. Although he is semi-retired now, he is personally involved with the daily operations.

On the website, he states he believes that “every tourist who dives is entitled to have a great white shark swim past him or her an acceptable number of times, even though this means that the average trip length may be longer than other operators.”

I can vouch for this statement firsthand. As we were out at sea, we saw other diving vessels come and go. Not us. Of course, great white shark sightings are unpredictable, but the staff really tries hard to make sure you get to see a great white shark.

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SUPER FRIENDLY & HELPFUL STAFF

They help you suit up, get in and out of the cage safely, answer all questions, provide snacks and commentary, etc. Very professional and friendly! 

Great White Shark Tours Boat in South Africa

Great White Shark Tours Boat “Apex Predator” 

Great White Shark Tours Shark Cage

Shark Cage on Back of Boat Fits 8 People

Great White Shark Tour Crew

Expert Divemaster 

Expert Crew at Great White Shark Tours

Master Chummer

The only other factor I would consider when you are selecting a company is if you prefer to do a shark cage dive using scuba gear. At the time we went, I was only aware of Africa Shark Eco-Charters offering this option. They operate out of False Bay. Since False Bay was not seeing great white sharks when we went, I ruled them out.

After doing research for this article, I found out the highly rated White Shark Diving Company offers a Shark Cage Hookah Dive with only 12 people per dive on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This allows divers to stay underwater without scuba tanks. I’ll be honest, constantly going up and down in the water does get tiring and you may miss some quick shark action.

Some say the bubbles from the scuba gear scare away the sharks, but I could not find any evidence to back this claim. The next time I go, I would like to try the shark cage dive using the scuba gear and hookah system to see if it makes a difference in your experience. 

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No Cage Required to See the Sharks

We had a few people who did not go in the shark cage and instead took pictures of the sharks as they poked their heads above the surface. There is an upper-level viewing platform to watch and take photos from. Pictures from the surface can be pretty incredible, especially when the sharks breach the surface and flash their toothy grin as they try to take the bait or nibble on the fake seal decoy.

The visibility in the cage is pretty poor, only about 1-2 meters. It is still spectacular to see these magnificent creatures while in the water, but the sharks had to be close to the cage for you to see them.

Great White Shark Seen While Shark Cage Diving in South Africa

Great White Shark Seen Breaching from the Surface

Upper Level Viewing Platform on Great White Shark Tours

Upper Level Viewing Platform 

Bronze whaler seen from shark cage in South Africa

Bronze whaler seen from the surface trying to catch the bait

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What to Expect from a Shark Cage Diving Experience

4:30 AM: PICK UP

The tour in Gansbaai can start anywhere from 6 am – 12 pm depending on the weather. I received an email the day before our trip notifying me the pickup time was 5 am the next day.

Hearing my alarm go off at 4:30 am was painful, but the excitement of possibly coming eye to eye with a great white shark finally got me to peel myself from the warmth of my bed. Our van arrived promptly at 5 am, we picked up a few more passengers along the way, and then began the 2 1/2 hour journey to the shark capital of the world, Gansbaai.

8 AM: ARRIVAL + SAFETY BRIEFING 

Once we arrived, we were provided a light continental breakfast. Don’t drink too much at breakfast. It’s near impossible to try to go to the bathroom on the boat when you have a wetsuit on. Also, wear your bathing suit before arrival, it just makes it easier.

9 AM: LOAD UP ON BOAT 

After a safety briefing, we were loaded up on the boat by 9 am. The boat takes up to 40 people. It was cozy but never felt too crowded. They provide you big windproof jackets, which were lifesavers. It is cold and super windy!

Sitting on the boat getting ready to get in the shark cage in South Africa

So glad we were provided these jackets! 

About 20 minutes later, we set up anchor, and the shark cage was unloaded and securely fastened to the boat. The crew started their chumming process. They helped us get into our wetsuits, which was no easy feat to wiggle into. There is a watertight container to put all your belongings to keep them dry. Then we anxiously awaited to see if our toothier swimmers would arrive. 

It can take minutes to hours (or not at all) for the sharks to show up. Luckily, the feisty bronze whalers also known as copper sharks arrived within minutes of getting the shark cage set up.

The crew lured the sharks to the cage using bait tied to a rope or by using a fake seal decoy. I never once saw the sharks being fed.

Great white shark checking out a seal decoy in South Africa

Seal decoy to attract the sharks 

We were in the second group to go into the shark cage. As we waited, I got some great shots from the surface of the bronze whaler sharks getting close to the cage. 

Is it illegal to chum the water for sharks?

Chumming is legal (with regulations) in most parts of the world, but there is debate if it is ethical.

Sharks tend to be shy. To encourage them to come near the cage, the companies throw out bloody fish parts as bait, which is known as chumming.

This practice is used by tourism operators, fishermen, scientists, and videographers. Chumming does not attract sharks from great distances; it only concentrates on those that are close according to Dr. Robert Hueter, Director of the Center for Shark Research in Florida.

A lot of times these fish parts are tied to a rope, which is then pulled towards the shark cage. The goal is to attract the shark BUT not to feed them. Occasionally the shark will be quick enough to consume the bait. 

Copper shark close to shark cage in South Africa

Fish bait used to attract the sharks (but never feeding them) 

Bronze whaler with mouth open near shark cage

Bronze whaler shark trying to catch the bait

10 AM: DIVE 1

Each person in our group had 3 opportunities to get in to the 12 mm galvanized steel mesh cage. Eight could enter the 13.7 feet (length) x 3.2 feet (width) cage at a time. That may seem like a lot of people, but once you are in the cage everyone spaces out nicely. I went twice. The water is freezing! I could not get my teeth to stop chattering, but the thought of possibly seeing a great white shark overrides your discomfort of the freezing sea temperature.

View from inside the shark cage in South Africa

View from Inside the Shark Cage

I had the pleasure to see multiple bronze whaler sharks swimming around the cage on my first cage dive, but no great white sharks. The visibility is poor, but the bronze whaler sharks will come right up to the cage, so there’s no missing them.

The cage felt very sturdy. They close the lid after everyone is in. There are two bars inside the cage: one for your hands to hold on to and one to rest your feet on. 

Sitting inside the shark cage in South Africa

Bar to rest your hands on

Sitting inside the shark cage in South Africa with a copper shark swimming by

Bar to rest your feet on 

The cage bobs about a foot above the water, allowing plenty of room to take breaths in between popping your head in the water to see the sharks up close.

Eye to eye with a bronze whaler shark in South Africa

Eye to eye with a bronze whaler shark

Bronze whaler trying to catch the bait near a shark cage in South Africa

Bronze whaler shark almost catching the bait

Bronzer whaler shark near the shark cage in South Africa

Great mouth shot of a bronze whaler shark 

Close up shot of a bronze whaler in shark cage in South Africa

Bronze whaler shark getting close

Nose shot of bronze whaler shark near shark cage in South Africa

Nose shot of bronze whaler shark

12 PM: DIVE 2

Then it happened! A great white shark was spotted hanging out by a nearby diving vessel because of a lone seal swimming around the boat. Luckily, the seal swam towards us, and the shark followed in hot pursuit. We jumped in the cage for dive #2.

Seal swimming for his life from a great white shark in South Africa

Seal swimming for his life from a great white shark in South Africa

Trying to attract a great white shark with a seal decoy in South Africa

Trying to attract a great white shark with a seal decoy in South Africa

When the crew knows the shark is very near, they yell “down! down! down!” With your hands and feet resting on steel bars within the cage, you hold your breath and poke your head down in the water.

There it was! A massive great white shark! The video I shot was only a few seconds, but I’ll take it. The photos below are screenshots from the GoPro footage I took. I came eye to eye with this magnificent creature I have been fascinated with for years. So exhilarating!

Beautiful great white shark right next to the shark cage in South Africa

Beautiful great white shark right next to the shark cage in South Africa. Visibility is not great, but spectacular nonetheless. 

Great white shark near shark cage in South Africa

Great white shark coming in to view

Close up of great white shark while cage diving in South Africa

Wow, the girth of this magnificent creature is massive! 

Great white shark swimming back into the murky water near a shark cage in South Africa

He was not too interested in us today … still trying to find his seal

Great white shark swimming away from a shark diving cage in South Africa

And he is gone. 

I climbed out of the cage grinning ear to ear. My initial fear turned to great respect for this top ocean predator.

12:45 PM: BACK TO THE HARBOR 

After drying off with the towel they provide, we then had the challenge of getting out of the wetsuits and into dry clothes while the boat sped off back to the harbor.

Drinks and snacks are provided throughout the trip. The round boat trip to/from the harbor was close to 4 hours.

After a hot shower plus some lunch at the company’s headquarters at the harbor, I was a happy lady. 

2:30 PM: DRIVE BACK TO CAPE TOWN

Then it was nap time as we made our 2 1/2 hour trip back to Cape Town.

We arrived back in Cape Town around 5 pm. It is advised not to plan anything else the day you are doing the shark cage diving tour because they cannot guarantee a start or finish time.

This was the only night we did not make dinner reservations in Cape Town since we did not want to risk being late because of the shark cage diving tour. We are big foodies, and since Thali required no reservations, this was the perfect restaurant to check out on the day we did the great white shark tour.

A free video of your trip is included if you book online. FYI, the video quality was not that great, and there was no underwater footage. Bring a GoPro!!!

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South Africa Shark Cage Diving is “Relatively Safe”

There is always risk; you are putting yourself in a steel cage and coming eye to eye with a 4,000-pound fish. I do believe though you can minimize your risk by selecting a reputable responsible tour operator that practices in an eco-friendly manner such as no feeding of the sharks, no bait bags on the cage, etc.

It is also important to note companies have to qualify for a shark dive permit to operate. This permit is issued by the South African Government’s Department of Environmental Affairs (D.E.A.) and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (D.A.F.F.). This permit shows the dive operator has complied with a strict set of rules, ensured their staff is properly trained and qualified, and has proven the safety of their boat and equipment.

I researched extensively and found a total of 5 SHARK CAGE DIVING INCIDENTS.

MEXICO

There was a famous incident that occurred off Guadalupe Island, Mexico in October 2016. You can easily find it on YouTube.

A great white shark did not slow down after she grabbed on to the bait and crashed into the side of the cage. The shark broke the window area of the shark cage and was able to enter the cage.

Luckily, the one diver present thought quickly and slipped out the escape window of the cage until the shark got out. Then he went back in the cage and exited.

No harm was done to the diver, and the great white shark did not have any serious injuries. 

MEXICO

Another incident occurred off Guadalupe Island right around the same time as Incident 1 where a great white shark was lured to a submerged shark cage. The shark then got stuck inside the cage.

As it thrashed around, it cut off the air hoses of the divers inside. The divers were not harmed due to the quick thinking of a divemaster who turned the emergency air valve on.

Unfortunately, the great white shark later died from its injuries. The dive company was in violation of the rules because they had anchored a chum bag to the shark cage.

Cage diving operators are more cautious now and have reinforced the cages and enforced a wider no-bait area around the cages when operating. No bait is allowed on or near the cage. The feeding of sharks is strictly prohibited. 

SOUTH AFRICA

In 2005, a great white shark rammed a shark diving cage shortly after a diver entered the cage. It then bit one of the buoys that helped to keep the cage afloat, which caused it to sink.

The captain tried to distract the great white shark by hitting it with an iron pole. However, the diving company reported that the tourist exaggerated the event that took place. Luckily, the diver was able to be pulled from the cage without harm.

SOUTH AFRICA

In 2008, 2 Americans and 1 Norwegian drowned after a freak wave capsized a shark cage diving boat as they were waiting to get the cage in the water. There were no sharks in the immediate vicinity at that time.

SOUTH AFRICA

In 2013, a great white shark ignored the bait and instead swam right towards the shark cage. It squeezed its head through the bars of the shark cage and thrashed around right next to several divers. No one was harmed.

BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE! 

By the way, I have never paid for travel insurance prior to this trip, but since my husband and I decided to do some higher-risk activities such as swimming in Devil’s Pool in Zambia, sleeping in an open treehouse in the African bush,  and shark cage diving with great white sharks, we purchased it (you know, just in case).

We picked the Explorer Plan offered by World Nomads Travel Insurance. For $291.82, the plan gave us peace of mind for 2 weeks of travel in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. It included shark cage diving! 

Interesting fact: 

Which country has the most recorded shark attacks from 1580 to the present? Not Australia. Not South Africa. It’s the United States.

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No Snorkeling or Scuba Diving Experience Required

No. You are breath-holding. No snorkeling or scuba diving experience is required.

Even the dive companies who offer the hookah system scuba dive do not require prior experience.

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Know What to Bring & Wear

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Warm fleecy top

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Windproof jacket

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Nonslip shoes

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Beanie

I wish I had brought my beanie! It was freezing especially when you come out of the water.
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Looser fitted pants

I wore spandex athletic capris which were near impossible to put back on after I got out of the water. Don’t do what I did. My Outdoor Research Zendo pants would have worked perfectly since they slide up and down easily.

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Travel size shampoo + conditioner

If you are planning on taking a hot shower afterwards, bring some shampoo and conditioner. By the way, there are not many shower stalls. Be the first one in. 

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GoPro

This is a once in a lifetime experience! You are going to want to capture it. Bring a GoPro! The company gives you a free video, but it does NOT capture any in cage or underwater footage.

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Polarized sunglasses

Love my Ray-Bans! Great for water activities.
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Meclizine

Take a motion sickness pill before the tour (with your doc’s approval of course). I personally love Meclizine because it is nondrowsy. Also, avoid alcohol the night before, keep your eyes on the horizon, and stay in the fresh air outside the cabin. Those seas are rocky. 

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Great White Shark Sightings are Decreasing

It is well known the number of great white shark sightings started to significantly decrease in South Africa starting in 2015.

There are two theories on why this is occurring.

#1 SOUTH AFRICAN DEMERSAL SHARK LONGLINE FISHERY (DSL)

Some blame the DSL. This fishery lays down a baited fish line on the ocean floor and targets smaller shark species, which makes up part of the great white shark’s diet.

The bulk of these smaller sharks then get exported to Australia and are served unknowingly to the public as “flake and chips.” Flake is supposed to be made from the sustainable gummy shark that is from Australia and New Zealand, but due to the illegal shark trade mislabeling often occurs.

#2 ORCAS

Orcas feed on great white sharks. Five great white shark carcasses were found ashore in 2017 near Gansbaai, South Africa, with missing livers and torn pectoral fins. Orcas love shark livers, which are rich and fatty! Their liver can make up a quarter of its total body weight.

If a great white shark knows orcas are in the area, they will avoid that area for up to a year! Wow, one of the most fearsome predators of the ocean is scared to death of the killer whale.

Orca aka killer whale

Orca

Final Thoughts on South Africa Shark Cage Diving 

This was our second experience shark cage diving. Our first shark adventure was in Hawaii in 2009 on our honeymoon. We went shark cage diving with Galapagos sharks. Incredibly fun, but coming up close to a great white shark was on a whole different level. Exhilarating, scary, and gave us a new respect for these powerful creatures. If you have the opportunity, don’t miss out. 

If you are looking for more fun things to do on your South Africa trip, don’t miss my 2-week itinerary below:   

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Questions about our South Africa shark cage diving experience? 

Let me know in the comments below!

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