Great White Shark Encounters
A close-up view of one of nature’s most deadly predators.
Photo by andythirlwell/iStock
My first emotion was one of sheer terror. Why would I risk “teasing” a creature more than five times my height and 12 times my weight with a bite force 10 times that of a lion? Yet the chance to see one of the world’s most efficient killers was a powerful lure.
Cage diving for great white sharks off the Farallon Islands isn’t for the faint of heart — or stomach. The three-hour trip by research vessel can be akin to a thrill ride, but longer. And one made more palatable with plenty of ginger and Dramamine.
Needless to say, it is worth it. The 211-acre cluster of craggy rocks sits in one of four upswells on earth and is close to the Outer Continental Shelf where the ocean floor drops some 6,000 feet. Think gazpacho for marine life, with cold, nutrient-rich water that’s practically a neon sign for the top of the food chain.
There are 219 known great white sharks living near islands so raw and remote they’re called Devil’s Teeth, and that’s where I got close up to these undersea giants. Just a few yards from shore, the crew from Incredible Adventures lowered a 12-by-5-foot steel cage into the frigid waters. Eight of us climbed into what Greg Barron, the company’s director of West Coast shark ops, called “the Cadillac of cages.” I quickly found myself in the corner near the bait — something Barron insisted was not bait at all but a piece of carpet tethered to the cage like a seal silhouette. Anxious minutes passed as I breathed heavily through my hookah line, scanning the dark abyss.
“We’ve had sharks come within 5 or 10 feet of our cage,” Barron warned. “They’re ambush predators, so they go low and swim up fast to get their prey.” All I could think of was the YouTube video I’d seen of a shark repeatedly ramming a cage full of divers.
Barron promised it wouldn’t be like that. “Any of the South African footage that you see where white sharks are attacking like that ... generally, there’s a big chunk of tuna right there.” He added that since those operators actually pull the tuna out before the shark can feed, it runs into the cage because it’s confused.
As luck would have it, the great whites weren’t interested in our human aquarium that day either; but once back on deck we witnessed a terrifying Jaws-esque scene. A seal swimming innocently near our boat suddenly erupted into a fountain of blubber and blood as a great white shark attacked from below.
It was slow and deliberate. So graphic in nature, I had to cover my eyes. Yet, as we pulled up our gear and turned our vessel toward home, I recalled reading author Susan Casey’s description of the Farallones in The Devil’s Teeth as “the ghosts of a thousand shipwrecks flitting through the gray fog and howling winds.”
And I could almost picture the great predators patrolling below — chainsaw-like teeth at the ready — as they have done for millions of years.
How to Do It
Incredible Adventure’s cage diving experience departs from Pier 40 in San Francisco from Sept. 15 to Nov. 30 and costs $825 (topside-only is $475). Inquire online at Incredible-Adventures.com.