I am often told how adventurous, crazy or "brave" I am, especially for a midlife mama. Well, that's flattering, but I have to tell you that it is really not the case. I do take calculated risks, and participate in activities that may seem risky, but I make sure all precautions are taken. More people are killed in car accidents than in "adventure sports" accidents. I love nature, I love diving, but I am not reckless, far from it. My husband, Randy, and I took our young adult children, Wes and Ally, on a family dream trip to Guadalupe Island to cage dive with Great White Sharks, and the four of us could not wait to get on the boat and into the water! (Besides, this kind of stuff only happens to me. Out of 16 divers? Only me.)
Before you begin to think I am the world's most irresponsible mom, you should know that humans are not on "the menu". Of the 33 or so Great White bites a year, most of them are "sample" bites ... what is this thing that looks like a seal? Most bites are not fatal. Although we fear them, sharks are necessary to our survival. Sharks keep our most important ecosystem healthy. Remove the apex predator and our ecosystem will quickly deteriorate. Not to mention that economically, more jobs are created by keeping these animals IN the ocean and out of stupid chicken soup bowls. I did my homework, and the odds were in our favor that nothing would happen to us by doing the cage dive. So, off we went.
The trip was amazing, we were all excited about our dives. We even saw Blue Whales, the largest mammal on the planet! On the last dive of the last day of our 6 day trip, I was in one of the cages with Randy and two others. The water is pretty cold, so Randy got out and went to the 2nd deck to watch with Ally, our daughter, who was taking photos. I was photographing the sharks from below, and I saw that the bait was too close to the cage. I prepared to take an awesome closeup!
The shark who went for the bait did not have room to turn and ended up slamming into the opening of the cage. These cages have an 18-inch opening for photographers (I mean, we have to be able to get our strobes through the bars!) and it was just big enough for the Great White to come for a visit ... all the way to his pectoral fins. He got stuck, and it felt like an 18-wheeler had slammed into the cage. I was right in front of the opening where he jammed himself in.
When the shark hit the cage, the young man who was in the middle pulled me back ... which was a good thing since I was first in line. The poor shark was panicked and was thrashing violently ... it felt like being in a very big washing machine. I kept trying to hold on to the bottom of the cage, but could not keep my grip, so I kept floating up. The shark actually did a 360 degree turn in the opening, which caused his gills to bleed. My husband and daughter, watching from above, thought it was my blood, so you can imagine how upset they were, but I have to say, my daughter kept her finger on the camera and caught the entire event from above! (She's a professional photographer.)
After what seemed like an eon (but was actually very, very fast) the shark managed to free himself and took off, scared to death! While the shark was upside down I received a bump on the head from his snout, and he somehow ended up with my air hose in his mouth, so my air felt a bit wet and salty going into my lungs. What an experience! I wouldn't want to go through it again, but it makes a good story! My grandchildren will think I am totally cool (when and if I ever have them). Our trip was fantastic, and we loved every minute of it.
You know, I guess I could tell a harrowing tale of a Great White Shark "attack", but it just isn't true, the poor thing did not want to come into the cage, and no shark at any time on the trip showed any aggression whatsoever. Hey, getting in a cage with Great White Sharks swimming around has inherent risk, no matter how many precautions are taken. No shark at Guadalupe has ever attacked a human being, and I know people who have been with them outside of the cages, free diving. There is an argument that cage diving interferes with the shark's natural behavior, but I believe the benefits to cage diving outweigh the baiting of the sharks.
Would I go cage diving again? Yes, I would! It was a breathtaking experience. This was a one in a million type of accident, though it is not surprising that if it was going to happen, it would happen to me. I wasn't hurt, no harm done (except to the poor shark's gills) and I take full responsibility for being in the cage. I do plan to go again, absolutely.
The photo I took!
Earlier on Huff/Post50: