A job with teeth – South Africa’s Blue Flag National Operator shares his extraordinary control visit on a shark cage diving boat.

For testing the feasibility of Blue Flag’s new criteria for sustainable boating tourism operators, Vincent Shacks, Blue Flag National Operator in South Africa visited a shark cage diving tour operator in False Bay. Although the encounter with the Great White Sharks was the highlight of his tour, the professional insights he gained into the industry were of equal value for him.

“In the winter of 2015 I joined an award winning shark cage diving operation in Simons Town (Cape Town) to view the famous “flying sharks” of South Africa. The idea of climbing into a cage that is surrounded by Great White Sharks dominates your expectation of a trip like this, but the boat ride out to Seal Island is no standard transfer. On route to Seal Island we spotted numerous species of pelagic birds, two southern right whales and a “mega pod” of common dolphins! All of this before even one Shark. After a while the captain put out our soft seal decoy to be pulled slowly behind the boat. This decoy mimics a small seal swimming through the water and in a matter of minutes the water exploded with a 4 meter Great White Shark launching itself out the water to catch this decoy. All of this action and I had still not yet climbed into a cage!

Once the adrenaline had flushed out of our systems, the boat anchored at a spot just west of the island. After sitting in the cage for about 5 minutes, I heard the captain cry “Shark- 12 o’clock”. A three and half meter Great White Shark, slowly drifted out of site. I thought I had missed it, but the Shark banked left and eased back into view. This incredible animal then slowly swam closer to the cage, eventually filling my frame of view with just Shark. It gently turned in front of the cage and passed full length alongside me. What an incredible experience. In the course of my half hour in the cage the Shark would visit me again as well as a second larger adult. Both animals were completely calm and relaxed around our boat. This was an amazing way to interact with this very misunderstood ocean predator. The tour leaders were incredibly informative about the surrounding ecosystem and more especially the Great White shark population of False Bay. Each shark sighting was recorded in a monitoring book along with any visual identification markers that could be seen on the Shark. There is no doubt in my mind that this activity has given me a new appreciation of this keystone predator and I would encourage anyone interested in our ocean environment to do this. At no point was I or the animal put in any danger or difficult situation and I believe the experience is critical to developing a new public perception of these important species.

A visit on board the vessel was incredibly useful for me as a Blue Flag National Operator as one is able to visualise the practical and direct impacts of some of the criteria. There was no better way to pilot-test the criteria or the operation than by experiencing the activity as a regular paying client would. By joining an existing trip with a boat full of clients, we were able to assess the interaction of the operators with the clients as well as understand the visitor behaviour."