To many divers, being in the water with a Great White Shark is definitely one of the most sought after experiences possible on the planet. For some it is the adrenalin rush, for others the experience of witnessing one of the top predators known to men in its natural environment in a safe and controlled manner.
For me, it is probably all of the above and more. I have always been reasonably sceptical about any kind of cage experience. Cage encounters we all have had to varying degrees is to observe something, that we put into a cage, whether that is in a Zoo, an Aquarium, or just the budgie in the cage on the kitchen table. I am always quite sad to see anything stuck in a cage but I agree in some circumstances this does serve a greater purpose, however that is not relevant for this story.
In the case of shark cage diving, you become the thing stuck in the cage and the tables are turned. As divers, most of us love to control where to swim, how long to stay, how deep we want to go and controlling your buoyancy is one of the most important skills we need on a dive. With cage diving, all of that goes out of the window. You are totally overweighted and need no BCD to control your buoyancy as you need to keep your feet firmly planted on the cage floor, which also removes the necessity for fins. Both of this feels quite awkward at first. When the cage breaks the surface and you make it down to whatever depth has been decided, the cage captain, not you are not in control of your descent.
Apparently, Rodney Fox Great White Shark Expeditions are the only operation in the world that practices something they call bottom cages and it is exactly that experience that makes this trip so very special. As you descend inside the cage into the depth of the ocean which you know is home to Great White Sharks you feel that you are entering THEIR environment. You are not just watching from above, or from the surface cage that is stuck to the back of the boat in two metres of water, you are HERE, where they live. And then you see your first Great White Shark … and everything changes. It is very hard to describe what feelings emerge when you come so unbelievably close to such awesome predators. You feel vulnerable and safe at the same time, excited and calm at the same time. But when a 4 to 5 metre long shark comes right up to you and looks you eye to eye with both eyes you will be in absolute awe. You can feel their power just by looking at their size and the size of their JAWS, but you also notice their grace and you realise, this is where they live and you feel privileged to get a glimpse of this amazing animal in its own habitat.
I won't brag about our particular trip and the fact we had SEVENTEEN individual great white sharks cruising past and closely checking out our bottom cage on one particular bottom cage dive.
Andrew Fox personally knew each and every one of them by 'name' and rated this as one of his top-10 dives ever. Considering he has been doing this for 40 odd years, I guess I have been particularly lucky in terms of the magnitude of the encounters we had on our trip. But talking to many friends who have been on this trip and looking at the trip reports on the Rodney Fox Great White Shark Expedition website it seems that most trips manage to create some everlasting memories in all participants and I can now understand why there are plenty of repeat customers.
It is understandable that the Fox family is so very passionate about these creatures, and not just because of the amazing history they have had. Most people know, Rodney Fox was attacked by a great white shark while spearfishing and badly bitten around the chest and arm in December 1963. His story of the attack and escape has been published many times. He is regarded as a miracle survivor of one of the world's worst non-fatal shark attacks. Rodney went on to design and build the first underwater observation cage to dive with the great white shark, and for over 40 years has led major expeditions to film and study the amazing animals. Rodney and his son Andrew Fox along with shark researcher Dr. Rachel Robbins, founded the Fox Shark Research Foundation (FSRF) which is devoted to the study and conservation of the great white shark.
Rodney Fox Great White Shark Expeditions are the only liveaboard in this area and a Great White Shark encounter is certainly not something that can be ticked of after a quick submerge in a surface cage. It is one of the magic and memorable experiences in life that one should take time to get fully immersed. Not the cheap thrill of a tandem skydive or a bungy jump of some bridge or high tower but one of the great encounters with of one of the great creatures that call our planet their home.