In August of 2010 the four of us, Randy, Tam, Ally and Wes, decided to complete our South African objective of cage diving with Great Whites, but not in South Africa. The question: where do we do this? Well, there are a few choices, but we decided on Guadalupe Island which is 160 miles off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico. We flew into San Diego and stayed at a condo on Solana Beach, then went with a group of people to Ensenada. Guadalupe is a Volcanic Island, 19 miles long and 5 miles wide. The Elephant Seal population was absolutely decimated by fur hunters there, but in 1975 Mexico made it a wildlife sanctuary and the elephant seals had a “come back”; all elephant seals now descend from one male ancestor. In 2005 Mexico made it a Biosphere reserve, the biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems, all ecosystems of Guadalupe are protected. The now thriving elephant seal population has drawn approximately 120 Great White Sharks to the island. “Michael Domeier, president of the Marine Science Institute in Fallbrook, Calif. …. released results of an eight-year study, during which 56 white sharks were tagged at Guadalupe and their movements and behavior were monitored. Based on the findings, Guadalupe’s sharks migrate — beginning as early as Dec. 21 but spread over a 19-week period — to a vast pelagic habitat in the mid-Pacific, where they spend an average of 140 days, diving, at times, to 3,000 feet in an apparent search for food. They then swim back to Guadalupe. The males arrive beginning about July 22, coinciding with the pupping of Guadalupe fur and elephant seals. The females arrive several weeks later.” If you want to see beautiful Great White Sharks in clear blue water, go to Guadalupe.
On the voyage from Ensenada we came across a pod of Blue Whales. It looked as though the ocean was full of fountains! The Blue Whale is the largest mammal on the planet. I have never, ever, seen a creature so huge! And yes, they look blue through the water, so huge one sees only fountains and no flukes. Really an incredible sight. We left Ensenada in the late afternoon, enjoyed a great meal, saw Blue Whales and an incredible night sky. The next morning we woke to the view of Guadalupe Island from our portholes.
The crew was busy, busy, busy, as they lowered two surface cages (about 11 X 8) into the water at the stern. A little chumming and tuna head bait are necessary to bring the sharks in. Without bait, these shy fish would not come close. There were sixteen divers, and four allowed in a cage at a time. We were all pumped to get in the cages, anxious to see these magnificent fish up close. We were put on a rotating list of divers going in and out of the cages. Every one of us excitedly waited for our turn.
Now, this is cage diving, you are not on a tank, but on a hookah. They put a tremendous amount of weight on you to keep you down on the bottom of the cage. With a heavy 7 mil wetsuit, it is hard not to float.
I watched the sharks from the boat…then, the four of us took our turn in the water! I have a very difficult time describing them. Huge, yes. They showed very little interest in the divers, they were much more interested in the tuna that the crew was baiting them with. The Great White Shark is surprisingly beautiful when viewed up close, but the thrill of knowing we were in the water with the ocean’s top predator was ever present. The only meal (other than the tuna) I saw a Great White enjoy was a quick bob to the surface to quietly eat a bird. No sound, no squawk, just…gone.
If you watch discovery or Nat Geo, you would recognize the famous Zapata, he was tagged on a Discovery Channel expedition. He was quite wounded from a fight with another shark. On his left side were giant bite marks, on his right side he had an open wound to the cartilage. The wounds were very bloody and new when we saw him the first day (with his tags on his dorsal), but 5 days later the healing was remarkable. Sharks apparently never get sick…and they heal very quickly.
In addition to the two top cages, there was one 30 ft submersible platform. It was not a cage…it had a rail and a butt bar, it was open. The submersible was not baited, and the sharks did not come as close as they did to the top cages, but to be 30 feet down and watch numerous great whites….and the cages above. There were also dolphins and even adult seals….the sharks did not behave aggressively to any of them. They are there during pupping, when the elephant seals and fur seals are giving birth, they don’t go after adult, healthy seals or dolphins, they know the odds of catching them are VERY slim. Anyway, Alexandra did NOT like the submersible, but Randy, Wes and I rarely missed our turn to go down! We loved it, and so did the awesome group we shared the boat with, young adults from Mexico, who have since founded a wonderful non-profit called Pelagic Life. (Check out this awesome video, a video of diving with Great Whites with no cage).