CAGELESS SHARK DIVING WITH AFRICAN DIVE ADVENTURES ON THE PROTEA BANKS, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 2014
The Protea Banks is about 7km out of Shelly Beach and Margate, which is two hours south of Durban, on the Indian Ocean.
Roland and Beulah Mauz of African Dive Adventures have operated here for the last twenty years on the north and south pinnacles of the Protea Banks.
The Protea Banks are world famous for advanced, thrill seeking adventure divers, especially for cageless shark diving. They are known for their population of zambezi’s, tigers (March to June), hammerheads and others including dusky sharks, as well as 1200 species of fish as well as whales, mantas, dolphins and turtles. It is also the home for the ragged tooth sharks, what we know better as grey nurse sharks, a place where they often rest. Occasionally great whites and whale sharks may also be encountered.
We had arranged for two dives on the north pinnacles with Roland, the first being a baited shark dive. This baited dive is quite different to that offered at Aliwal Shoal as it is a deeper dive and is on a reef not a sandy bottom, so there is much more diversity to be seen. The semi-rigid inflatable dive boats are often launched from the surf beach (very exciting!) or the mouth of a nearby river.
Baited shark dives have certain procedures to follow to ensure the safety of each and every diver. Instructions from the Dive Master and Bait Master need to be followed at all times, after all they have a 100% record of no injuries after more than 500 baited dives. Bright coloured fins or equipment is discouraged, and there should be no loose or drifting pieces of equipment to attract a shark’s attention. Divers are encouraged to stay as a group as if someone separates away the sharks may become more interested in them. Rapid movements or touching the sharks is a no no.
The dive is also a drift dive so you are going with the current, and for as long as you are vertical in the water and stay with your group and on the correct side of the bait scent or scum slick, you can basically be motionless in the water for an hour and a half at the designated dive depth of 5-15m. The ocean floor below you is much deeper at 30-40m. You also have to try to keep out of the chum slick or a shark may engage you by accident.
Visibility on the day was such that you could see the ocean floor. The fish can often see the bait box and don’t need to smell it. A big groper, tuna, rainbow runners and a few other reef and pelargic fish also came in to feed on the tiny bits of fish coming out of the bait box.
Although going out the seas were quite calm, we had a ripping wind later on that created a two and half metre wave on the surface that was popping the feeding container up and down, shaking out the contents vigorously. There was a strong current too, which pushed us eventually quite a distance south of the north pinnacle.
We were in the water for an hour or so and had a handful of oceanic black tips ripping and tearing at the carcasses of larger fish in the external bait. The zambezi’s or bull sharks were much more cautious and never actually came to the same level as the divers. They tended to hang around much deeper than us, and in fact when one of our divers went down to photograph them, this made them nervous and they scattered. Definitely not the aggressive animal many people have the impression they are. So from that point of view there is something to listen to the advice of the Dive Master to keep away from them or you will scare them away and loose your chance and your group’s of some great photos.
This first dive also encountered a productive layer near the top of the water column at 10m which meant there was a lot of plankton there. The water here was quite warm although the visibility was down to 10-15m but I took some great photos of jellies and salps that took my interest as they shone in the water column.
But on our second non-baited dive, at the bottom you could see as far as the eye could see, 30m or more. This was the cleanest water I had ever seen, and the reef was quite colourful despite not being a tropical reef, aided by the cloudless sky above and the bright sunlight. There were so many nooks and crannies to explore. We were down at the 35m and in one cave we found about 50 or more raggies or grey nurse sharks, with a conservative estimate of up to 200 or more all over the ocean floor, just resting in a soft wave-like motion of the water in their sleepy daylight state.
This was a real experience of one of our divers Dominic from Austria, as last year we had both had a shared experience at Wolf Rock in Queensland Australia but then had only been privileged to see 5-10 of these sharks, nothing like this. He was totally blown away by the sheer numbers of them here.
We also saw many bull sharks, but these were in mid water and almost at the limit of our visibility when looking up. However we saw them much better on our safety stop at the end of the dive where they were just all cruising around us. In fact, if I didn’t have the attitude I have now to sharks, I would have been quite fearful of being in the water surrounded by so many of them. They were all around us, and this wasn’t a baited shark dive, this is just where they hang out on the Protea Banks in June to August.
Coming back the seas had really kicked up and there were two and a half metre waves which dwarfed our boat. We basically had to surf them to get back into shore with yet another spectacular and thrilling beach landing, and a dry one at that. It’s quite a thrill to be flat out at full throttle and then suddenly you’re on the beach. And if you are not holding on, you’re doing a face plant!
The Protea Banks is a world reknowned shark diving reef and is sure not to disappoint. It is the mission statement of African Dive Adventures to give each and every diver the best and safest diving experience on Protea Banks and they certainly don’t let you down.
[For more photos by Tony Isaacson, see Photos-Diving Photos-South Africa]
CAGELESS SHARK DIVING AT ALIWAL SHOAL – 14TH JULY 2014
Aliwal Shoal has a reputation for giving you a cageless shark diving experience you will never to forget. Their specialty is oceanic black tips and boy, do they have a lot to share around. The reef is about 7km off shore and diving there has the reputation of being one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. The special baited shark dives are only at max of 20m deep so they offer opportunities for both scuba divers and snorkelers.
Aliwal Shoal is situated one hour south of Durban, on the east coast of South Africa on the Indian Ocean. The dive boats go out of the small beachside village of Umkomaas by either a beach or nearby river launch using semi-rigid inflatable boats.
We took the opportunity to organise a single baited shark dive whilst on our way further south to Protea Banks. At 7am we met up with Aliwal Dive Centre’s operators Clare and Basie Ackermann on a dropdead gorgeous, 24C, blue sky day, with a water temperatures of 19-21C. We had four in our party as well as their four crew in the boat.
Aliwal Shoals is an amazing surf beach, which means divers get to experience a thrilling beach boat launch with a difference. Most Australian dive operators would never dream of tackling waves and conditions like these, but to the locals, this is the norm and they haven’t lost a diver yet! In fact is quite a local spectator sport watching the boats go out and coming back in to the ramp. This is only to be enhanced by the 45 degree slope on the actual boat ramp itself, adding further challenges to the whole process!
Once out of the surf breaks, it is a short 20 min boat ride to the baited shark dive site. This is not actually on the reef itself but is based on a sandy bottom, with a depth of only 20m or so and excellent visibility. There was already another boat at the site when we arrived so we had to negotiate with them to be able to set up our bait boxes a short distance away from theirs to be able to share the sharks. The process is such that there are two bait boxes filled with local frozen fish such as pilchards. One is set about 10m deep, the other 20m deep to leave a scent or scum trail to attract the sharks.
On the sandy bottom near our deep blue bait box was where the small numbers of sardines and remora ‘shark sucker’ fish generally hung out. Maybe they felt safer being down there rather than higher up where the shark population was.
The Zambezi or bull sharks and tiger sharks tend to be attracted by the deeper box throwing the scent and then they slowly come up to the more shallow bait box. It should be noted that this is not a shark feeding dive, just a baited dive where there is only enough fish to keep the sharks interested and not enough for an actual feed, so the dive operators are not altering the natural behaviour of the sharks.
When we looked and swam up we saw many oceanic black tip sharks which is what they specialise in here. These are a sleeker looking shark with a streamlined fusiform body shape for fast manoevering in open ocean waters. They have a pointed nose and black tips on all fins. They grow to about 1.5m and are usually wary of humans so they may take 10-20mins to gain their confidence around the divers and the bait boxes. But once confident, they crowded us in their numbers. It was amazing to have so many sharks swimming around so close and to experience the thrill of seeing so many oceanic black tip sharks all in one place totally surrounding us. There would have been 40-60 sharks on our dive and we were right in the thick of it.
We didn’t see any bull sharks on our dive but this same dive site last week had a tiger shark which is very unusual for this time of year as the usually are seen from March to June.
Oceanic black tips have been known to attack humans when there is food around. So it is only at the end of the dive when we were all back on board the boat that the operators threw the remainder of the bait fish into the water. The ‘boiling water’ and ‘shark soup’ beside the boat at the end of the dive was a spectacle in itself. There were sharks everywhere, fighting for the last morsel, often breaking the surface with the classic shot of shark fins thrashing around. The boys loved it! You couldn’t wipe the smile off their faces.
To crown it all off, a loggerhead turtle swam by as we surfaced at the end of the dive.
What a day, what another diving experience. Thanks Basie, Clare and the Aliwal Dive Centre team for an African shark diving experience of a lifetime. I’m sure we will be back.
[For more photos taken by Tony Isaacson see Photos-Diving Photos-South Africa]
BLACK TIP SHARKS, TOO MANY TO COUNT!
With the courtesy of Basie Ackermann and his Aliwal Dive Centre team we went out this week on a baited shark dive close to Aliwal Shoal. At 5-15m we had more than fifty black tip sharks who were tempted in by the scum slick in the water from the bait box. At times it was almost overwhelming, not one for the faint hearted to be completely surround by shark soup!