An extract from a piece written by Anita Verde
Images by Anita Verde and Peter Marshall
So here we are, about to enter the world’s only ocean floor shark cage. While a surface cage is also in operation, as qualified scuba divers, we are privileged to enter the deep and secretive realm of the great white shark. We cannot help but feel the symbolism of the cage itself. While we are grateful for the reassurance the metal bars provides us, it seems somewhat fitting that we are the ones behind them – just like at zoos, where dangerous animals are kept in cages. It’s a poignant reminder that it is the sharks that need protecting these days, not us.
The cage door slides shut and the onboard Below left: crane slowly lowers us to a depth of 25 metres. We have entered the great white’s realm; an aquarium of rocky outcrops, blinding white sand and mystic seagrasses.The waters are teeming with fish and we are greeted by a myriad sea creatures.
Giant blue groupers survey the area, while elegant stingrays sweep gracefully across the grassy meadows surveying the ocean floor.
We wait patiently, but it is not long before we are joined by our first sharky visitor. It is a young male, who also takes first prize for being the happiest shark on the expedition – you only have to look at him to see why. With friendly beaming eyes and grinning gill to gill, he closely inspects the cage, nudging it to test its vulnerability. Clearly, he is checking us out, and we cannot help but wonder what he is thinking!
On his snout, we see a cluster of little black dots. These electroreceptors, known as the ampullae of Lorenzini, provide the shark with a sixth sense, allowing it to detect electromagnetic fields and temperature changes in the water column.These specialised organs are connected to the shark’s nerve receptors so it can sense the Earth’s electromagnetic field to enable navigation and migration. These sensory organs also help the shark to ind its prey by detecting the electrical fields of other animals (like us) in the ocean.
We immediately feel privileged to spend time in the company of this majestic and formidable animal. After all, there is no guarantee you will see a shark on this trip. “Sometimes we don’t see sharks for weeks, and we have no idea where they actually are,” Andrew admits. “Despite all our research, so very little is known about the species – but that in itself is part of their magic.”
To our delight, we are soon joined by more great white sharks. Our Cage Captain Nick pulls on a rope that leads back to
the surface, indicating to the crew (via a complex ritual of tugs) the number of sharks at our cage below. Incredibly, we had eight individuals circling our cage. Andrew later tells us that this is the best they have seen over the last six years! We have come to know many different sharky personalities: Deadly (so named because he is small, of course), Tom, Cosmo, McQueen and Slash.
And then there is Paparazzi, as we affectionately named him, a large 4.2-metre male who had an obsession with cameras; ambushing us from behind and having a taste of one of our strobe lights as he passed. “Every shark we encounter here at the Neptune Islands has its own individual personality. We ind the sharks that are new to the experience with us tend to be more active, come closer to the cage, move faster, and show greater interest,” Andrew says.
Effortlessly, the great whites glide through the water, pivoting back and forth from the cage, each time more curious of the wild animal confined within. We cannot help but feel a great sense of awe and immense respect for these animals. At this depth, they are both imposing and majestic, and behave differently than when near the surface.
They are far from the man-eating menace portrayed in Spielberg’s film.
WHEN TO GO
Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions run great white shark cage diving expeditions all year round. Although you can dive with the sharks at any time of the year, the sharks themselves are seasonal. Male great white sharks visit the Neptune Islands all year round, whereas the impressively larger females grace divers with their presence in autumn and winter. The late spring and summer months have the added attraction of scuba diving or freediving with the endemic and endangered Australian sea lion.
Trips run from two to six days depending on the season, with longer expeditions in autumn and winter (April to August), where the days are shorter and the weather is less stable – maximising the opportunity for great white shark interactions.
HOW TO GET THERE
All trips depart from and return to the relaxed coastal town of Port Lincoln on the eastern tip of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Port Lincoln is a 7-hour drive or a 50-minute light from South Australia’s coastal capital, Adelaide. Adelaide is serviced internationally and domestically from all major Australian cities.
If you have time, South Australia also ofers several other endemic marine encounters. Leafy and weedy seadragons are found at numerous jetty sites along the coast, while the annual Australian giant cuttleish aggregation from late May to early August is an experience not to be missed, as it happens nowhere else on Earth.
For more information, visit Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions at: www.rodneyfox.com.au
Anita Verde and Peter Marshall – Australia
Anita Verde and Peter Marshall have a passion for the planet’s wild places, and through their images and narratives hope to inspire better appreciation and protection of the natural world. Based in Melbourne, Australia, they have professional backgrounds in tourism strategy, environmental sustainability, and government relations. When they are not underwater or on a mountaintop, they also work professionally as strategic consultants, advising governments and industr y on sustainable destination planning and development, investment attraction, government relations, brand strategy and marketing. Read more about them at www.summitstoseasphotography.com.
To read more inspiring stories with unique encounters divers have had, pick up your copy of ‘What it Feels Like’ Scuba Diver issue No.124/2022 here
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