Ken has been on repeat expeditions to 'Shark Alley' in South
Africa, an area between Geyser Rock and Dyer Island. It was there
he witnessed a predation, when a great white bit a sea lion in half
next to the research vessel he was on. "The front half swam in
circles until it bled to death," he said. He agreed with
Benchley’s take that South African sharks are "all over you,"
estimating that one in three sharks either bumped or bit the cage
during his dives. I got the feeling he liked that sort of
During a dive rotation on the second day, Ken stretched one arm
then a shoulder through the cage window to touch a passing 13-foot
white shark. That was when a push-pole abruptly konked him on the
head—Tracy’s way of communicating, That’s a
no-no. Putting a hand outside the cage is tolerated. Hanging part
of your body out is not.
Patric expects absolute adherence to safety protocol under his
watch, yet he exhibits the same fierceness about showing his divers
a great time. For him there are two branches of shark operators. He
categorizes himself with the "safe and sane shark divers," who are
bringing shark diving to the masses. Then there are the "divergent
rebels who are trying to one-up each other." Guys like Andre
Hartman and Jim Abernathy. "[Abernathy] found a place to free dive
with tiger sharks. And, now, he’s doing nighttime diving with
tiger sharks," Patric said. "You know, if you’re in the water
with an apex predator, you’re already at a disadvantage. If
you’re diving blind with an apex predator known to feed at
night, now you’re in the realm of the insane. And
there’s a marketplace for that."
We only had one incident on the trip. Four-man teams were
loading into the cages at mid-afternoon. Tracy was helping a diver
with his gear on deck when crew were suddenly yelling, "Tracy! ...
TRACY!!" She ran aft, dropping down the ladder to the dive
platform. It was the professor, Paul. He was pulled out of the port
cage sputtering and hustled inside the boat.
The "Acknowledgement of Risk Release" that divers have to sign
for these trips includes unanticipated risks like "falling,
collision, head injuries, equipment failure, striking obstruction
or other persons, hypothermia and unforeseen attacks by sharks." We
didn’t know what had befallen the professor until Tracy
emerged 20 minutes later with news he was fine. I found him in the
salon seated in a booth, wetsuit peeled off his upper body. He told
me he had knocked his mask loose when he dropped, pell-mell, into
the cage. Mask askew, one of his contact lenses floated away and he
got disoriented, panicked, and swallowed some saltwater.
Thankfully, he came out uninjured. "They really took good care of
me," he said, spooning some of Cory’s clam chowder.
The great whites we saw averaged between 11 and 14 feet. Until our last dive
rotation on the final day as the yolky sun waned over Mount
Augusta, Guadalupe’s razorback 4,257-foot peak. The sea had
turned docile blue overnight as the winds died. We weren’t
bullied by currents in the cage and viz was 60 feet and improving.
My consciousness was spilling into the big blue when a 14-foot
female materialized from below The Odyssey’s hull. She passed
close enough for a pectoral fin to rattle the cage bars. As she
receded another great white, also a female, eclipsed my mask
window. She swam beneath the cage and ghosted away.
Both sharks were hidden, but you could feel them out there.
Movement erupted from the starboard. The new shark was a giantess,
moving under the panga boat that had returned with Mauricio,
lingering alongside it. I would have rebuked her size as some freak
underwater refraction, except her body ran the length of the panga.
That would make her at least 18 feet and about two tons. Mauricio,
who observed the shark from above, corroborated this later.