'The Great White Shark is the ocean’s most fearsome predator. It is widely distributed in all seas, but particularly in the cool waters of South Africa and Australia. They are solitary animals and we know little about them. Getting close to them is difficult, as they are essentially man-avoiders. Food, or the smell of it,
is the only way we can deliberately attract these animals into close quarters, in order to observe them. During the southern winter, near Dyer Island in South Africa, white sharks are regularly seen patrolling the waters. On nearby Geyser Rock, thousands of seal pups have just been weaned and are venturing into the sea, ignorant of the sharks. The turbid water gives excellent cover for a sudden strike and a rich meal.
On arrival at the small town of Gansbaai, the sea is white as large waves crash ashore. Dyer Island is barely visible in the distance. We listen, with raised eyebrows, as the skipper of the ten-metre catamaran tells us the day’s plan. ‘It will be a little rough on the way out, so hold on tight’, he grins. ‘Once we anchor, we will try to attract the sharks to the boat – if they stay, we launch the cage. Once you are in the water, there is only one rule: no part of you can be outside the cage at any time. You cannot see a shark come from underneath. We would be at sea for four to five hours. We might see sharks, but we would need a little luck.
Thrashing through the water, the twin outboard engines roar in protest to the high seas. In the lee of the island, the breakers smooth out to long, steep swells. The breakers thunder into Geyser Rock, the booms mixing with the cacophony of thousands of seals barking and gulls calling from overhead. Driving rain stings exposed cheeks as hoods are drawn tight. A large plastic bait box is opened and an unforgettable stench fills the air. Two onion bags, filled with offal from a local fish factory, are strung over the sides of the boat. An oily slick trickles into the current. Any sharks crossing it should follow the scent to investigate its source. At the same time, a heavy line with bait and a float is thrown aft – this lures the sharks close to the boat. On such a winter’s day, I doubt if we will see anything.
Within minutes, however, a trademark dorsal fin passes close to the bait. The shark researcher slowly draws in the line. The shark crisscrosses a path towards us. It is huge, its shape now visible in the grey water. Closer and closer, then a lunge to swallow the bait whole. The famous jaws protruding and the eyes rolling back for protection, each bite a determined attempt to take the food. The line is held tight and the enormous head clears the water and lunges once more for the bait. The rope is pulled clear as the researcher grasps the snout and lifts it upwards, the shark momentarily confused. A final, searching bite, shows her gaping pink throat and rows of serrated teeth, water swirling around the mouth as she slips quietly back beneath the waves.'