What is it about Blue sharks that make divers and non-divers alike adore them? Is it their big round eyes? Is it their iridescence and the way they glide effortlessly through the ocean? Or perhaps it is their nature. They are playful as puppies, incredibly curious and great fun to dive with. I can’t get enough of bold yet relaxed sharks and have spent time diving with them in the chilly British waters off Cornwall a number of times. Whilst it was an incredible and refreshing experience, I longed to see them in crystal clear water and somewhere slightly warmer.
It was finally my time to do so when I joined my first ever pelagic safari with Apex Shark Expeditions whilst working as their wildlife guide. This is a trip that I have wanted to do for the past eleven years and I can’t tell you how little I slept the night beforehand, knowing this was to be my opportunity to see those blues and also hopefully Mako sharks for the first time. I was like a child at Christmas eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa. I awoke early and keen to be on our way.
The conditions were perfect as we met with the guests in Simons Town, South Africa; with the sun slowly rising over the horizon towards a cloudless sky and the calm waters of False Bay. It was 6am and we witnessed a dazzling display of enormous shooting stars overhead as we waited to board. That alone made the early start worthwhile and I just knew they were an omen of the good that was to come. We were soon all aboard and headed south out of False Bay and onto the open ocean off South Africa’s Cape Point. We were in search of the incredible wildlife found further offshore and travelled south for approximately 20 miles as the sun rose overhead and turned the spray from our boat golden orange. The warmer Agulhas Current of the Indian Ocean meets the colder Benguela Current of the Atlantic in these waters and I was curious to see if we would know when we passed across this ocean boundary from Great White shark territory into that of the open ocean sharks. Nature didn’t disappoint. I experienced a sudden difference in air temperature as we passed from one current to the next and it was astounding. In the blink of an eye I had gone from woolly hat and waterproof to needing fewer layers altogether. The air was warmer and the water had changed from green to clear blue. As we travelled across the deep blue water, we saw Skipjack tuna glistening below us in the early morning sunshine. We let out the hand lines and caught just enough to use as bait.
Onwards we motored further into the Agulhas current and we were greeted by a spectacular array of oceanic bird species; including Shy and Black Browed Albatross, Storm Petrels and the smoky grey White Chin Petrels. I have always wanted to see an albatross and their magnificent size, plumage and gliding ability was astounding. There are 21 species of albatross recognised by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and sadly 19 of these are threatened with extinction due to the impact of long-line fisheries. It was a privilege to share my day with the albatrosses and watch as they soared over the waves easily. They are the true wanderers of the open ocean and accompanied us on our way.
Our skipper made the decision it was time to turn off the engines, put our bait in the water and wait for the sharks. No sooner had we done this than a striking indigo coloured Blue shark arrived. The colour of these sharks has to be seen to be believed and we all raced to the stern for a closer look. I am not ashamed to say I squealed loudly in excitement. The visibility of the water was excellent and we watched as the shark casually investigated our bait time and time again. No sooner had this happened than a Mako shark arrived. We couldn’t have asked for more as it too checked out our bait repeatedly. The Mako was exactly as I expected; streamlined, efficient, the perfect open-ocean shark that I had imagined for years. This shark had an entirely different personality to the blues. I have found from subsequent dives with makos that they move with purpose, as if they have already decided on their course of action and will not be persuaded to do otherwise. They are absolutely fascinating to watch as they pass by quickly in the blink of an eye and disappear into the depths. Some of our guests were lucky enough that day to witness the Mako we saw leaping out of the water moments later.
We had up to twelve Blue sharks around the boat at any one time that day and our guests went cage diving all morning and into the afternoon. The sun was shining overhead, the ocean was calm and we were surrounded by playful sharks. I do believe we had found our shark heaven. It is fair to say everyone had an incredible time in the water with the sharks and thoroughly enjoyed their inquisitive nature. I couldn’t stop smiling as one of our guests spent her time giggling underwater whilst the blue sharks slowly passed by. She had never seen a shark let alone dived with one before and was understandably delighted. One small blue shark took a particular shine to this lady and kept gliding into the cage to take a closer look before turning away back to the bait. They nosed cameras, they investigated everyone with their huge docile eyes and filled our day with laughter and smiles. We even had one shark that spent its time swimming through the cage when nobody was in there – certainly a different form of cage diving. Blue sharks are nomads of the open ocean, where food can be scarce, and every novel object in their environment is worth investigation. This curious nature makes them a real pleasure to dive with.
Finally it was my turn to get into the cage and I didn’t need asking twice to hop in! I had been waiting all day patiently for this moment. The water was blissfully warm and within seconds I was surrounded by sharks. They were mesmerising to watch as they interacted with one another around the bait and they appeared to be everywhere around me. To see so many of these sharks up close and personal, well, how could you not fall in love with them?
It was a real pleasure to spend time with all of the wildlife we saw that day and witness the positive impact of these encounters on the guests. One gentleman turned to me on our journey home and explained how spending time with the Blue sharks had really changed his perspective of sharks in general. He used to be a shark fisherman and now he couldn’t begin to imagine fishing for them ever again. Another guest simply couldn’t stop smiling all day long and the others chatted away amongst themselves about the highlights of their day. Those moments are something that will be treasured for life, taken home and shared with friends and family. It is hugely important that people take away positive experiences from their time with sharks and share them. It is estimated that 40 million blue sharks are killed annually for the shark fin soup trade and a number of vessels operate daily out of Cape Town capturing these sharks for that trade. On average, one such vessel will catch and fin over 2000 blue sharks per day. It is a sad state of affairs to think that the playful and accepting sharks that we dived with all day will most likely end their days in a bowl of soup. Through education and spending time with these sharks in their ocean, I hope we can all inspire people to love and conserve these animals for future generations, for their magical moments in the ocean with the blues.