There was an amusing conversation at Perry's Bridge Reptile Park yesterday :) Rick had just finished his demonstration, and an interested lady commented "its all very well and fine to say good things about snakes, but what about SHARKS!!" . Little did she know that we had just returned from a trip to Cape Town and Gansbaai, where I ticked one off my bucket list - cage diving with the Great White Sharks!
What an incredible experience! And that, from me, who as a child was scared of the shadows in our pool in case they "might be sharks". Jaws sure has a lot to answer for!
My heart was literally pounding as I stepped onto the deck and we headed out to sea. While I have huge admiration for sharks, their beauty, and their place in the ocean, this is perhaps the closest to a phobia that I have. Fortunately the build up was quite slow, it was around 40 minutes before we saw the first shark approach, and I was not asked to be in the first cage - so I was able to observe for awhile, and by the time it was my (our) turn to climb into the water I was feeling pretty comfortable.
The visibility in the water wasn't great that day, but that didn't in any way detract from the experience...."divers DOWN" "divers LEFT" "divers FRONT" were the directions shouted as we submerged and looked, hopefully in the right direction! The ultimate memory burned into my mind was when a particularly large "big boy" (at least he was big for me!) managed to grab the decoy and came at top speed towards the cage, literally ending with the tip of his schnoz poking between the mesh!!! We could have picked the food out of his teeth, quite literally.
Visibility on deck was awesome! You can see Rick's pictures here:
While there have been concerns voiced about the practice of shark diving, like most things I think it has two aspects. When a shark is "finned" for soup, the economic return is $100, and the animal is returned in excruciating pain, thrown back into the water to drown as it can no longer swim, and dying in misery. With shark diving, each shark is worth around $2million (notice $, that is NOT a mistake!) to the community - and so there is strong motivation to conserve them even amongst those who don't recognise their intrinsic worth. There is also the opportunity to do research - the group I was with was noting fin markings and taking other data recordings throughout our trip - and of course the chance to educate huge numbers of people (32 people on our trip, with two trips going out per day. There were 5 operators all doing similar numbers - and that is Gansbaai ONLY).
I wish we had the opportunity to educate so many people about snakes! What a difference that could make......
So, if you would like to know more about snakes, please come along and visit us in Hazyiew, there are loads of activities in the area so make a day of it! And don't forget, we are open Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Years Day!
Carolyn Budai, owner and passionate animal person.