Changing Planet

Great White Sharks of Gansbaai: No Hooking, No Handling, No Harm

On board with Lindblad Expeditions Southern Africa and Indian Ocean tour.

March 23, 2015 – As we began our cruise up the southeast coast of Africa aboard the ship National Geographic Orion, we departed Cape Town, South Africa. Several of us spent the day on an outing with Marine Dynamics out of Gansbaai to see great white sharks near Dyer Island. We anchored in an easy swell, and weren’t there five minutes when the first of the day’s sharks showed up.

great white sharks
Photo by Carl Safina

The company is very conscientious about shark conservation. They work with conservation research people, and their staff were knowledgeable and excellent. All the sharks we saw are known individuals and are named (we saw three individuals throughout the day, identified mainly by distinctive fin shapes). The sharks are not hooked or harassed. The banter of the staff is respectful of the sharks as animals in their world. The same company is also working on conservation of the critically endangered African penguin, which shares these waters. Among the fun facts we learned in our orientation: while all species of sharks combined kill an average of ten people per year worldwide, several times that many people are electrocuted by toasters. Is it safer to swim in the ocean than to make toast in the morning? Not quite, but it’s something to think about.

Great White Shark
Photo by Carl Safina

I’ve heard some people say that attracting sharks with ground-up fish disturbs them. It is certainly an interaction with them. But I’ve seen so many sharks killed for so many years, and we know that humans continue to kill tens of millions of sharks annually, and I’ve watched the Great white’s reputation change since Jaws, from mindless killer to vulnerable top predator in need of protection from extermination. So attracting them to a boat for people who appreciate them, with people working to protect them, doesn’t bother me. If attracting fish was our entire relationship to the ocean, it would be a big improvement.

And the sharks are spectacular. There is no denying that their power—and those teeth—are riveting to see.

photo by Carl Safina
Photo by Carl Safina
Great White Shark
Photo by Carl Safina
Carl Safina is author of seven books, including Song for the Blue Ocean, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Eye of the Albatross, Voyage of the Turtle, and The View From Lazy Point. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, where he also co-chairs the University's Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. A winner of the 2012 Orion Award and a MacArthur Prize, among others, his work has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, National Geographic, CNN.com and The Huffington Post, and he hosts “Saving the Ocean” on PBS. The paperback version of Safina's seventh book, "Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel," is available in stores July 12, 2016.
  • Kat

    Had the opportunity to visit Gansbaai in 2013 and spent a day viewing Great White Sharks. Will never forget this day. Great Whites are amazing with their speed and power and hope to return to SA to see them again soon

    Next time will plan to go out multiple days

  • Mark

    Great Article., Beautiful! Adding to my bucket list!

  • Paulo

    Excelentes fotos.Eles estão sorridentes.São animais maravilhosos.
    O ser humano e irracional para com eles.

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