CAGELESS SHARK DIVING |AFRICAN DIVE ADVENTURES | PROTEA BANKS, SOUTH AFRICA
CAGELESS SHARK DIVING WITH AFRICAN DIVE ADVENTURES ON THE PROTEA BANKS, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 2014
The Protea Banks is about 7km out of Shelly Beach and Margate, which is two hours south of Durban, on the Indian Ocean.
Roland and Beulah Mauz of African Dive Adventures have operated here for the last twenty years on the north and south pinnacles of the Protea Banks.
The Protea Banks are world famous for advanced, thrill seeking adventure divers, especially for cageless shark diving. They are known for their population of zambezi’s, tigers (March to June), hammerheads and others including dusky sharks, as well as 1200 species of fish as well as whales, mantas, dolphins and turtles. It is also the home for the ragged tooth sharks, what we know better as grey nurse sharks, a place where they often rest. Occasionally great whites and whale sharks may also be encountered.
We had arranged for two dives on the north pinnacles with Roland, the first being a baited shark dive. This baited dive is quite different to that offered at Aliwal Shoal as it is a deeper dive and is on a reef not a sandy bottom, so there is much more diversity to be seen. The semi-rigid inflatable dive boats are often launched from the surf beach (very exciting!) or the mouth of a nearby river.
Baited shark dives have certain procedures to follow to ensure the safety of each and every diver. Instructions from the Dive Master and Bait Master need to be followed at all times, after all they have a 100% record of no injuries after more than 500 baited dives. Bright coloured fins or equipment is discouraged, and there should be no loose or drifting pieces of equipment to attract a shark’s attention. Divers are encouraged to stay as a group as if someone separates away the sharks may become more interested in them. Rapid movements or touching the sharks is a no no.
The dive is also a drift dive so you are going with the current, and for as long as you are vertical in the water and stay with your group and on the correct side of the bait scent or scum slick, you can basically be motionless in the water for an hour and a half at the designated dive depth of 5-15m. The ocean floor below you is much deeper at 30-40m. You also have to try to keep out of the chum slick or a shark may engage you by accident.
Visibility on the day was such that you could see the ocean floor. The fish can often see the bait box and don’t need to smell it. A big groper, tuna, rainbow runners and a few other reef and pelargic fish also came in to feed on the tiny bits of fish coming out of the bait box.
Although going out the seas were quite calm, we had a ripping wind later on that created a two and half metre wave on the surface that was popping the feeding container up and down, shaking out the contents vigorously. There was a strong current too, which pushed us eventually quite a distance south of the north pinnacle.
We were in the water for an hour or so and had a handful of oceanic black tips ripping and tearing at the carcasses of larger fish in the external bait. The zambezi’s or bull sharks were much more cautious and never actually came to the same level as the divers. They tended to hang around much deeper than us, and in fact when one of our divers went down to photograph them, this made them nervous and they scattered. Definitely not the aggressive animal many people have the impression they are. So from that point of view there is something to listen to the advice of the Dive Master to keep away from them or you will scare them away and loose your chance and your group’s of some great photos.
This first dive also encountered a productive layer near the top of the water column at 10m which meant there was a lot of plankton there. The water here was quite warm although the visibility was down to 10-15m but I took some great photos of jellies and salps that took my interest as they shone in the water column.
But on our second non-baited dive, at the bottom you could see as far as the eye could see, 30m or more. This was the cleanest water I had ever seen, and the reef was quite colourful despite not being a tropical reef, aided by the cloudless sky above and the bright sunlight. There were so many nooks and crannies to explore. We were down at the 35m and in one cave we found about 50 or more raggies or grey nurse sharks, with a conservative estimate of up to 200 or more all over the ocean floor, just resting in a soft wave-like motion of the water in their sleepy daylight state.
This was a real experience of one of our divers Dominic from Austria, as last year we had both had a shared experience at Wolf Rock in Queensland Australia but then had only been privileged to see 5-10 of these sharks, nothing like this. He was totally blown away by the sheer numbers of them here.
We also saw many bull sharks, but these were in mid water and almost at the limit of our visibility when looking up. However we saw them much better on our safety stop at the end of the dive where they were just all cruising around us. In fact, if I didn’t have the attitude I have now to sharks, I would have been quite fearful of being in the water surrounded by so many of them. They were all around us, and this wasn’t a baited shark dive, this is just where they hang out on the Protea Banks in June to August.
Coming back the seas had really kicked up and there were two and a half metre waves which dwarfed our boat. We basically had to surf them to get back into shore with yet another spectacular and thrilling beach landing, and a dry one at that. It’s quite a thrill to be flat out at full throttle and then suddenly you’re on the beach. And if you are not holding on, you’re doing a face plant!
The Protea Banks is a world reknowned shark diving reef and is sure not to disappoint. It is the mission statement of African Dive Adventures to give each and every diver the best and safest diving experience on Protea Banks and they certainly don’t let you down.
[For more photos by Tony Isaacson, see Photos-Diving Photos-South Africa]