Diving with Great White Sharks in North America

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Posted by Lawrence Groth on May 28, 2003 at 04:29:58:


For many divers the opportunity to safely view an apex predator at close range is the ultimate experience. Sport divers have been traveling to South Australia and South Africa for many years to see and film the great white shark. Although it has been known for some time that there are many white sharks in California waters, until recently no one has offered the experience to the public. Now divers and shark enthusiasts can experience big sharks in North America —at Guadalupe and the Farallon Islands.

Guadalupe Island lies about 160 miles offshore and 220 miles south of San Diego California. Cruising to Guadalupe on San Diego's finest 95 foot long liveaboard, dive and fishing vessel Searcher is a real pleasure. The Searcher is superior in all aspects. Her size, speed, stability and amenities are unsurpassed. The vessel is 95’ long and 24’ wide. Her fifteen private cabins and gourmet dining puts the Searcher in a class all by herself. First Class.
After departing from Fishermens Landing in San Diego California the crossing usually takes 20 to 22 hours. We generally fish along the way catching good sized Albacore and Tuna. The island is remote, surrounded by deep water, and is home to large numbers of Elephant seals, Guadalupe fur seals, and California sea lions. Right off the islands shore is some of the best tuna fishing anywhere. Yellow Fin Tuna weighing 60 to 100 pounds are common.

Typically, this is a five day trip, one day each way to and from San Diego and three days at the island. At Guadalupe white sharks are attracted to caged divers with the use of chum. Typically the sharks show up shortly after the chumming begins and stick around for the remainder of the day and into the night. Great White Adventures is the only outfit to offer night dives with white sharks and this adds a whole new realm of excitement to an already amazing experience . Guadalupe white sharks here are generally sub-adults ranging in size, 10 to 14 feet, with the occasional 16 footer. With visibility in the 70 to 100 foot range and water temps near 70 F, this is the place to photograph white sharks.

White sharks at Guadalupe are mellow and cautious. They slowly investigate cages and hang baits, and willingly pose for portraits. These are not the monsters depicted in the movie “Jaws.” Rather, they exhibit a powerful grace and beauty, and divers are amazed at their, strong, muscular bodies. They never attack the cage as they do in the movies, and never did they behave aggressively towards caged divers however they will occasionally make investigative bites at the cages only as part of thier curious disposition.

The shark experience is quite different at the Farallons. The Farallon Islands are a chain of small islets and assorted rocks about 30 miles west of San Francisco, where a number of BBC and National Geographic films have been shot. In 1999 Captain Lawrence Groth of Great White Adventures began
offering cage diving trips there.

It’s only an hour and a half boat ride from the Bay Area, so there is no need for a live aboard boat. A once in a lifetime experience can be had with only a day’s investment. White sharks are not attracted by chumming at the Farallons, rather ingenious homemade decoys that look like seals are used to lure sharks to the cage. Visibility at the Farallons can be over 100 feet, but it can also be less than 20.

The sharks at the Farallons are big! The smallest are around 13 feet long and the biggest was at least 19. Length alone does not give you an idea of the size of these sharks, their girth is much more impressive than length. Farallon sharks are fast and nervous. They often exhibit a hit and run behavior, so unlike the mellow approach at Guadalupe.

Their boldness leads to spectacular encounters. These sharks regularly attack decoys with such speed that the entire shark flies completely out of the water.
Occasionally divers get to view the attack from below. Contrary to the
description in the recent BBC video “Air Jaws,” South Africa is not the only place where white sharks put on spectacular aerial displays.

At the Farallons, divers may be fortunate to observe natural predation. Elephant seals come to the islands in the fall, and the sharks are there waiting for them. It is difficult to describe the extreme violence of a white shark attack. First you see a 600 pound elephant seal catapulted from the water, then you see the blood slick, then the birds move
in, finally the shark returns to take huge bites out of the carcass.

As Captain Groth puts it, “It’s like a Marine Serengeti out here. You experience the complete circle of life.” So now we do not have to travel to Africa or Australia to get close to one of the ocean’s apex predators. Get out there and see “the landlord” yourself, if you dare.

By Bruce Watkins and Lawrence Groth

For information or reservations contact:
Great White Adventures
2038 Pacific Ave.
Alameda, Ca 94501
(510) 814-8256

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