How to meet a shark

3rd September 2015

There are many sharks living in False Bay, and not all of them are great whites. Pyjama sharks, cowsharks, spotted gully sharks, dark shysharks, bronze whalers and St Joseph sharks also call the bay home (as do various rays, which are closely related to sharks). They range from small and social invertebrate-eaters to the greatest predators in the sea – and if you live around False Bay, or visit False Bay, you are able to see them, on dry land, from above water, below water or from behind bars.

Here are some suggestions for how to meet a shark that will suit all tastes.

White sharks
False Bay is famous for its great white sharks that soar into the air – 1.5-tonne bodies in full flight – in pursuit of seals. Every winter (April to September in the southern hemisphere), this spectacle can be viewed at Seal Island. All you need to do is find a suitable operator to take you there.

On one of these trips, you will have a good chance of seeing a white shark – or more than one – launching into the air in pursuit of a seal (or a decoy seal being towed behind a boat). Early morning is the best time for this phenomenon. You can also don a wetsuit and mask, jump inside a cage and view the sharks in their watery world under the surface. Responsible operators will avoid letting the shark touch or interact with the cage (for your safety and the sharks’), but you get to watch these beautiful creatures as they cruise past. Operators also follow a strict set of guidelines to minimise feeding by the sharks.

Here are some operators that you can enquire with about going to Seal Island:

African Shark Eco-Charters

Apex Shark Expeditions

Shark Explorers

Another vantage point from which you can view white sharks is an aircraft.

Although a more pricey option, there are companies that offer chartered flights over the beaches of False Bay to see any sharks that are about. There is no guarantee of a shark sighting, but there must be something incredible about seeing a shark cruising through the shallows so close to our urban coastline.

This is not an exhaustive list, but you can try contacting:

Cape Adventure Zone

At the other end of the price scale, because it is free, you can go to one of the Shark Spotters viewing points around the bay. You might be rewarded with a shark sighting! One of the more easily accessible Shark Spotter viewing points (depending on where you’re coming from) is along Boyes Drive, above Muizenberg. If you want to try this option, we suggest going in summer, when the white sharks have moved inshore and are more likely to be seen from land. Oh, and if you have polarised sunglasses and binoculars, take those too!

Perhaps not as famous, but still very popular, are trips to dive with cowsharks, also known as broadnose sevengill sharks, at Miller’s Point. This aggregation is the only place in the world where large numbers of these sharks come close enough to the surface in clear enough water to be reliably seen! So if you want to see these serpentine creatures, then False Bay is a world-class option.

At Miller’s Point, you will have the added benefit of experiencing the beautiful and eerie underwater world of a kelp forest – an incredible experience in itself – and you are likely to see other smaller sharks, such as the spotted gully shark, puffadder shyshark, dark shyshark, leopard catshark and pyjama shark.

Here is a list of companies that offer cowshark dives:

Pisces Divers

Shark Explorers

Animal Ocean

Pyjama sharks, puffadder shysharks, dark shysharks
In addition to seeing these friendly little sharks while diving with their older cousins, the cowsharks, you can see them with much less gear on while snorkelling in the abundant kelp forests that line most of the False Bay shore.

You can do this yourself: take your mask and snorkel and go on an adventure in a kelp forest. Stick close to the bottom for the best chance of spotting these little critters.

If you feel more comfortable observing sharks from a distance, or the surface, here are some alternatives to actually diving with sharks.

Spotted gully sharks
Spotted gullies are rare and shy, so seeing them in the water can be difficult, but you can fairly reliably spot them circling beneath the breakers at Buffels Bay Beach in Cape Point Nature Reserve. These sharks are usually one to two metres long and present no danger to people; they eat mainly crustaceans and squid.

Bronze whalers
Also known as bronzies or copper sharks, bronze whalers are often caught by anglers from sandy shores, especially along the Strandfontein stretch of coast. Trek-netters also frequently pull them in, along with St Joseph’s sharks, rays and other creatures from the inshore.

Trek-netters usually operate in the morning when the waves aren’t too rough for them to launch their skiff. If you hang around to see them drag in their net, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these sharks – and sometimes even young great whites!

A world of sharks
If seeing a shark from the shore is still too close for your comfort, how about heading to the Save Our Seas Foundation’s Shark Education Centre, where you can learn all about sharks and see them up close – in photographic form – while staying dry?

Although closed to the public for renovations at present, the Save Our Seas Shark Education Centre is slated for re-opening very soon, and it continues to offer school group tours. Check the website or Facebook page for updates on opening times and dates.

Further afield: pelagic sharks
If you’re staying in the False Bay area, you also have the opportunity to dive with the blue and mako sharks that live in the pelagic waters beyond the mouth of the bay. Trips like this routinely leave from Simon’s Town and require a boat ride out of the bay before you dive. On the way, you might see other legends of the open ocean: whales, orcas, tuna, marlin, albatrosses and sunfish, among others.

Apex Shark Expeditions

Shark Explorers