knowledge Breeds Comfort – Diving with Great White Sharks

Great White Cage Dive

There are some things I never thought I’d do in my life. Some experiences are so petrifying that they are unfathomable. That was cage diving with great white sharks for me. It combines all of my greatest fears in one situation. Using a regulator in the water, being surrounded by massive, man-eating monsters in the ocean and being confined to a cage were the epitome of torture, but I learned that knowledge breads comfort in even the most terrifying situations.

Islander Charters Great White Cage Dive

I spent the last five days on an all-inclusive great white shark diving trip with Islander Charters. I needed to learn more about the behavior of great whites to try and overcome my fear of such ancient creatures. I’ve always had a vision of them lurking in the water waiting to attack humans. Blood thirsty, gigantic monsters was my vision of them, but I was naive. I used movies and tv shows as my basis for knowledge and I had a ridiculous version of what what out there. Getting in the water with them and learning from the trained crew aboard the Islander has completely changed my perspective on these beautiful, majestic, graceful animals, but it wasn’t without great struggle.
Great white next to the cage

When we arrivedΒ at Guadalupe Island off the coast of Mexico, we were divided into groups. There were two cages in the water at all times with four people each and we worked on an hour rotation giving us a total of 12-15 hours of dive time.
Great white shark

I was in the first group of divers. I’m not PADI certified and I’ve always struggled with using a regulator. It feels completely unnatural and I usually have a panic attack. This time was no different. Three other people in my group, including one guy who’s never even worn a wet suit, put the regulator in their mouth and climbed down the ladder into the cage. They made it seem fine.

My heart was pounding out of my chest. I couldn’t breathe and I wasn’t even under water yet. I was overcome with fear. I couldn’t function. The dive master, Jimmy, tried to help me calm down, but my wet suit felt like it was choking me. I couldn’t catch my breath. I started to cry, which I can’t really explain. Then, I didn’t want to look at anyone because I was crying. It was all too much.

Once Jimmy realized that I couldn’t handle it, he left me to sit on the top of the cage and never questioned me. I was grateful that he didn’t force it or try to give me more directions. Out of the hour, I might have stayed in the cage for a total of 15 minutes. I did see a shark while I was in the cage and I wanted to stay down and experience more but it was complete sensory overload.
Great white shark eating

The next try was slightly more successful and I managed to stay under water for 30 minutes. The more sharks came around, the more comfortable I felt. Isn’t it ironic? They distracted me from my other fears. I expected them to be vicious and frenzied, but it was nothing like that. Usually, there were only one or two sharks in sight and they moved gracefully through the water. Sometimes they didn’t even take the bait and they had no interest in coming too close to the cage. When no sharks were in sight, that’s when my mind would wander and I would panic.
Close great white shark

By the third try, one of the crew said to me, “You’re a mother. You got this. Mothers are fearless and capable of anything.” It really resonated with me. I tried to eliminate some of the issues I was having by unzipping the wet suit and getting in the cage last so I didn’t feel rushed. I took several deep breaths and closed my eyes to relax. I climbed down the ladder and there was a great white shark directly in front of the cage. He wasn’t as large as some of the others but he was still about 10 feet. I looked him in the eyes as he moved closer and closer. It felt like he was looking at me. We stayed like that for a few seconds but it seemed like a lifetime. Unconsciously, I smiled. He looked like he was smiling at me. I felt water hit my face through the creases of my mask when I smiled but I didn’t look away or move. Then, as quickly as it happened, it was over. He moved along and disappeared in the distance. And that was my moment. Every other second in the cage felt more comfortable after that. The wet suit didn’t feel as uncomfortable. I wondered why I struggled so much with breathing and the sharks didn’t appear quite as monstrous.
Great White Sharks with Islander Charters

I didn’t get out of the cage early again. I utilized every second to learn more about their behavior and movements. Even when larger sharks ate the bait directly in front of the cage, I noticed their gills and the different shapes they made with their mouths but I wasn’t fearful. The true test was when there were no sharks in sight and it became a waiting game. Even then, I held my composure.

Everything changed. Watching the behavior of 15 different great white sharks over a total of 12 hours has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. Thousands of professionals could have explained the behavior of great whites to me but no explanation could truly do it justice. I needed to experience it for myself.
Great white shark in Mexico

I no longer see them as monsters lurking in the depths. They are magical. I don’t know if I’m ready to hop in without the cage just yet, but I certainly have a new appreciation and respect for one of the most feared creatures in the ocean.

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40 thoughts on “knowledge Breeds Comfort – Diving with Great White Sharks

  1. Omg, I barely made it through this post. All those pictures of sharks kept scaring the daylights out of me. I gotta say though, I’ve always planned on facing my fear in that way and this post certainly didn’t deter me. It didn’t exactly ease any of the anxiety but at least now, I think I’ll be able to handle it.
    So, you did help me with that. Before reading this, I thought the day I finally go to do this that the anxiety would quite literally kill me. Now, I’m sure I’ll live through it. Thank you for sharing your experience. ^_^ β™‘

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  2. What an fantabulous post! My ‘thing’ is snakes – all of ’em – from garden friendly/beneficial garter ones to deadly-in-2.5-seconds poisonous ones – don’t matter to me πŸ™‚ –
    But my ‘calming’ journey has been one of many years, sans immersion therapy (as you did) – One – I tried learning about them and their place in the circle of life – interesting, still no go…

    2 – had a Vietnam vet, who became my friend, ask me once during a conversation, when I confessed my cowardice and fears, “What do you love most? “My son” – “What do you fear most?” ” snakes” – and then he asked me, “If your son was trapped and in danger of being hurt/killed, would you find a way over a pit of snakes to get to him?” “Of course!”

    And that’s when I started seeing the big pic – I’ve had gains and set-backs – I know more about snakes now than I did 20 years ago – the garter ones that only show up in my yard when the the local habitat is flooded or too good of a buffet feast to pass up, still startle the crappola out of me – BUT – I always ask Mother Nature, “Can you please make me blind to their presence if they mean me no harm? can you warn them that if they skitter across my foot or startle me while I’m weeding the morning after good rain, I might go ballistic and beat them to death before I realize what I’m doing? And can you ask them, please, to send some love my way for understanding, until I evolve some more?”

    I figure, it’s working -= garter snakes dutifully skitter away from me when I’m weed whipping – at the end of a 4 foot pole (still would like 10′, but then not sure that Worx model is coming out, just yet….) – – they still surprise me, sometimes, but are pretty quick to run in the opposite direction when I scream, curse, do frenzied stomping dance in place – or pick up shovel/tree stump and blindly beat the ground in a 20 yard circle – just in case – πŸ™‚

    I loved reading about your journey with sharks – and the ‘smiling one’ – although there are many who would argue, I still believe, Mother Nature and her offspring are willing to cut some slack to those who are trying to understand and trying to overcome their own evolutionary survival triggers – πŸ™‚

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    • I have a huge fear of snakes as well, especially since moving to California where there are seriously dangerous ones. Do I want to have a snake encounter to get over it? Absolutely not. πŸ˜‰ Some things can remain a mystery to me.

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  3. Hi Lesley,
    This sounds like an interesting and nerve wracking and truly amazing experience for you and I am sooooooooooo jealous.
    I am pleased this has grown your knowledge and most wonderfully your experience with Great Whites. My hubby and me both want to do this – I’m more like you. He just feels calm when around sharks! Go Figure!!!
    Would love to see more photos of where you were based and the surrounding area, if you have them. What was it like being based on a vessel for 5 days and did you catch any of the hurricane which was in the surrounding area?
    And Hell Yeh… us mums can cope with most things. πŸ™‚

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    • I honestly didn’t expect for readers to ask for surrounding photos but I’m sure I have a few that I can pull together.

      Being on a boat for 5 days was nice. After sailing to Antarctica in January, I missed the open ocean. There were 16 guests and only two bathrooms but we made it work. The crew, especially the chef, were absolutely fantastic! The boat itself wasn’t huge but I never felt crowded or uncomfortable. It is still a boat though and space is minimal.

      We didn’t have any issues with the hurricane and the waters were pretty calm, although I did still feel a little sick to my stomach on the journey down. At dinner time, I decided to pass and go to bed. I felt better when I woke up in the morning. On the return journey, I was completely fine.

      I was grateful for choosing Islander Charters! They really know how to get the sharks to the cages. They are clearly the most successful boat at Guadalupe Island and they encourage conservation.

      This is a great fit for you so please feel free to ask as many questions as you’d like. I’m excited for others to experience cage diving at Guadalupe Island.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Lesley! πŸ™‚ I really enjoy hearing about your personal experience-for me its when your writing really lights up and I enjoy hearing your process πŸ™‚ it sounds wonderful and please do post some photos of the surroundings and crew if you have any. Thanks for replying X

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  4. Well done for conquering a huge fear of yours (make that multiple fears!) And really enjoyable post πŸ™‚
    I did a great white dive in South Africa a few years back and although the freezing cold water was my biggest panic moment, I loved the experience!

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    • The warm waters and 100 foot visibility at Guadalupe Island made it a great experience despite my fears. I’m grateful that I experienced it there rather than South Africa since I had so many other issues to deal with.

      Did you dive in South Africa or was it a snorkel? Are you PADI certified? I’d love to know more.

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      • I did a cage dive – I’m not a certified diver. Basically you head out to deep waters on a boat (booked through an authorised tourism company), put on wetsuits and then climb into a cage which is lowered 1m into the water. Then the sharks come and swim all around the cage. It was a great experience!

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  5. Great post – I feel the same way about using a regulator, never have. I wanted to try snorkeling in the keys this summer but didn’t. Now I am determined to go back and try πŸ™‚

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    • You really should try again. There is an entire world waiting to be explored under water and it’s magical. I look forward to reading about when you get back out there to try again. I’d love for you to send me a photo when you overcome your fear. You can do it πŸ™‚

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  6. This was an exciting post to read! I’m a diver (though I haven’t gotten my fins wet in a long time), but I’ve never had an experience like this at all. Kudos to you for facing that fear and coming away with such a beautiful experience!

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      • It’s been years since I’ve been diving, unfortunately! It’s hard being landlocked in Illinois (although we used to find good diving in Southern Illinois)! My biggest challenge is not having a buddy at the moment. I may need to encourage the wife to get certified as well!

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  7. Great photos! Who could blame you for being afraid. You can bet, that if that shark had wanted to eat you, he would have tried. Just don’t lose all your fear and take chances you know you shouldn’t. I’d really hate to read that you became fish bait for the Great Whites.

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  8. I love how this post describes every aspect of your fear. I can so relate to the feeling of confinement with your mask and wetsuit. I get claustrophobic with a snorkel! I doubt I’d be brave enough to descend in a shark cage, so good on you!

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