Shark Cage Diving in New Zealand

Shark Cage Diving

Shark Cage Diving

Shark Cage Diving

Shark Cage Diving

By Shane Wasik

Whilst researching New Zealand’s sharks I stumbled across Surf-It Charters operating from Gisborne. As the skipper had a good record of shark sightings I decided to book a weekend trip. Due to a strong easterly wind the Bay of Plenty turned out to be our only option so we ended up running out of Whakatane to the Eastern side of Whale Island (Motuhora).

Once on site, skipper Boyd prepared the shark’s lunch, an albacore. Given my previous work with sharks, I was rather sceptical when he said that they’d be here within five minutes once he started the burley! From the small scent trail I expected a long wait so started taking a few photos, relaxing and in no particular hurry to get kitted up!

Once the bait was in, we set our watches to time how long it took for the first shark to arrive! Seven minutes later, I couldn’t believe it … a fin! With our location, the drift of the boat and lack of burley trail I was totally amazed. From then on, everything became hectic; the cage was sent over the side and the surface supplied regulators setup for the first divers. Everyone was hopping around trying to get the first look at the shark, a few were very anxious having never dived before, let alone being thrown into a cage!

I elected not to use the cage but free swim with the sharks to get close-up photographs. Boyd had mentioned his first white pointer sighting this year so I was mentally prepared for a quick getaway through the side escape door into the cage.

At first there was only one ‘˜small’ mako of 4-5ft, however she had no fear in coming straight over to have a good look at me. Given there is evidence of a pecking order in shark feeding behaviour I was comfortable with the fact that the shark was smaller than me and would (hopefully) think I would be first to have dinner! I kept the cage behind me and was able to watch the shark and keep her within my view. I was surprised at the turn of speed these fish had, rumoured to be between 30-40mph! We counted three or four individuals during the dive and I drained my cylinder fairly quickly keeping up with the boat and sharks.

During lunch, a different shape appeared off the stern, a lighter coloured shark, more of a contrast against the water column than the navy blue of the makos. Boyd was pretty excited as he hadn’t had a bronze whaler or ‘bronzie’ before. Quickly, I kitted up and was back in the danger zone and found that there was not one but two bronzies circling the bait. They were noticeably bigger, around 7-8ft in length going on the fairly close encounter with the makos. The bronzies were very different in character, not as bold or inquisitive as the makos. They stayed their distance and were certainly not fans of my strobes firing! With the afternoon sun high in the sky and more burley in the water, the visibility seemed to reduce with sunlight bouncing off the particulate in the water. By this time a squadron of mutton birds had arrived and were pecking the fishy bits from surface. Most of the time you would only see two feet and occasionally a beak, then two eyes would peek down to have a look. I wasn’t the only one kept on my toes by the makos, a few times they would have a run at birds but were never successful.

Near the end of the day we brought the bait in towards the boat for some close-up action. Letting the sharks get their gums round the bait turned things into a feeding frenzy! There were around seven or eight sharks all circling the bait and the action was high as the thrashing sharks bashed into the cage, all teeth and blood! Excitement or what’¦?! Once the bait was finished I had a big smile on my face, some great sighting and interaction with these predators along with excellent footage. It wasn’t long before we were back at the harbour and the boat recovered in time for lunch at the fishing club and a chat about our day’s sightings and past experiences! Outside-the-cage diving’s not one to try at home but I would thoroughly recommend an in-the-cage experience. I for one will be heading down to Gisborne hoping to be lucky enough to see a white pointer soon!

Books available through the Dive New Zealand shop: Mako Sharks also Understand Sharks. (click on Shop in the menu)

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