Cage-Diving with a Great White Shark

by guest writer Carly Samuelson

A fear of the unfamiliar, an adrenaline addiction, a curious case of unpredictability. I feel my body rise and fall atop the salty swells beneath me, my tongue curling around a lollipop in the hopes of curing a sea sickness bouncing about my core. I am not afraid, I’m sick. And I’m in good company. I cringe through a young woman’s heaving to my right and wonder whether she’s considered her chances of toppling into the territory of one of the most feared species on earth. Probably not because it’s too fucking cold to think straight. “We’re not feeding them, we’re playing with them.” A crew member delights in our blank stares as he tosses the chum into the sea. I close my eyes as the metal cage crashes into the Atlantic. And like divine intervention, they appear.

The crew tell us to get ready. I crunch my candy violently as I slip into a black wetsuit. I sing along to the Jaws theme song eating away at my consciousness. I want to go into the cage first. It is my egotistical way of avoiding an intense feeling of fear. I pull goggles over my frozen expression and slide down the side of the boat into the water. My lungs deflate as the biting tundra drapes over me. I shudder while my legs float upwards between the bars. They stop directly below a set of teeth marks in the padding where I place my hands. My toes wiggle like little guppies swirling around in the waves. Classic horror movie scene, pan to a 15 foot great white shark swimming ferociously nearby. My mind pulses with adrenaline, the most beautiful kind. Something like my first roller coaster ride, my first time sky diving and my first crush all intricately intertwined into some decadent piece of real living.

“Down in front! Down in front!” my thoughts shatter into a thousand pieces as I grip the metal in a fight with buoyancy until I can secure myself against the boat beneath the water. My heart beats slow for a moment. He is a curious case of unpredictability. Then out of the darkness he swims at me, veering to my right just before kissing the cage. And we thought we were playing with him. Seconds later, the epicenter of all things terrifying, the thrill becomes too intense to meditate on fear. I burst upwards, nearly drowning in laughter. My teeth chatter like a wind-up toy, animated and alive. I push myself back under, my eyes darting throughout the darkness until I spot him. This time he is modest, gliding effortlessly through the water in a blissful dance,  so ironic and so fascinating. He follows the crimson dripping from the chum, only snapping his massive jaw at the last possible moment as if not to scare us. His grey skin sparkles as it reflects rays of sunlight piercing the water. It reminds me of old leather with nicks and fading color. And the skin houses years and years of experience, in just the same way that leather does. He never looks at me; I don’t think he has any inclination to make friendly, yet he doesn’t appear the least bit bothered by our presence. He lets us watch and lets us scream,  likely laughing at our disbelief.

I can feel the water move through me as I force my body into a state of stillness. With every sweep of the shark, I feel a rush of energy. I begin to wonder why it is that humans conspire against these creatures. As people we have the ability to murder, but that certainly doesn’t mean we want to do it. Sharks have the ability to decapitate surfers, but that doesn’t mean they all have a desire to do it. I read an article prior to diving about the fact that most shark attacks aren’t even attacks. Sharks are curious and intelligent; they only want to know who’s swimming in their territory, so they “taste” them. Unfortunately even a small bite mark in human flesh can cause horrible bleeding, leaving sharks with a less than perfect reputation. I snap back to reality when the sharp water slaps me across the face. It’s refreshing and invigorating. I plunge beneath once more. This time it’s so cold that my body has little purpose while underneath the surface, and my mind becomes further engaged in my surroundings.

I relax, time slows. The icy water becomes an accumulation of my emotions. He is no longer unfamiliar to me.

Photo by Craig, who shot this on his own shark-diving adventure.

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  1. This is a fabulous depiction of a shark encounter. Carly manages to describe the gritty detail so accurately that the hair on my arms stood up and I could almost taste the salt water.

    There is nothing 'glamorous' about this type of adventure tour, it is cold, you will probably be sick, but the moment you see a great white shark you are suddenly enthralled, engaged and awestruck.

    Great post - Thanks.

    Shark Zone


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