I run a scuba diving school and boat charter called Learn to Dive Today, based in Sun Valley. On Saturday 14 September I had a group of four Russian tourists (all very experienced divers) and two local divers on our boat. The second dive of the day was at the wreck of the Clan Stuart off Glencairn, which is usually done as a shore entry across the railway line and beach. but because of the large swell on Saturday we dived from the boat.
Seconds into the dive a great white shark appeared from further down the wreck and circled the divers twice before swimming off. One of the Russian divers, Vladislav Tomshinskiy, had the great presence of mind to film the shark as it swam past the second time.
The bubbles at the end of the video belong to divemaster Craig Killops (he is holding a reel with a line on it attached to a buoy on the surface, so that I can track the divers from the boat – you can see the line in the video) and Christo van Schalkwyk, a local diver who has done a couple of hundred dives in Cape Town. The shark was curious but not aggressive.
The divers remained calm, gathered in a small group low on the wreck, and after making sure that everyone was OK, Craig and Christo swam them directly to the beach, staying on the bottom, rather than attempting to surface and get six people into the boat without being able to see where the shark was. As part of our pre-dive briefings I recommend staying in a group and close to the bottom if you see a shark, rather than surfacing, as sharks tend to find their prey on the surface.
The shark actually surfaced after swimming around the divers, and came close to the boat, where I saw it about six minutes after the divers had entered the water. By this time they were on their way to the beach.
My wife and I fetched the divers on the beach. The Russians were thrilled, having wanted to see a white shark but not having managed to plan a cage diving trip during their short visit to Cape Town, and all the divers remarked on the shark’s gracefulness and beauty. They were also very relieved to be on dry land! We went on to finish the day with a dive at Roman Rock.
This is by no means the first sighting by scuba divers of a white shark at the Clan Stuart. There are accounts of similar sightings in 2010 and 2011, also during the spring/summer months. This is when the sharks start moving inshore from Seal Island, and patrol the beaches of False Bay. The City of Cape Town has in fact just issued its annual advisory to water users (https://www.capetown.gov.za/en/Pages/Inshoremovementsharkssafetysummer.aspx), to be aware of this activity.
We are keen to use this as an opportunity to promote dive safety and shark awareness in Cape Town, in a positive way. Over the next few days we will be sharing accounts of the afternoon’s events from both Craig and Christo on our blog (www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/). They were at different places when the shark first swam by, and I hope that their description of their thought processes and actions underwater will help others who may one day be in a similar situation.
Vlad’s video has been shared among local divers on facebook, and it is lovely that many of the responses have been to comment how fortunate this group of six was – not that they survived, but that they got to see the shark in its natural environment, which is a rare thing. I feel that the divers handled the situation exceptionally well. They did not panic, stayed together, made a plan and stuck to it. They have shared an unusual and remarkable experience, for which they are all very grateful.