Diving Australia: Great White Shark Cage Diving Overview

Few creatures on our planet get as much bad press as Great White Sharks (Carcharodon Carcharias) – they have a reputation as a ruthless killing machine that is firmly entrenched in the public’s psyche and whenever a shark attack does occur it seems the tabloid press love to make it the “usual suspect”.

Great White Shark showing  its full attack mode

Great White Shark in full attack mode

A Great White Shark attacking the shark cage at the Neptune Islands

The movie Jaws was largely responsible for establishing the bad reputation of Great Whites, but the sensationalist treatment of shark attacks by the news media, combined with the many television “documentaries” made about Carcharodon Carcharias (which often aim to scare, rather than educate the viewer) have firmly entrenched the perception.

The reality is rather different, as a quick look at the available statistics show – just 244 of the 1563 unprovoked shark attacks recorded on humans in the last 100 years are credited to Great White Sharks, according to the International Shark Attack File. Of these attacks 63 have been fatal, which means less than one per year and when compared to the 570 annual deaths reported from dog attacks, puts things into a somewhat broader perspective.

That said, there is no doubt that Great White Sharks are superbly evolved creatures at the very top of the marine food chain & deserving of the title “apex predator”, but to fully appreciate Great Whites you need to see them for yourself in their natural environment.

Great White Sharks inhabit all the temperate marine waters of the world but given their relatively small & declining global population, and the sheer size of the ocean, the chances of actually seeing one is extremely small. In Australia we are fortunate to have one of the three best places in the world to see Carcharodon Carcharias –  the Neptune Islands in South Australia, where the Spencer Gulf meets the Great Australian Bight.

The other two “hot spots” being Dyer Island, southeast of Capetown in South Africa,  and the Mexican island of Guadalupe off from Baja California.

Diving Australia: Cage Diving with Great Whites – Port Lincoln

Port Lincoln in the Spencer Gulf is Australia’s tuna fishing capital, home to some serious money and the place to go if you want to see the Great White face to face…

Map of South Australia's Spencer Gulf showing the Neptune Islands

Map of South Australia’s Spencer Gulf showing the Neptune Islands

Port Lincoln is a short 40 minute flight across the Spencer Gulf from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, and as you fly in you will see a number of rings floating in the sea.

Port Lincoln’s Tuna Pens

These are the tuna pens where the juvenile tuna, caught in the Southern Ocean using a technique developed in Port Lincoln but now widely adopted globally, are kept while they are basically force fed to fatten up before being harvested and shipped to Japan.

It is the tuna pens & their rich harvest that make Port Lincoln probably the wealthiest per capita town in Australia.

But that wealth is earned and if you want to understand how, try and get yourself a copy of the National Geographic documentary Tuna Cowboys, but as far as I am concerned those guys earn every cent!

Once the tuna is harvested it is cleaned & tagged and either put into deep freeze pending the arrival of the Japanese mother ship that collects it and transports it back to Japan.

Or alternatively it is chilled and transported by air to Japan, usually on the evening it has been harvested, where it fetches a significant premium because of it’s freshness.

Either way the tuna ends up at the massive Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo:

Frozen Tuna at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo

Frozen Tuna at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo

Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market and frozen tuna for sale

Port Lincoln is a very pleasant town and not without it’s charms, but it’s a relatively small place in a remote location, largely populated with people who make their living from the very dangerous seas to the south… and it has a lot of money which has been made the hard way – so the best advice I can offer is keep your opinions (whatever they may be) to yourself and you won’t go far wrong.

One final snippet of information about Port Lincoln is the annual tuna festival – Tunarama. One Great White trip I did was in January and we struggled to get hotel accommodation because Tunarama was on. I only caught a fraction of the activities, but watching the World Famous Tuna Toss and the Miss Tunarama competition stays with me to this day…

Check out this LINK if you think Tunarama may be for you!

Diving Australia: Cage Diving with Great Whites – The Neptune Islands

The Neptune Islands are 15 nautical miles and between 2.5 to 4 hours from Port Lincoln, depending on the vessel you are on, and they are the main location for cage diving with the Great White Shark.

The north islands are where virtually all of the cage diving is done these days, although the south islands were quite popular previously. The reason is very simple – there is a large seal colony to be found on the western island of North Neptune, and seals are the Great White Sharks high fat food of choice.

Map of the North Neptune Islands to the south of Port Lincoln

Map of the North Neptune Islands

Seals are the Great White Shark food of choice..

Great White Shark food of choice..

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The big positive about cage diving at the Neptune Islands is the clear blue water from the Southern Ocean and the Great Australian Bight which provide a great backdrop to see the Great White.

Diving Australia: Cage Diving with Great Whites – Dangerous Reef

Dangerous Reef used to be the place to see the Great Whites, but the South Australian government’s Department of Parks & Wildlife stopped issuing permits for cage diving there several years ago.

My experience with Dangerous Reef was both positive & negative – positive because it’s only about an hour from Port Lincoln and both times I went there we had Great White Sharks around the boat within an hour of arriving. The negative was poor visibility, which because of the coloration of the sharks makes them very hard to see unless they are REALLY close…

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