Saturday, October 22, 2011

 

Our Been There Done That List is Dwindling!

Ok, not really. There are still tons of places we want to go and things we want to do, but we are for sure making a dent in our list. 

So if you haven’t heard by now, our latest adventure was this: diving with the Great White Sharks!!!! Actually, we were not really diving with them, we were in cages the whole time which was ok because these things were ginormous!!!! We have dived with some big sharks before like bull sharks and large Galapagos sharks but these Great Whites were a whole new ball game!!!

I know you don’t want to see a ton of photos of sharks but here are some great ones! Just so you know, Troy does not have a zoom on his camera. In fact the camera he used is for macro use. So yes, these sharks are this close!


There are a few places around the world where Great Whites are accessible to dive with. Off the coast of San Francisco, South Africa and then a very tiny island off the west coast of Mexico called Guadalupe Island. There were several huge benefits of why we chose Guadalupe Island:

  1. We only had to go to Mexico as opposed to South Africa
  2. Visibility was over 100’ (San Francisco, viability is only 30’ max)
  3. And the major factor was the cages we were in were lowed down to 40’ where all the other destinations kept the cage at the surface of the water, which sucks for those people because the sharks rarely went above 30’.
To catch our boat we had to fly into San Diego then take a bus down to Ensenada, Mexico. The crossing into Mexico was kind of a cluster. Considering we were going into Mexico, one would think it would be fast and easy because Mexico could care less about who came into their country. But it was not fast…nor easy.

First we got off the bus (there were about 20 of us), unloaded our luggage then pressed the notorious green light/red light button to see whether or not our luggage would be searched. Then as a group we had to go to a window and fill out an immigration form. Oh, but wait, the immigration man ran out of forms so now we have to wait for him to get more. After filling it out, we then had to go stand in line at another window and hand the form to some lady who types in all the information into the computer (using the 2 finger method as opposed to all 10 fingers). After she gives us a printed version of what we just filled out, we then go back to the first window to the same man who gave us the form to fill out. He stamps the piece of paper and our passport and THEN we are allowed to get back on the bus. If that’s not a classic cluster, I don’t know what is.

So after continuing our drive to Ensenada we caught our boat, the Natuilus Explorer, for a 22 hour boat ride out to Guadalupe Island. The crossing wasn’t so bad (if you don't mind 9 foot swells), but everyone for the most part stayed in their cabin the entire trip…although a few ventured out for cocktail hour! It was tough to sleep at night because there were intervals where the water would get really rough and would just slam against the side of the boat making a horrifying loud banging noise. Until I figured out it was the ocean I was hearing, I kept thinking to myself, “How is it that none of the crew realize that the clothes dryer on the top deck is sliding around and banging into everything?” Sometimes I’m not the brightest color in the crayon box. 

The nice thing about this trip was the only dive gear we needed was our wetsuits and masks. Nothing else was needed. We would be breathing from a hookah system so no use for BCD’s, we weren’t going to be swimming so no fins, and definitely didn't need our computers because our time and depth in the water was completely up to the people running the cages. For me personally, the only sucky thing about how this “diving” was done is that everyone was overly weighted down because the crew didn’t want us floating around the cages. They wanted us planted on the bottom. So that meant everyone, me included, got 40lbs of weight put on them. They would take a 40lbs weight belt off of a guy who weighed almost twice as much as me, turn around and put it on me! So yeah, for me it sucked considering 40lbs is close to half my weight. By the time the 45 minute dive was done, my shoulders and back were a wreck. 

Speaking of the cages…when we initially got on the boat , the very first thing I noticed were the four cages sitting on the back deck. During the day, two would be attached to the back deck and the other two would be off the port and starboard side of the boat. One of the back cages would be at the surface level (standing on the bottom of it the diver would be in about 10’ of water) the second cage was lowered to 15’ (once again, standing on the bottom the diver is at about 20’ of water) then the two off the sides would get lowered down to 40’ (bottom of the cage about 50’). I happened to make a comment to the captain that we seemed to be much deeper than 40’ and that I had read somewhere the cages were not allowed to go any deeper than 12 meters (roughly 40’). He responded “Well… the Mexican government said the cages could not go any lower than 12 meters but they were not specific as to what part of the cage had to be at 12 meters so I left it up to my discretion as to what part of the cage is at 12 meters… which is the top of the cage! So, yes, you guys are deeper than 40’”. Bonus!!!!

Before we got on our boat and saw the cages I thought, “You know what, I bet we really don’t need to be in the cages. The sharks probably don’t get anywhere near us, they’re probably not as big as they seem in photos and I doubt they have no aggressive tendencies at all.” OMG, I was wrong! When I saw them for the first time, I think I peed in my wetsuit a little – and not on purpose. I wasn’t prepared for how big they are. We named a few of them Maytag and Whirlpool because they looked like they could swallow a few washing machines. And then, of course, there is my stupidness of how close they got to the cages. They were so close that a few times fellow divers could reach out and touch the fin. Which resulted in the dive master that was standing on top of the cage to immediately pull the regulator out of the offending divers mouth! And then there are the teeth. All of the sharks we have dived with, the teeth are very non intimidating, whether because we can’t see them or because they’re small (although very sharp). But Great Whites' teeth are there, out in the open in all their glory, and they’re screaming “YOU BETTER STAY WHERE YOU ARE BECAUSE I AM GOING TO RIP YOUR ARM FROM YOUR BODY IF YOU LEAVE THAT CAGE!” So as you can see, my previous ridiculous thoughts about how small they would be and how non threatening they could be is just another example of not being the brightest crayon in the box! 

Oh, and then let’s not forget those aggressive tendencies that I thought would be non-existent. Once again, proved wrong. On one of our first dives we had about 3-4 sharks circling our cages. I happened to be watching a specific one when all of a sudden he went completely vertical, did this speed rocket thing and completely breached out of the water! I’m shouting through my regulator to my cage mates “Holy shit!!! Did you see that???” Found out later from a researcher that lives on the island that when a shark breaches he is trying to make as big a splash as possible to show the other sharks around that he is the king and to not mess with him. Even though he demonstrated his power and size there were a few other sharks from time to time that would get fairly aggressive and start darting around real fast like a crazed lunatic.

Although we were always in the cage, we had an opportunity to come out and stand on top with the dive master. For the most part it wasn’t a good place to be because you had to dodge the bubbles floating up from below. Also the sharks tended to stay either at the mid cage level or below. So being in the cage was the place to be. If the sharks came higher than mid cage level, the diver was forced back into the cage by the dive master. At one point when we had an aggressive shark swimming around us he was getting really close to our dive master above us and our dive master was using every gadget…technique…whatever available to get the shark away. The four of us below him were looking up, cameras ready, watching anxiously to see what would happen. The week before we were there, one of the divers got a photo of a shark sticking his head into a slot in the cage that is used to get the best view of the sharks. I thought the sharks heads were too big to fit, but evidently there are one or two that are just small enough and have figured out where the slot is. So aggressive tendencies…check!!!

One evening the researcher that lives on the island came aboard and gave us a short presentation about the sharks in the area. Several of us were wondering why the sharks were there and this was his answer “We used to have no idea why the sharks are here. However, I theorized they come to eat the Elephant Seals but other researches say they have never seen this. Finally, last year we got video of it!” What a cool job he has! Also, the researchers do know that during breeding season they leave, meet up out in the middle of nowhere with Great Whites that have come down from Hawaii, do their business then return to Guadalupe Island. They don’t mix and mingle and head up to Hawaii afterwards, and the Hawaiian sharks don’t go to Guadalupe Island. Interesting!

This was an amazing trip! Short, fast and expensive but definitely worth it. It has been something I have always wanted to do since becoming an avid diver. Troy was along for the ride. He didn’t have much interest in diving with Great Whites (he had no fear, he just had no interest) but he was hooked after the first shark lovingly swam by and stroked our cage with his fin and eyed us with his big, blue eye while picking his last victim out of his teeth!

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3 Comments:

Holy cow. Those are great shots and a great story. I showed them to some people in the office. Some people thought you rock. Others thought you had rocks in your head. So go figure.

Bert

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:31 AM  

Totally outstanding! When you get eaten, please have the shark spit out all your body parts for family retrevial, o.k.? Love your blogs and love you both. Aunt Andy

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:05 AM  

Great blog and pictures as usual...thanks for sharing! Never thought I'd be interested in the shark diving thing... now I'm convinced of it! Keep having adventures.... Love Shellie

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:46 AM  

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