The Whole Tooth

Great White Shark.
By Laurianne Claase

The lion is the undisputed King of the Jungle. The shark rules the Seas. Both have toothsome reputations and, as it happens, identical preying patterns. The lion, however, has a better press. Kim, the Shark Lady, from South Africa, is doing for sharks what Disney did for lions.

While sharks are not easily rendered endearingly anthropomorphic, they are, nevertheless, one of evolution's most successful experiments. One of the oldest living species on Earth, sharks have remained unchanged since the dawn of their creation. Probably because they have no enemies... other than Man. And his movies.

With mass hysteria, trophy hunters and shark nets taking their toll on this apex predator of the ocean's ecosystem, South Africa was the first country to legislate protection in 1991. Today, it is the premier destination for close-up encounters with the Great White Shark.

Contrary to their man eating image, the Great White is a shy, cautious and timid killing machine, Kim maintains, and incorrigibly inquisitive. 'Its hands are its teeth.' Hence, I suppose the misunderstanding. Kim, with her background in marine research, sought to bring the myth to the surface and in so doing pioneered another, characteristically South African, extreme sport.

Hermanus hugs one side of Walker Bay, Gansbaai the other. The sleepy shores and somnolent mountains of this old fishing village give little away about the nature of its real attraction - the heart-attack inducing pleasures of diving with the Great White Shark.

Dyer Island lies five nautical miles off the coast. Named, somewhat intriguingly, for an American guano collector named Samson Dyer, this spattered lump of rock is separated from its smaller twin by Shark Alley.

36 000 seals cluster on Geyser Island and in the winter months of June, July and August when the fish have fled for warmer seas, the sharks come in search of seal meat. And the intrepid come in search of adrenaline.

The channel between the two islands is relatively shallow offering close-up viewing from the 30 foot catamaran but for those with Open Water 1 and death defying compulsions, there is... The Cage. A ringside seat at shark level.

Copyright 2002 Laurianne Claase. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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