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Cage Diver Isla Guadalupe
My Meeting With A Great White Shark by Sheri Lewis
My heart was beating like crazy and I had to remind myself, "I can do this, just breathe". I lowered myself into the cage and once I felt comfortable with my breathing, I started looking and turning and looking. All of a sudden off in the deep blue I see something coming straight up at me and I swear it's smiling. Cameras are on, trying to focus, it's getting closer, closer, closer (things in your camera appear much smaller than they really are). I look over the top of my camera and HOLY #@!*! I have a shark in my face and it's HUGE.
My mind was racing, is this thing going to turn or come straight into this cage? Why am I having flashbacks of the movie JAWS? I know I went to the bathroom before I got in this wetsuit, why do I feel like I just drank two gallons of water? Instinct made me instantly back away, but at the last second the shark turned and glided right by my cage, eyeballed me and then swam quietly and gracefully back into the deep blue. After coming to my senses I looked over to the other diver in the cage, both of our eyes as big as saucers. We gave each other slow, underwater "High Fives" and did a little dance. I can't remember if I held my breath the whole time or used up all my air, but it was quite an amazing moment, one I will never forget.
The great white sharks were HUGE! My photos don't do justice to how big they were. If a shark can be beautiful, then these sharks were beautiful. They cruised so gracefully through the water checking us out in the cages. They have a big black coal of an eye from a distance, but when they swim by your cage at arms length, that eye really is looking right at you.
My incredible great white shark diving adventure started in San Diego, California. I met the rest of the eager dive group at the Ramada Inn along Fisherman's Landing. We were greeted by a couple of the Nautilus Explorer boat staff at the hotel and they assisted us in getting boarded on the luxury bus and provided us with snacks and beverages. It took us a little over two hours to get to Ensenada, Mexico, where our boat was waiting. Some people slept, some read and the rest of us got to know each other, so the time went quickly.
The owners and crew of the Nautilus Explorer were absolutely wonderful and have thought of everything. They started off with greeting us at the dock in Ensenada with Margaritas, carried our luggage aboard and got us settled into our cabins for the 20 hour trip to the dive sites at Isla Guadalupe. Each day without us seeing them they made up our beds, cleaned our rooms and left little chocolates on our pillows. The chef made amazing meals each day and spoiled us with fresh baked cookies and treats. During our diving days, as soon as we came up from diving the staff was there on the back deck with a smile and a tray of drinks and snacks. They even provided us with a little fire pit for a campfire so we could roast marshmallows at night!!
We were all up at 6:30am each morning, eager to dive. We had five cages to choose from, three across the back of the boat, one on a boom off the side of the boat, which was the free floating, 360 view cage (my favorite) and then a 40ft submersible cage for dive certified people only.
The staff put just a little chunk of tuna in the water and sharks started showing up. It was truly amazing. From the upper decks the water was clear enough that you could see the shark's fin pop up to the surface and make passes by the bait. Soon as we saw the first shark come in, everyone went scrambling to get their wetsuits on. If you're a diver, you know doing this is not a quick or easy task. You have to wiggle, squirm, push, pull, jump, it just doesn't go on quickly and you feel like you've done an hour workout before even diving!
We had three days of diving with these beautiful sharks aboard the Nautilus Explorer, with sun on our shoulders and the Guadalupe Islands as our backdrop. We saw all male sharks with the largest ones probably being 16 feet long and very wide. The bigger females come later in the season. We were in and out of the five cages from 6:30am to 6pm each day. We only took breaks from diving for breakfast and lunch, short basks in the sun, quick warm-ups in the hot tub, a quick nap or to share photos of our shark encounters.
All of us divers and the crew became one big family during this trip. We ate all our meals together, shared stories, looked at each others photos with lots of "ooooohs and ahhhhhs". We all got to know each other at night sitting in the lounge or sitting on the upper deck under all the stars. It's a pretty neat feeling being "Off the Grid" and sharing in such a unique experience with perfect strangers, but feeling like you were family.
On the final evening of our trip, we got very quiet, nobody really said anything, but I think we all felt the same sadness. Nobody really wanted to leave. We had nothing else on our minds for five days, no work, no phones, no TV, no internet, no worries, nothing but those beautiful, graceful great white sharks. We were totally wrapped up in the sharks and feeling like we were part of their world.
Somehow these massive animals have managed to survive unchanged for thousands of years and we need to make sure they are protected and are able to feed and reproduce. It takes a female great white shark 15 years to get to sexual maturity and typically they only have one offspring that survives. The moment they are born, it's a constant battle with nature and even harder when they are allowed to be hunted and killed for their fins and jaws.
I've been offering this dive trip to my adventurous clients for six years. They have always come back with amazing photos and shared wonderful stories with me about their trip and just said "You HAVE to do this trip to understand how incredible it is". I finally got my opportunity and my trip was absolutely amazing. I now understand their enthusiasm and telling me "you just HAVE to do it!"
Time stands still when you see a shark of this size moving effortlessly and gracefully through the clear blue water with sunlight dancing and sparkling across it's back. They seem so docile and peaceful, yet we know how powerful they are. I found a new respect for them during this trip and feel so very fortunate to be one of the few that has seen great white sharks and shared the ocean with them.
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