Tag Archives: South Africa

“Like diving in a fish tank.”

Actually, it was diving in a fish tank.

Look, a shark.
Look, a shark.

Yesterday morning, we went diving in a shark tank, for the second time. Really. It probably says something that we both found the concept of strapping on some compressed air and fins and jumping into tank occupied by three female ragged-tooth sharks to be less stressful than our impending return to the “real world.”

We are a bit sad to be letting this cat out of the bag (this was one of the few activities that was still available for booking during the infamously crowded Christmas-to-New Years week in Cape Town), but if you are certified diver visiting Cape Town, you really should look into the diving at the Two Oceans Aquarium. It is substantially cheaper than the caged shark dives down on the coast and with substantially less time spent in transit, both in buses and on boats, and you aren’t in a cage. Though it is also true that they are not feeding the sharks while you are in the tank.

The sharks at the aquarium are fed once a week, on Sundays. So the sharks are really full in the beginning of the week and less full as the week goes on. The sharks are also surrounded by some of their favorite prey, yellowtails, so if they do get hungry they will go for a yellowtail fish way before they think about going after one of the divers. And yes, sometimes the sharks do get hungry or bored or annoyed and take a nip out of one of the yellowtails, they have even killed and eaten a few. The ones with small wounds from the nips are called “survivors” and yes, they keep swimming around in the tank. During our second dive, one of the sharks reversed swimming direction and got annoyed at one of the yellowtails in its path and took a quick bite — clearly just a warning. The sharks spend 2-3 years in the tank before being re-released to the wild.

The sharks swim at a pretty constant altitude, so we had to be careful to stay very low to the ground while swimming. But it’s still harder to to keep your eyes on your sixes while swimming and at one point, the dive master turned to me, pointed urgently and mimed for me to get on my knees. I let out my breath and promptly rested on my knees just in time to look up and watch a shark pass six inches from the top of my head.

As one of our safari guides would have put it, it was “gettin jiggy time” at the aquarium, so also during our second dive, we were spawned on by a female yellowtail — which really messed with the visibility for a bit — its kind of like swimming through caviar.

Reasons Erin loves this dive:

  1. No boat involved. (I get seasick.)
  2. We got to pet the sea turtle.
  3. It’s at a short depth, so you aren’t going to accidentally kill yourself (at least not with inert gas — you do have to be careful during descent and ascent not to hit a shark on the head).
  4. It was the first dive where even as I was descending I said through my regulator, “holy freaking s***” — there is just so much cool stuff in such a small space — there’s a shark, there’s a ray, there’s a turtle…
  5. It is a great value. If you plan to visit the aquarium one day and dive on a different day, then you actually save money buying the aquarium membership which drops the price of the dive from 700 Rand to 500 Rand (less than $50). You obviously also save money with the membership if you do the dive twice. However, the dive price does include aquarium entry the day of the dive and participating in the dive allows you to skip the entry line, so if you plan to dive only once and visit the aquarium on the same day, then you are better off without the membership. At less than $50, (or even at $70) this is one of the cheapest dives you can get anywhere — refresher dives in swimming pools in the US often cost nearly twice this.