Monday, September 28, 2009

There's more to South Africa than Cage Diving: Don't miss the sharks of Aliwal Shoal

(Photo by Mark Van Coller:

My article on Aliwal Shoal - my favorite place on earth - is running this month in Sport Diver. Initially, I was thrilled to bring some US attention to the spot and to an operator, that to me, represents exactly what you are looking for when you go shark diving. Someone who cares about the sharks, who is passionate, who is knowledgable, and who walks the talk - in this case donating, even in hard times, an incredible amount to shark conservation. When people ask me to define the perfect shark dive operators, I think of only a few special people around the world. And, Mark & Gail Addison are leaders amongst them.

(Mark ensuring we get our footage for the Remove the Nets campaign.)

I guess I naively didn't realize that everything was for sale - and instead of running the story with the ONLY operator I would EVER dive with in Aliwal, they ran it with the operator that presumably paid the most in advertising dollar. And while not stating it outright, it certainly implies this is the operator I dive with - and an operator the reader should contact. An incredible shame and lost opportunity for anyone who reads the article and doesn't do their research.

For the record - go to Aliwal. And, when you go, don't consider diving with anyone other than Blue Wilderness, and two incredibly special people that will always be some of the best friends the sharks of South Africa have. We need more people on this earth like them.

And now, the story. (I prefer the original un-edited version, of course!)

(Yes, that is three shark species in one picture at Aliwal.)

Backflipping over the approaching pack of black tips distracted by the whale shark above, I came face to face with a pair of fifteen-foot tiger sharks sneaking up on me from behind. A nightmare? Hardly. Try shark lovers’ paradise.

Those who crave the big animal experience – particularly the dorsal-finned variety – know South Africa has some of the sharkiest waters in the world. But, tragically, many stop at a cage diving experience in Cape Town, missing out on some of the best shark diving on the planet. I, however, prefer my sharks outside of cages, and it is a particular striped species I crave - which is how I first learned about Aliwal Shoal. 40 kilometres south of Durban, infamous for its tigers, Aliwal seems like a far way to go – that is until you actually get into the water. One day at Aliwal, and you will go to any length to return.

A shark diving experience can be graded on five distinct factors: activity, number of animals, size, species diversity, and interaction quality. Having dived some of the best shark spots in the world, the legendary Aliwal Shoal managed to exceed my every expectation in seconds. Grade: A+.

Slipping eagerly into the water, the sharks revealed themselves in layers, three species deep. A handful of hulking Zambezis lurking shyly at the bottom, the unmistakable presence of no less than seven gargantuan tigers gracefully gliding in the water column, and too many oceanic blacktips darting about at the surface like over-active terriers to count. My head was spinning; this was shark sensory overload.

I spent the next two hours at 15 feet completely spellbound, as the sharks took turns personally introducing themselves – each with their own distinctive flair. I got to know them all: the blacktips, full of vim and vigour, boldly approaching until they were close enough that you could feel their electric energy, the tigers with their favorite, disarming game - sneaking up only to coolly change intent as soon as they were caught in the act, and the Zambezi as distrusting as shy children until their curiosity inevitably got the best of them.

It was the kind of dive that puts you off macro diving forever. It was the kind of dive you speak of to complete strangers. And in my case, it was the kind of dive that changes your life.

Since then, Aliwal has become my passion and shameless addiction. Because Aliwal delivers some of the most extraordinary and unimaginable big animal encounters the ocean can offer. Believe it or not, a dive with 50 tiger, blacktip and zambezi sharks is just an average day.

The article the way it should have been:
The actual article is below:

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