Great White sharks have been victims of gross misrepresentation in the media ever since ‘Jaws’- which, while being a classic movie, has whipped up an irrational fear of shark attacks across the globe; launching a million paranoid phobias.
On the plus side, there was little interest in sharks as a hunter prior to Spielberg’s ‘70s thriller.
Since then, there has been a growing hunger for sharks as a spectacle of nature; the same dangerous mystique that surrounds the rhino and the lion has now afforded the shark a place as an animal kingdom stud.
Essentially; sharks are cool.
Far and away from being mindless killing machines, all of our research into these beautiful, majestic and intelligent animals has shown that they have little interest in having humans as prey.
Humans are bony creatures- sharks prefer the rich blubber of seals, and are certainly not mindless in the way they discern and hunt their prey.
In fact, the people of South Africa have begun to notice that the Great Whites native to their waters have been taking part in a unique and brilliant hunting behavior, which gives them the edge when seeking their favorite food.
Witnessing this behavior has become a roaring tourist trade for the Great White hunting grounds along the South African coastline.
What Does it mean when a Great White Shark ‘breaches’?
Picture the sight of the apex marine predator, launching itself clear from the water in an explosion of salt and spray, as it soars up from the depths to ambush its prey with all the fervor of millions of years of evolution.
Witnesses to the hunting pattern known as ‘breaching’ have described it as being utterly exhilarating; seeing predator and prey thrashing together through the water, locked in the battle for life.
The Great White throws all the energy it has at the attack, using the cloak of the dark waters to surprise and discombobulate the seal in order to get the best chance at a catch.
If the seal can escape the shark’s clutches on the first attempt- then there’s a chase on the cards.
Between the power and speed of this massive apex predator, and the agility and nimbleness of the seal prey, breaching is one of nature’s most mesmerizing battles.
The Great White can reach speeds of forty miles an hour and soar ten feet out of the water.
This is like whale-watching, with teeth.
What Happens on a White Shark Breaching Trip?
On the day of a breaching trip, the boat leaves before dawn.
This is the best time of day to see Great White Sharks hunt- they prefer to hunt in darkness to avoid being seen in the water.
A full breaching experience could last many minutes, as the agile seal dodges and flees the pursuit of the shark.
Research into this behavior has shown that a breaching attempt is roughly 50% effective, so if the shark doesn’t get its catch, then the chase is just as thrilling.
During the chase, the shark and seal thrash around on the surface; the experience is wild, one of nature’s most primal thrills.
After first light comes and the seals begin wising up to the sharks lurking below, the trip organizers use their tricks of the trade to keep the magic going; throwing chum into the water and towing a decoy behind the boat, which usually causes a fair bit of excitement as the desperate sharks leap back into action.
Some breaching trips also coincide with cage-diving, so you can be afforded the unmissable opportunity of witnessing these mighty hunters at work from beneath the waves, in their own habitat.
When is the Best Time to see Sharks Breaching?
The shark breaching season in many areas of South Africa occurs when the Great Whites flood to the waters to hunt, and typically lasts from May to September.
The height of activity is typically in June, July and September, with breaching becoming far rarer outside of this window.
As previously mentioned, sharks prefer to hunt in low-light conditions for an advantage- so the best time to witness breaching is in the early morning.
This is when the sharks are more active and when they don’t have to be coerced into action with decoys and chum-tossing.
Ethics of Breaching Trips
Many breaching trip companies run as part of important marine biology alliances.
Potential breaching trip customers should investigate a company’s position within local conservation efforts: some providers even fund important research into shark behavior to help protect these mighty, but endangered animals.
A trip provider which is conservation-focussed will also provide the benefit of expertise and knowledge on the subject, and will display an obvious devotion to the protection of the local ecosystem and of the sharks themselves.
Some less-than ethical companies are guilty of using excessive chum in the water in order to attract sharks.
This is not only bad practice, but negatively impacts shark behavior affecting the ecosystem – a good safari-style experience is based on veritas of the animal behavior in their own environment, and should have minimal impact on either.
Conservation-focussed companies are more ethical; they will use their expert knowledge of the animals and the local area to get you the best experience for your money.
Influencing the behavior of the sharks in any way detracts from the purpose of the experience.
Hunting is part of the natural way of the world- unfortunately, seals must be preyed upon for the sharks to live- but human interference alters that.
Be sure to vet the experience and consumer reviews of your trip organizer to make sure that you are not partaking in a business which is threatening natural conservation efforts, such as by over-chumming.