FEARLESS // Step into the Shark Tank with Jennifer Welch

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Ever want to experience the thrill of getting up close and personal with our Great White Shark species?

If you answered a loud, “NAY” or even “HELL NO, are your crazy?!”, well I am right there with you. But the talented Interior Designer Jennifer Welch is anything but– and as you read on, you might learn a thing or two about the learned truths from the view inside the shark tank from Cape Town.

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Have you always had a wild spirit? 

I’ve always loved adventure & animals.

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How did the thought of this type of adventure come about?

My husband was hired to shoot a client’s game reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. We decided to go a few days early and take in Cape Town.  I knew that this part of the world was known for Great White’s and had cage diving tours.  I arranged ahead of time for the both of us to cage dive with the white sharks. We were picked up at our hotel in Cape Town at 5am and drove 2 hours to the town of Gansbaai.  Gansbaai is home to Dyer Island, a large seal population with attracts white sharks. This area is know as “Shark Alley”. There was no way that I was going to be in this part of the world and not do this.

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Can you talk about the preparation you underwent before diving in?

The tour showed us all a video about white sharks and basically said, “don’t stick your hands out of the cage”. They went on to tell us all that more people die from elephants, hippos & dogs than sharks.  I wore a dive suit.

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How did the caging work? Can you describe what it was like getting inside and how safe you felt?

The cage is attached to the boat. They put 5 of us in it at a time. It was freezing. You basically hang out at the top of the cage, you have a snorkeling mask, but no oxygen. The tour operators shout when a shark is approaching and everyone goes under water to view the cage. I felt really safe until one of the sharks jerked it’s tail and it slammed into the cage. It was a rush. Then, the shark just swam around so slowly & beautifully I wasn’t scared anymore. The sharks aren’t very interested in the cage. They are way more interested in the chum bait and seal decoy that the tour operators move around to rouse the sharks. So, they manically move this bait and decoy around the cage so the divers can get a good view of the sharks.

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Did anybody try to talk you out of this?

No one tried to talk me out of it.

However, Josh quickly decided he wasn’t doing it, so I was trying to talk him into going in — but he declined and opted to stay and photograph them from the boat.

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Talk about the moments you were in the cage and your observations of them:

Overall, it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought.  They are really just curious and hungry. They weren’t chomping at the cage and trying to get us. From viewing them in the water, as well as from the boat deck, I was struck by how beautiful they are and how sad it is that their numbers are declining. In real life they are nothing like they are on shark week or in movies.

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Other types of wild adventures of which you have partaken?

Three months after my day trip to Gansbaai, I went with a group of friends to Isla Mujeres to swim with whale sharks, the ocean’s largest fish. This was a completely different experience. There was no cage, and these creatures were gigantic – much bigger than the white sharks. We jumped out of the boat in pairs and swam side by side with these sharks.  One that we swam with was 30 feet long. There were hundreds of them there (about 35 min off the coast of Isla Mujeres) feeding off krill. It was a bit scary the first time you realize how giant they are. Then the fear subsides as you get into a rhythm of swimming alongside them.  It was magical and amazing.

Special thanks to Jennifer Welch for sharing the adventurous story. Stunning images provided by Josh Welch.

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