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ISSUE 15 ARCHIVE - THE BIG FIVE

Juliette Claro

Let’s set the record straight for those who still dream of South Africa as Caribbean, still, blue-water diving – you are in denial and you should do your bloody homework before packing all your Mickey Mouse gear.

No joke here, I was amazed to see how many groups of divers from all over the world, from Greece to Israel, who got a bit of a shock once they hit the launch site at Aliwal Shoal, Durban. Not only do these people believe they can dive with sharks wearing a home-painted yellow and orange suit, but some also put themselves on a RIB in the middle of the Indian ocean without knowing what NDL means (that person was supposed to be an instructor by the way). I am not even going to mention negative entries in surge and current... all I can say is that the sharks legged it after being slapped, hit and kicked by the same people who thought sharks were pets we could feed and play with like dolphins.

So enough of this. South Africa is wild, the sharks are real wild animals, the sea is hot, but rough (boys please behave) and it is the best place to see all sorts of sharks, whales, dolphins, turtles, and rays. These are my Big Five.

I love nudibranchs, fish, shrimps and moray eels, but when you’re in South Africa you are there for the big stuff and if you bear with Mother Nature, there are plenty to grab you by the balls (if you have any). Raggies, duskies, oceanic white tips, oceanic black tips, hammerheads... respect to these great animals. They are top of the food chain, yet there is something vulnerable in their eyes. Stealthlike underwater, they move in such a beautiful and majestic way it is difficult not to admire them.
 I have to admit I cried in my mask for the first time in fifteen years of diving on my first dive at Raggie Cave off the coast of Aliwal Shoal. The sight 
of sharks, turtles , devil rays with the sound of whales and dolphins singing in the background was the most overwhelming dive I have had in many years.

Nothing can compare to that first moment face to face with these big guys. Then one of them flies over your head, the snap of their tail in the water makes your heart skip a beat. They are the kings of their castle. Like lions in Kruger Park, they are beautiful predators with a bit of an attitude. They look peaceful, yet they play The Big Inquisition with you. Playing hide and seek and within a second you are hooked. A sixty minute dive and it’s time to go up. You are on your safety stop, hovering in the blue, and suddenly in the distance, a shadow... stealthlike silhouette. One, two, three hammerheads are coming to check you out. Now you want more and soon the baited dive is lurking at you. (Never mind the fish guts). And there you are... hovering at 10m with thirty to forty sharks around you, passing between your legs, over your head, on your left, on your right... Absolute bliss.

Once back on the RIB, humpback whales are sailing by the boat, tail
up in the air and twenty dolphins are passing by... And then you go back
to the lodge and you feel a sense of disappointment from your fellow divers: “Aw... the sea is a bit rough...”

“Not quite what I was expecting...” “Oh, I felt so sick on the boat...”
“Oh, the current is really strong...”
“Let me show you my video of fat shark feeding in Fiji on my MacPro...”

Huh? Were we not on the same boat you human paraquats? Oh yes, but maybe the reason why I was so overwhelmed is that:

1. I’m a UK diver


2. I have dived elsewhere other than clear blue waters


3. I don’t believe that sharks are puppies underwater


4. I love a bit of rough (sea)

5.MaybeIamabitofasnob?

So to conclude: Diving with sharks was the most exhilarating experience in my life. South Africa is amazing for wildlife on land and in the water, but please, please, please... if you have never been diving anywhere other than the Caribbean, the Red Sea or Lagoons remember that currents, surge and waves are part of the deal when it comes to the big ocean.

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