November/December 2016 – Cage Diving With Great White Sharks At Guadalupe Island, Mexico
I’ve been looking forward to this trip since it was announced early in 2016 and talking about it to everyone! Guadalupe Island, Mexico is that location that you see on Shark Week with all of the huge great white sharks (GWS) and is where Deep Blue, a 20+ foot female GWS, was spotted. To me, this was a must-take trip that would not only be a fun vacation, but a learning experience that would help me be a better shark researcher and conservationist. Guadalupe Island is located about 250 miles southwest of Ensenada, Mexico in the Pacific Ocean. Just over 200 people call the island home and are mostly abalone and lobster fishermen. Although there are seals and sea lions that also populate the island, during my trip I could only hear them as my camera zoom could never get in close enough to see them. Plenty of sharks and seagulls were spotted as well as a green sea turtle when I was there.
We were told to meet at a pizza joint next to the dock in Point Loma. I arrived a bit early since I could hardly contain my excitement. One by one, our group made their way in until all were in attendance. The organizer of the trip, Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee generously paid all of our tabs and we made our way to the boat when the crew was ready for us. We assembled in the galley and that’s when we got the news…the weather had taken a turn for the worse and we had to delay our departure another 48 hours. The divemaster, Jimi Partington, let us know that we were welcome to sleep in our staterooms that night or both nights until we depart. Since I had already indulged in a few adult beverages I stayed over but not before having a few more drinks with my fellow passengers.
The next morning I said goodbye to the others that stayed aboard then drove home to Los Angeles. I had already told all of my friends and family that I would be off the grid so I stayed off of social media, text, phone, etc. I enjoyed a lazy day to myself, looking forward to the coming week.
Our group left that Monday night from San Diego, California with 18 passengers and 7 crew aboard the Islander. An 88-foot long vessel, this was to be home for the next several days. We’ve got a 9:00 am appointment on Tuesday morning in Ensenada with customs officials before we can leave for Guadalupe Island. We get briefed on what’s to come and start for Mexico in great spirits, getting to know one another while enjoying some beer and wine.
We arrived in Ensenada on Tuesday morning as scheduled after traveling through the night on a relatively rough sea. The Mexican officials boarded the boat, talked with the Captain, checked all of our passports, and we were on our way.
I have never been seasick in my entire life. Ever. Spending so much time on the water and from starting at a young age, I really love the rocking motion of the sea. There were several others on the trip that have also never been seasick. Until this trip. Who knows why it happened but I got SO SICK! It wasn’t pleasant. I spent the day trying not to hurl on myself, on deck in the fresh air, or asleep in my bunk. My poor roommate came down with an awful cold/flu for the entire trip but really made the most of it as she could.
We’re here! We have arrived at the island. Not only is it a beautiful sight, but larger than I had thought. It was familiar as I’ve watched nearly every shark-themed show produced in the last several years at the island. We were briefed on how the dive rotations would work. Starting at 7:00 am the first team would get into the cages for an hour. The second group would get in at 8:00 am when the first was done and then each would alternate hours until dark, about 5:00 pm. I was in the first group that would go in. When Jimi asked who would go first I paused for just a moment to see if anyone was more anxious than me – nope! I spoke up and would be first to enter the cages! We were instructed to sit at the edge of the boat so the crew could fit us with a weight belt. We would not be wearing scuba tanks or fins, but have a regulator on a hose that reached us in the cage. The cages were just off the back of the boat and just under the surface. Although I am a PADI and NAUI certified scuba diver, those credentials weren’t necessary to do this dive and most of the passengers weren’t certified divers. Once we had our weight belt on we moved down to the next platform and then finally to the cage. Once we got on the ladder of the cage, we were handed our regulators and in we go. It had been a while since I have used a regulator so it took me a moment to get comfortable. Once I did all was well. I had a borrowed GoPro and was ready to see and film some big, beautiful great white sharks!
It wasn’t long before our first gorgeous girl showed up. There are nearly 200 individuals that have been identified at the Island and our fist visitor was Bryn Penny. About 16 feet long, she is a girthy lady. Quite an awesome sight when you see her up close. So graceful as she swam by. She would sort of swim toward the bait but never really try to get it. Watching her was breathtaking. I was sure to actually watch her with my own eyes, not only through the camera. Here I was, doing what I had dreamed of for so long and I was going to live in the moment and appreciate what was happening. I was in the water just inches away from a great white shark. Every moment in the water was savored. I managed to be in the water for 3.5 hours total before I was just too cold to continue. The water temperature was in the mid-60s F and I’m not one that can tolerate being cold for long. The uncontrollable shivering was my cue that my day under the water was done. I did, however, get this great video of Bryn “yawning”. Check it out…
She was such a mellow girl, so majestic and easygoing. The females were all like this, very chill and soothing to watch. There was no fear whatsoever as they swam by. Their beauty took your breath away…until you remembered that you aren’t supposed to hold your breath while under water!
My roommate shot this GoPro video of us trying to get good shots of Bryn. That’s me you see in the pink mask and O’Neill wetsuit. It’s my 5/4 surfing suit but I really could have used the 7mm that everyone else rented. Now I know for next year! Better to be warmer and able to stay in the water longer than to insist on having your own wetsuit. Of course, I’ll probably buy my own new scuba wetsuit that is thick since I’ll have much more occasions to wear it.
The rest of the day was spent taking photos, drinking beer, and talking sharks with the others on board. We also got a visit from some of the local human residents. They came over to us on a smaller craft to sell us handmade jewelry and polished abalone shells. I couldn’t resist and picked up a couple of pieces. Interestingly, they had no sharks in their crafts, just dolphin/whale shapes. The Captain told me that they just started showing up last year, figuring out there was money to be made from tourists. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they figure out that shark tourism looks for shark-themed souvenirs.
I’m an early riser and was one of the first to be up in the galley looking for breakfast on Thursday. I slept well, just as I was in my own bed and hadn’t been seasick since Tuesday. Fortunately, other passengers had plenty of seasickness patches and pills to share. We had to pick up anchor and move a bit overnight as the weather got rough again. It was windier/choppier than the day before and the air temperature dropped. I only lasted 1.5 hours in the water on this day, but again got great footage. We had all already agreed to share our footage with one another and I would set up the shared location to facilitate this. When in the cage we swayed quite a bit with the rougher conditions. Unfortunately, on this trip we would not get to go in the deeper cage that goes 30 feet under water. This gives me a reason to go back next year – as if I needed to search hard to find a reason.
In the afternoon there were a few male sharks that showed up. They would come around more than one at a time and were more aggressive than the females. They were also smaller than the females, around 12-14 feet long. The big females would be the only shark in sight when they were around.
Once the day’s dives were over we packed up and headed back to Ensenada. Again, it was rough seas but not impassable. Me and my roommate had fun trying to eat our dinner while everything was moving around. Our Chef, Charlie, was absolutely amazing. How he cooked our dinners while the boat moved that much was truly an epic feat. We all had lots of laughs! It was a great group on board filled with scientists, science teachers, professional travelers, and everyday thrill seekers. The crew was professional and really made sure we all had everything we needed to be comfortable.
Another full day of travel. First to Ensenada and then to San Diego. We spent the day looking at pictures and video, eating, drinking beer, and – of course – watching Jaws. We also watched a documentary called Blue Water, White Death from the 1960s. Watch it and see just how far we’ve come for marine conservation/research…and how much farther we have to go.
Overall it was a really great trip and I am forever changed by it. I’ve made new friends and we’re already talking about next year. I hope that Ralph will be able to put together another trip next year, this is a fabulous group of people. For now, I’m counting the days until my next shark dive trip which will be in Fiji in March 2017. There will be photos and video of that trip on this site also. In the meantime, check out all of the El Porto Shark social media accounts for more video and pictures of the Guadalupe trip (those little icons on the right of the screen that keep following when you scroll).