Until the 16th century, sharks were known to mariners as ‘sea dogs’. According to the OED the name ‘shark’ first came into use after Sir John Hawkins sailors exhibited one in London in 1569 and used the word to refer to the large sharks of the Caribbean Sea, and later as a general term for all sharks. It has also been suggested to be derived from the Yucatec Maya word for shark, xok, pronounced ‘shok’.
Protea Banks is rated as one of the world’s best shark diving spots, and lies about 8 kms offshore, its a deep dive suitable for experienced divers. One hours drive south of Umkomaas / Aliwal Shoal. The banks are full of caves, pinnacles, ridges and amphitheatres, densely populated with colourful soft corals, and reef fish. All dives are boat dives. Divers are taken to the reefs in semi rigid boats that are launched directly from the beach and through the surf.
Shark diving in South Africa is an awsome way to interact with one of the oceans oldest predators. Sharks belong to the super order,Selachimorpha, and comprise of 440 species distributed worldwide.Sharks are believed to have been around before Spiderman. In fact, scientists estimate that the earliest shark species swam in earth’s waters a mere 420 million years ago.
Visibility varies from 5 to 40 meters, and the water temperature in summer is 24 degrees celcius and in winter not colder than 19. The depths vary between 30 and 40 meters and one must be an experienced diver for these often 3 knot mid-water drift dives. This is adventure diving at it’s best but for experienced divers only.
Species encountered on the reef include:
Bull (Zambezi), Tiger, Hammerhead, Thresher, Copper, Dusky, Ragged Tooth, Black Tip, and even the odd Mako shark. There is also a variety of reef fish, ribbon tail skates, moray eels, spotted eagle rays, manta rays and large schools of pelagic fish. Depending on the season one can also see dolphins and whales.
Ragged Tooth Sharks (grey nurse or sand tigers) come to Protea Banks in Kwazulu-Natal in spring (August/September) as part of their breeding ritual. Placid and slow moving, the “Raggies” accept the divers without fuss. November brings the game fish and they are followed by the Zambezi (bull) Sharks, classed as a dangerous species.
Hammerheads do not follow any seasonal pattern. They are shy and keep their distance. Tiger sharks are a often seen in summer but they tend to keep their distance. The sardine run in June/July brings the copper sharks. They scan the surface for the sardine shoals. Quick but shy, they are the smallest of the 7 species of shark commonly found in this area.
The various reefs available on Protea banks include the following:
- Northen Pinnacles
- Southern Pinnacles
THE NORTHERN PINNACLES: Depth 28-38m
With its rare pink soft coral, this area hosts many reef fish, including potato bass and many pelagic fish like tuna and yellow tails. There are also two cave areas called “hole in the wall” and “hole in the floor” attracting Ragged Tooth sharks in large numbers during mating season in the winter. As spring goes into summer, large shoals of scalloped hammerheads and now and then a Great White is seen on inside ledge.
Best time: June to November
THE SOUTHERN PINNACLES: Depth 26-35m
This is definitely the place to go if you want to see Zambezi (Bull) sharks. One expect them from November, reaching its peak in March, and remaining in their numbers until May, while one should not forget that April and May are the best time to spot the tiger sharks. The scalloped hammerheads often occur like a “blanket” on top of the divers. Drop-offs close to sandy areas are often frequented by single and schools of hammerheads.
Summer is also the time for game fish when schools of Yellowtail, Kingfish, Pike and Tunny are often encountered. March and April are good months for manta rays.Be prepared to visit the Kingfish Gully for a spectacular treat of a large kingfish concentration. The Sand Shark Gully is also the best “gathering” place for various species of sharks.