While all diving is enjoyable and memorable, some dives stand out above the rest. We may not agree on which dives should be included among the “pinnacles of diving,” but many will think far off locations. A conspicuous exception to this generalization is the cage diving experience that is offered right here in California. While divers can view great white sharks worldwide, Isla de Guadalupe is now recognized as the best place to observe and photograph these top predators.
Guadalupe Island is located in Mexican waters, about 250 miles south of San Diego and about 160 miles offshore of Baja California. There are currently no Mexican boats visiting Guadalupe and the only commercial boats depart from San Diego.
Guadalupe is unique among white shark diving destinations, and has all a shark diver could ever ask for. First, Guadalupe is home to lots of sharks. You can expect to see 5 to 19 different animals on a 3-day visit to the island. Second, the water is very clear. Very often you can see the anchor line from the cage, some 112 feet away! Photographers will appreciate this one. Third, the water is relatively warm, averaging around 72°F.
It is difficult to adequately describing your emotions during your first glimpse of a great white shark. First, you notice a barely discernible speck in the distance that slowly assumes a shark-like appearance. Then you notice the length, perhaps as little as 9 feet, but sometimes over 16. Then you are impressed by the girth, these are fatties. Lastly, you focus in on the mouth and teeth. This is especially true when they feed on hang baits.
Each shark is unique. Some are sleek and clean with a flawless complexion. Others are scarred by time and violent encounters with prey and other sharks. Adult female sharks usually have bite marks right behind the head. During mating males hold on to females with their teeth!
Many of the male sharks were also badly scarred, presumably by other white sharks. Many have characteristic bite marks around the head, back and gills. Sharks of both sexes can have paired puncture or cut marks around their mouths from the canine teeth of pinnipeds.
Each shark also has its own personality. Some are very shy and cautious, and spend much of their time hanging out below or behind the cage. Others are more confident and will take hang baits 5 to 10 feet from the cage. Others are absolutely fearless and slowly swim inches from the cage, eyeing the divers within.
While photographing white sharks from a cage is an exciting experience, some of the best action occurs topside. Lawrence Groth of Golden Gate Expeditions hangs large tuna from the boom and the sharks lunge out of the water for an easy snack. There can be no doubt that these sharks are efficient hunters and eating machines. Their display of sheer power is amazing as they extent their jaws, roll their eyes back, and use their razor sharp teeth to slice through a 100 pound tuna.
Guadalupe is a cool island even without sharks. It’s like stepping back in time. The only inhabitants are a small contingent of Mexican sailors and a handful of subsistence fishermen. This volcanic island has towering cliffs, cinder cones, and an assortment of marine mammals. Island photography, particularly in the morning sun, is breathtaking. For more information, check out www.greatwhiteadventures.com.