Cage Diving: A Day as Shark Bait

ABC News' Nick Watt describes his day with great white sharks.

Nov. 19, 2008— -- Yes, I saw the movie "Jaws" when I was a kid. Yes, I hear the music in my head when I as much as dip a toe in a swimming pool. Yes, I think my life would be a lot better, my vacations a lot happier, if the great white shark did not exist.

The only way to overcome fear and prejudice: Confront it. That's why I found myself driving with producer Almin Karamehmedovic into an apparently sleepy South African village called Gansbaai.

But it's not sleepy. The sign by the road says: "Welcome to Gansbaai. White Shark Capital of the World."

After a restless night, we were ready to meet the most demonized predator on Earth face-to-face. The motion of the ocean was threatening to bring up my breakfast. My borrowed wet suit was clammy and ill-fitting.

What would be worse at this point? Chickening out while Almin filmed my lily-livered capitulation? Or getting into a rickety cage in some of the most shark infested waters on the globe? Gingerly, I stepped into the cage.

The visibility was bad. The water was so cold I was breathing short and sharp. Hundreds of fish were swimming around my head. My foot slipped out of the cage. I could smell the tuna blood in the water luring the unseen beasts straight for me. But I couldn't see anything.

Then suddenly, out of the murk, a 15-foot-long sinewy beast. He passed so close I could see gills, teeth and leathery skin. Then, gone. Minutes later, a full-frontal lunge at our cage. I swore. We'll bleep that out on "Nightline." The shark tried to bite our camera, then flipped around and splashed us with his tail. Sounds playful. It wasn't.

Why were we doing this? Well, because The Shark Angels told us to. They are three women conservationists who believe we must overcome our "Jaws"-fueled fear, get to know and love the great white and fight for its survival.

The global great white population has shrunk 70 percent in the past 50 years. And we need them to balance the eco-system of the oceans. Great whites are the apex predator. They keep everything else in line.

And the Shark Angels? We met two of the three -- Alison Kock, a South African marine biologist and Julie Andersen, an American conservationist. They're passionate about sharks and, at the risk of sounding like a misogynist, they're also blond and beautiful. That helps when you're trying to convince the world that great whites should be saved.

Feel free to visit the organizations that Shark Angels are involved with -- Save Our Seas, Shark Savers and Shark Angels.

We went out for a day of shark tagging with the Angels off Cape Town.

"We know more about the moon than we do about great whites," joked Alison.

They're difficult to study. Alison drops a polystyrene seal off the back of the boat to lure the hungry predators. Then, she tags them with radio transmitters with a three-year battery life.

It's simple, but Alison has uncovered shark secrets we never knew. She's discovered that Cape Town's sharks winter at Seal Island gorging on the tubby animals that give the island its name. No surprise there. But she's also discovered that the sharks summer, like us, at the beach. They come in to coastal waters to feed on fish.

This fact terrifies me. I vow never to let my son in the water in Cape Town, where we vacation every year.

Then, Alison explains her theory. Man and shark spend a lot of time in close proximity, yet, in the Cape area, only four people have been killed by great whites in 40 years. Sure, there are some bites. But that's just idle curiosity, the odd mistake.

I suppose the facts defeat my natural suspicion. I've got more chance of getting killed by a dog than a shark.

And the cage diving? Did it change my mind? Well, I'm probably more scared of sharks now than I ever was. But boy am I impressed by them. I'm on board with the Shark Angels: Let's save the stuff of my nightmares.

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