I've been selected to head off the blog of the juniors abroad this year! My name is Courtney Bennett and I'm from Darien, Connecticut. At Dartmouth I'm majoring in Psychology and minoring in Geography. However for my off-term I am not doing anything associated with those disciplines. I have always had an affinity for animals, so when the opportunity came up to work on a cage-diving operator, White Shark Project doing research in South Africa I jumped at the chance. Following that I will work for three weeks at a rehabilitation reserve in Namibia, which is home to leopards, cheetahs, lions, caracals, baboons, and many more species.
So here I am, nearing the end of my stay in Gansbaai, South Africa. Tomorrow will be my last full day on the shark boat. Our daily activities include prepping the boat starting between 5:30 and 6:30 am with the morning launch between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Duties on the boat include chumming, data collection, client assistance, and photography (Okay, I may have made that duty up-but I've taken it up with a passion). We run 1, 2, or 3 trips a day depending on weather and the number of clients who need to be taken out.
Needless to say, the sharks are amazing. Gansbaai is famous for its Great White shark population due to its proximity to Shark Alley, a narrow strip of water between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock (which is home to a breeding colony of 50,000 Cape Fur Seals). White sharks are nomads, so Gansbaai does not have any residential sharks, however you are pretty much guaranteed to see them year round here. They are very curious animals, much more so than other sharks, so they will be the only species of shark to approach the boat. If there's one thing that I've learned from being here is how untrue and unfair the common belief is that these sharks are "man-eaters". Being on the boat everyday, you get a sense of how cautious, inquisitive, and graceful these animals are. They rarely go after the bait with any sort of force (much to my dismay when I am taking pictures). Instead they are much more likely to make a slow couple of passes at it before deciding they are disinterested.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and I have to head out on Friday- but not before fellow members of the 2013 class, Kelsey Johnson and Kyra Hansson, come to cage dive with my company. I can't wait for them to get here and share my experience with them. Hopefully they will get to experience the variety of wildlife in the area, not just the sharks exclusively. It's breeding season for the Southern Right Whales so we've seen numerous breaches from the boat as well as whales approach the boats motors while anchored. I hope they will enjoy this beautiful place as much as I have!