Basie Ackermann - Great White Encounter

Great White Encounter

Richard Rumble, my brother David and myself were on the Aliwal in June of 1996. The pilot shoals of the annual sardine run had already passed, but there had been no further action since.

We decided to try the Shoal as the viz was terrible inshore. It wasn’t any better on the Shoal – about 6m, and pea soupish. More out of eternal spearo optimism than anything else, Richard and I decided to take a drift over the shallow pinnacles. I could just make out the bottom in 6m. I had my flasher out and there I was, waiting for who knows what. After about ten minutes I realised this is a waste of time, and was about to call the boat, when I saw movement at the edge of the visibility. I stared hard to try and distinguish what I was looking at, but all I could faintly make out was a lighter and darker line of about 2m or so long, and it was moving. I then thought that I might be looking at the side of a Sailie or something – it had that type of shape but also not quite. I then saw a dark top and a whiter bottom, but still no real shape. Wondering what the heck it was, I stared intently. Then I realised – I was looking with a zoom lens, instead of a wide angle. When I looked from left to right and took in the whole 4.5m of it, it was a monster Great White that filled my vision. I still couldn’t believe it was one, as I have never seen one underwater, so I slowly panned right and there it was – the unmistakable tail of the White. What I have been staring at so intently in 6m of viz was the line on its side above his white belly.

Bearing in mind that I was in shallow water (pinnacles) and 6m viz, this monster was gliding past real close to me. All of a sudden the ocean was too small for both of us. What struck me was it’s awesome girth. A hippo had nothing on it. The whole picture said “I am the ruler of the ocean and don’t screw with me”. It just looked unbelievably powerful and majestic. I just remember feeling completely powerless, and that my speargun would be of no use whatsoever – a pin pricking an elephant. So I just prayed that it would keep on swimming past, but not quite. It was obviously attracted by my flasher still merrily sending beams all over the place. It turned towards me, angling up. By now I was shouting for the boat through my snorkel, as this beast was getting very close. With other sharks in similar situations I always dive down on them, confronting them. But this was just so awesome and enormous, there was no chance in hell I was trying that stunt. I tried becoming part of the water molecules. When it was about 3m away from me, I heard the boat next to me, and I performed the from-water-onto-boat-without-touching-sides leap perfectly.

Richard, who was about 10m away from me, never saw it, but was quick to get on the boat, once he knew! My brother, who lives in the Cape, just chuckled and smiled that knowing smile.

I managed to get good look at it’s size and length, and although it wasn’t that long as far as Whites go, it was the stocky girth of it. As my boat had a beam of approx 1.6m, I had a fairly accurate idea of its size. The body between peck and peck was broader than the beam of my boat, and I can’t even guess its girth. That was what impressed me the most. It was a monster, not aggressive at all, just came to say hello. I hope he didn’t think me rude saying good-bye.