Shark viewing, Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth
Whale watching Port Elizabeth, Algoa Bay
Bottlenose Dolphins
Bird Island on a rough day
Bird Island on a rough day
Great white shark viewing with Alan Tours
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Great White Shark viewing and shark cage diving. June 2020

Great White shark cage diving and viewing has arrived in Port Elizabeth, Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape of South Africa

Great White Shark cage diving and viewing has for the first time ever, been opened up for commercial marine safaris from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

Not only is this a first for the Eastern Cape but it is also the only place anywhere along the East Coast of South Africa that this activity has now been permitted.

It is with great excitement that it was recently announced by Raggy Charters that they were not only the successful applicants for the only permit to take tourist to view the Great White Sharks from their boats but that they are permitted to carry out Shark cage diving at the site as well.

The reason why we are now able to join an excursion to view the sharks is due to the fact that out across Algoa Bay approximately 58 km’s from the harbour in Port Elizabeth there is a small group of four, weather beaten Islands that are grouped under the name of the largest of these islands namely Bird island with its great obelisk like red and white lighthouse. The first lighthouse was a wooden pyramid shaped structure built in 1852 but this was replaced by todays masonry structure in 1873, this was again increased in height by 6 meters in 1893 to warn seafarers of the impending danger of the islands that barely break the surface of the seas in this remote area of Algoa Bay.

Cape fur seals at rest on their precarious perch at Black Rocks at Bird Island while on a Great white Big 7 safariOn one of these islands, and on only one of them, is a disproportionately large population of over 7000 Cape Fur Seals that make this fragmented group of rocks their home and have formed a precarious breeding colony. So small is this islet that in extreme weather, huge open ocean swells rear up and smash over the rocks washing the seals, clean off the rocks and into the cauldron of turbulent, turquoise water and foam into the waters on the leeward side, the protected side of the islet.

Here the seals find protection from the crashing waves but it is more a case of “from the fat into the fire” as they have landed in a cauldron of turbulent water underscored by numbers of their mortal enemy, the Great White Sharks. The Sharks wait in restless patience for the calves and adults alike to find themselves thrown to the mercy of the ocean waves and the awaiting sharks.

It is because of the Cape Fur Seal colony that we are now able to join a marine excursion to view these sleek, apex predators in their natural habitat due to a sustainable source of prey that they are able to find around this most easterly of our seal colonies, in this lonely, remote place, we know as Black Rocks.

There are indeed a number of places around the South African coast where one can board a boat and within 30 minutes be tied up to a buoy and start seeing Sharks appear, but you stand a good chance of being crammed together with 30 other people or more on a good day. Here everyone has the same need and rush to the side of the boat to catch a glimpse of the shark, between those pinned against the rail, with an array of cameras and lenses, all tacking the shark as it breaks the surface while following a decoy.

This scenario is not the case out of Port Elizabeth in Algoa Bay where only a maximum of 12 persons are permitted to board the boat for the trip to Bird Island. The reason is the distance we need to cover to get to the island group and back again.

Whale watching port elizabeth with alan tours

This brings me to the trip to the islands itself. The cruise out to the islands will take in the region of 3 hours. Again, a direct trip would take approximately 2 hours, but ample time is allowed to view the different sighting we anticipate finding on the journey out to the islands. An additional hour is factored into the cruise time for the sightings of seasonal great whales, birds, and dolphins or whatever else we might find on the way.

Once we arrive at the islands, we set anchor and tie up as we settle down to wait for the sharks to arrive. While we wait, we take out a snack and a drink before the action starts.

Bird Island is home to the largest colony of Gannets anywhere in the world with an approximate figure of 220 000 breeding pairs of these spectacular birds making their homes to raise their young here.

There is little time to relax here as the action is normally nonstop with flights of Gannets, Black Oyster Catchers, Seagulls and Terns flying continually to and from the islands.

The first shark will take approximately 30 minutes to show itself. They would have been aware of our presence from the time we arrived, but they are wary creatures and quite rightly so. They slowly start appearing from the clear, deep, blue waters to circle the boat and eye us, on board the vessel.

During the initial stages of this new activity it has been decided, not allow any cage diving but to rather allow shark viewing from the boat itself until we can be sure that we are not creating a disturbance to the sharks. Once these wild creatures, that roam the open ocean for food and breeding potential, become fully acquainted with man and machine in these pristine waters, the boat operator will take it to the next level and allow people to submerge in specially constructed shark proof cages to view these graceful predators up close and personal.

Once we have spent about 2 hours at the site at Black Rocks we will pack up our equipment and set course to run back along the huge expanse of the Woody Cape dune fields which from the islands lie about 8 kilometers across the channel to the mainland.

As we make our way parallel to the shore, we keep a watch out for schools of Dolphins, mainly Bottlenose Dolphins which are year round, the most abundant species found here. This has earned the bay the name of the “Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World” with an approximate 22 000 Bottlenose Dolphins making use of the bay at different times.

Here we can often observe the playful dolphins breaching out of the enormous shore break along this part of the coast often offering once in a lifetime photographic opportunity for those with a keen eye and trigger-happy finger.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Big 7 safari

Finally, we make our way to the largest Island in the bay the whale back like Island of St Croix and its two smaller companion islands of Jaheel and Brenton. St Croix is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. A fast dwindling population due to the impact of mans economic activity and the shift in pelagic fish stock, with the combined effect of climate change on life in the southern oceans.

After a short visit with the penguins and as, is so often the case, with the many dolphins that visit this island, we set course in a southerly direction and run back to the harbour and terra firma once again, after a spectacular journey through the protected waters of Algoa Bay to view some of the most spectacular marine life any where on the planet.

When considering making a reservation one needs to keep in mind that weather plays a large part in making a successful trip across the bay and it is for this purpose that we suggest that one leaves a window of three days in your itinerary for a trip of a lifetime. We know that this is not always possible, but this is the ideal. It can be done in a single day but a three-day window will dramatically improves your chances of success.

There is plenty to do if one is able to schedule these days for your trip. We have been combining an ocean cruise with a visit to the nearby Addo Elephant National Park for many years now where one can view from the comfort of our dedicated 4 x 4 safari station wagons or smaller vehicles, viewing the over 700 free roaming African Elephant, herds of Cape Buffalo, Lion, the shy Leopard and Black Rhino if you are lucky. 

These, the traditional members of the Big 5, can all be found here, together with a wide variety of antelope, Zebra, Warthog, and many other mammals as well as a wide diversity of birdlife amongst the sub-tropical thickets and wide-open grassy plains.

We combine the land based Big 5 with the two marine based members, the seasonal Great Whales and the Great White Shark to make up the Big 7. Once you have completed, both the marine excursion as well as a day safari in the Addo Elephant National Park, you will have qualified for your Big 7 certificate. 

We look forward to showing you around the only place in the world where you can experience such a diversity of life both marine as well as land-based wildlife right next door to each other and on the very doorstep of a large city.

For further information or to make a reservations please contact us via e-mail info@alantours.co.za or angelika@alantours.co.za or give us a call on +27 72 358 4634