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August 5th, 2008
04:11 PM ET

Great white sharks – up close

Watch Anderson Cooper in the water with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa.
Watch Anderson Cooper in the water with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa.

Anderson Cooper

It is an odd sensation. Lowering yourself into water teeming with great white sharks. There is a cage between you and the sharks, but its open on the top, and when the first shark emerges from the shadows, moving full speed toward you, its giant mouth open, revealing rows of razor sharp teeth, the cage is little comfort.

I spent last week off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa for Planet in Peril: Battle Lines. The second installment of our documentary series that will air this December. Sharks are hated creatures, and because of that there is little outcry at their destruction. Each year, as many as a hundred million sharks are killed, many slaughtered for their fins which are used to make shark fin soup, a delicacy in Asia.

Great white sharks however are a top predator in the sea, and if they disappear, the entire underwater ecosystem will be affected.

What’s really interesting is that scientists don’t know much about great white sharks. They’ve never been seen mating, or giving birth. We get glimpses of great whites, but they are difficult to track, and even harder to observe underwater. That’s why we went to the frigid waters off Cape Town. Each year, around this time, great whites gather, eating seals which are plentiful in South Africa’s water.

We wanted to get as close as possible to the great whites, and we teamed up with a shark expert named Mike Rutzen. He runs a cage diving operation for tourists, and is one of the few people in the world who actually free dives with the great whites - without a protective cage. He argues that only by free diving can you really see that great whites are not the man-eating killers they are made out to be in movies. They are dangerous, no doubt about it, but Rutzen believes there is much we can learn about the sharks by observing them up close.

I’ve always been very fearful of sharks, but I must admit, after diving multiple times with them last week, I have a much greater understanding of them, and appreciation for their role in the sea. They are magnificent animals. I’m not saying they still don’t make my heart race faster when I see them, but I no longer think they are simple man-eaters, out to get bathers and surfers.

The chances of getting attacked by a shark are extremely small. More people are hurt by dogs each year, and car accidents, and lightning. I kept reminding myself of that when I was underwater with them last week. I clung on to that, almost as tightly as to the bars of the cage I was diving in.


Filed under: Anderson Cooper • Planet in Peril • T1
soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. Grayce

    Be honest, the theme to Jaws was playing on a loop in your head wasn't it?

    XXO

    August 6, 2008 at 5:29 pm |
  2. Megan Dresslar

    Anderson,
    I also agree with Michelle in Canada,
    I am enjoy watch you on Regis and Kelly......you are so funny to me.... I hope you would more blog to write to viewers!!! thanks for share with viewers and including me.......
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    August 6, 2008 at 5:11 pm |
  3. Michelle Fonthill Ont,Canada

    Hi Anderson
    You did an amazing job out there in the clear blue sea swimming with those great white sharks. They need to protect every living creature and they are so imidataitng and yey feierce looking ..I loved you on Reis and Kelly and please blog more often like you said you were going to do .
    Thanks for sharing your story
    bye :Michelle

    August 6, 2008 at 12:47 pm |
  4. Cherisa

    You have an amazing job with staff, crew and a blog to document your experiences. I just have a digital camera and a journal to record my less adventurous but just as memorable moments. Guess that makes me one of those annoying people in the coffee shop.

    Thanks for sharing on the blog. I wish you would do it more often.

    August 6, 2008 at 12:19 pm |
  5. Anna, Hong Kong

    Always fascinating to see these large voracious marine creatures in their natural environment... up close. Looking forward to see Planet in Peril later in the year.

    August 6, 2008 at 11:53 am |
  6. Eugenia - San Francisco

    My daughters and I watched with amazement, not fear. The ocean as always needs to be respected, the ocean and her inhabitants are not forgiving. I have to admit I envy all the places you and your crew get to see. I understand your are trying to educate people of the crisis in those areas, but they are beautiful.

    thanks for the story

    The sharks wouldn't be so scary if they had no teeth!

    August 6, 2008 at 11:29 am |
  7. evelyn

    Thanks for raising awareness about sharks Anderson,
    Sharks are magnificent creatures and one must remember that humans are swimming in THEIR home!!
    Not the other way around.
    People need to learn to respect ALL animals and the Earth!!
    I'm a scuba diver, and have not dived with great whites, but have been in the water with other sharks and they are so graceful to watch.
    I hope that we can save the planet so that future generations can enjoy all the beauty that I've been able to experience.

    thanks for everything you are doing!!

    August 6, 2008 at 11:04 am |
  8. Ilhana, Bosnia

    Anderson,

    how wonderful to hear from you again, while you're out there working on Planet in Peril 2 and raising awareness about the need for rescuing our planet!

    Sharks are wonderful creatures, I imagine it is a bit frightening being close to them, but I would've done it too if it could help to broaden the knowledge about them and hopefully stoping the slaughter!!!

    *love*

    August 6, 2008 at 7:10 am |
  9. Gail E Duncan

    You did it and lived to tell the tale and educate us. Keep reminding us how everything is connected and how balance must be restored on our planet/in ourselves! Stay safe!!!!

    August 6, 2008 at 6:10 am |
  10. Mark Robson

    response to male( linz) above...yes maybe grey hair is in or the girls commenting are older than him.....back to the topic...good shark info...if you can please go to Indonesia and do peices on the Tiger ,elephants and Orangutans..they need more coverage and protection instead of palm oil taking over the country

    August 6, 2008 at 3:33 am |
  11. Claude, Calgary Alberta

    Anderson,
    you have the best job in the world, I thought when you were sitting down with the Gorillas was amazing, but once again you show the no fear factor and chum with the Great Whites. Your a lad with no fear. Well done mate...

    August 6, 2008 at 3:21 am |
  12. Patrick Donagher

    Hello Anderson,
    Awareness for Sharks is vital, the shark population is declining fast,
    Human beings are skilled at justification. Every year humans slaughter over 100 million sharks yet we depict them as vicious and blood-thirsty killers.

    No more than 12 people a year are killed by sharks worldwide. In fact is more dangerous to play golf than to swim in the ocean with sharks. More golfers are struck by lightning and killed each year than the total number of shark fatalities. Many more humans are struck and killed by boats every year than are attacked by sharks.

    The Greatest Threats to Sharks:

    Tragically, these top predators are in grave trouble due to human activity. Heavy fishing pressure continues to threaten many shark populations. Two of the greatest threats to sharks are finning and bycatch.

    Estimates of the total number of sharks killed each year for their fins range from 26 to 73 million per year. Increasing demand for the Chinese luxury food, shark fin soup, is now placing even greater pressure on shark fisheries.

    Approximately another 50 million sharks are caught unintentionally as bycatch in fisheries targeting other species. This is a global problem that spans several fishing gear types including longlines, trawls, and gillnets.

    Some fisheries also target sharks for their meat, which is often sold in Europe as "fish and chips." In addition, sharks are fished for their liver oil and cartilage, which are used in cosmetics and dietary supplements. Other threats to sharks include habitat damage, pollution, and the loss of prey speci.
    You should do a show on this. Spread the word STOP SHARK FINNING.
    Thanks and love your work.
    Patrick

    August 6, 2008 at 2:56 am |
  13. Jenny

    Hi Anderson!
    When I was younger, I had a terrible fear of sharks. People always say that in order to beat something you must learn everything about it, because information is power. The only thing humans have to protect themselves with is an abnormally large brain (which I must admit has proved to be more useful than sharp teeth). I think I was naturally drawn to information because I checked every book about sharks in my school library out, and I was not a reader-type. I learned everything about them that I could. Then I moved on to the Discovery Channel and Steve Irwin, who gave me more insight. I can now pretty much identify any shark, which some might think is odd for a girl. I was not looking these sharks up for some action figure macho reason little boys did, but to actually know the unknown. This really eased my fears, and I became a shark week lover! I am still respectfully afraid of sharks, but have skills that could hopefully save my life. I now realize that sharks scare people more than bears, for instance, for the same reason people are scared of the dark, because they can't clearly see it (because of the water). Also, the ocean is not a human's natural habitat, therefore making it difficult to protect ourselves. Sorry for sharing this really random story! I just wanted to say that I love listening to everything you say, and think you are a great man!
    Jenny (fake name because I am 17), Memphis,TN

    August 6, 2008 at 2:06 am |
  14. Alex Dorward

    I too was in Cape Town last week with the great whites. i am an avid diver as well as shark enthusiast, however, initially i had a few nerves shaken getting into the water with the sharks. i was the first one in and first one out, but watching the amazing creatures is awesome.
    i recommend everybody give it a try.
    the scariest part is the water temperate (63 F, 17 C)
    Cheers

    ps. good to see somebody still on the sharks' side.

    August 6, 2008 at 1:50 am |
  15. joan

    Check out New Smyrna Beach, FL= Shark Capital of the World

    August 6, 2008 at 1:22 am |
  16. bliss

    Anderson,

    I hope you've watched "Shark Water" the documentary from 2006 and if not it's a must see.

    Will shed a new light on sharks for everyone.

    Cheers,

    Dylan, Vancouver, BC

    August 6, 2008 at 1:04 am |
  17. Sam, Huntington Beach, CA

    Hi Anderson,
    Sorry to be a downer, but I think the following is important to mention. Many people believe that tourist cage diving teaches sharks to associate humans with food. This is based on the fact that the sharks are lured to the cage by putting bate in the water. This is obviously bad for us surfers and divers, but the subsequent increase in attacks is also harmful to sharks and the bad reputation they get. There have not been any specific studies that I know of that address this common belief, but it is supported by individual case reports of shark activity, and it logically makes sense. The same theory is applied to other wildlife such as bears, which are often killed by the park service after they learn to associate humans with food. My bottom line is, if you like sharks, please think twice before cage diving with them. Thanks.

    Sam, Huntington Beach, CA

    August 6, 2008 at 1:00 am |
  18. MikeyC

    100 million sharks killed per year??!!??

    really?

    August 6, 2008 at 12:39 am |
  19. Liz S

    Thank you for doing this dive and for reporting on it. It's important for people to understand that when a person and a shark are in the sea, only one of them is in its natural environment - the shark. The sea is the natural habitat of sharks, and we continue to do them a great injustice by painting them as evil predators out to get us because occasionally one of them makes us into dinner. In doing so, they are simply doing what sharks do: eating and defending themselves. Terrible injustices have been done to sharks - the most obvious being the evil practice of finning, which destroys thousands of them to produce shark fin soup. The real predator in the sea is people - for every one of us who gets bitten because we have gone into their home territory, untold thousands of them are slaughtered. I hope someday I can go into the sea in a cage to see them as well.

    August 5, 2008 at 11:38 pm |
  20. ernie hill

    Who cares about the Anderson Cooper shark trip!
    BIG DEAL!
    I have been there many times, and duh!

    August 5, 2008 at 11:32 pm |
  21. Jason

    Dear Anderson,

    How can i convince my boss to pay me to do stuff like that? Actually scratch that. How can I convince my boss to just pay for my food so i can do stuff like that?

    August 5, 2008 at 11:27 pm |
  22. Susan Lemarie

    Anderson,

    I think you were a lot safer in the shark cage last week than the sharks you were swimming with this morning on "Regis and Kelly!" I think the Lohan "Bad Karma" is a going to prove to be something you'll need to watch out for for a long time. You are the BRAVEST!

    Susan Lemarie, Fairfax, VA

    August 5, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  23. Shelly

    Being apex predators, sharks are very important in keeping the trophic levels at a healthy state. I wish people would learn more about sharks, manatees, dolphins, coral reefs, etc. Science is only beginning to uncover and discover the mysteries of the seas.

    Great job!

    Shelly from VA-Leesburg

    August 5, 2008 at 11:08 pm |
  24. John Vanderwal

    While people's views of sharks are no doubt distorted by Hollywood and the natural paranoia attached to large predators living in elements not our own, it hardly helps your case to conclude your article with such misleading statistics as more people are hurt each year by dogs and car accidents than by sharks. More people are killed each year walking down flights of stairs than are killed by taking swigs of mercury, yet taking a swig of mercury is clearly the more dangerous of the two activities.

    August 5, 2008 at 11:06 pm |
  25. Adam

    Anderson,
    I understand the fascination that folks seem to have with sharks once every year right around shark week. I have had a love affair with sharks since college (about 25 years) and fairly recently started doing cage dives out of Rhode Island, Montauk, and of course the inevitable shark feed with Stuart Coves in Nassau Bahamas, etc. Just last week I got some cool pics of a 6 foot mako – sort of a mini Great White in that they'll take a taste bite of anything. My goal is to do a week of Great White cage diving with Great White Adventures off Guadalupe Island in 2010. Just purchased an u/w housing for my camcorder. All that said, I think that it's great that folks like you, who have the ability to bring to light the unfortunate plight of sharks are finally doing so before it's too late. Check out the website Sharkwater.com – or better yet see the movie. I'll bet very few folks are even aware of this award winning film. I fear that by the time my 5 year old daughter has children of her own, there may be no sharks left on earth. Sharks need our help! Please continue to spread the word!! Thank you.

    August 5, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  26. Mark Kawakami

    Thank you, Anderson, for helping to reduce the fear of these remarkable creatures. I think it's worth clarifying: Yes, cars, dogs and lightning kill more people than sharks do each year, however cars, dogs and lightning actually kill a surprisingly large number of people (cars especially). To put shark attacks into better perspective, you really need to compare them to events that are almost absurdly rare: About four times as many people are killed on golf courses by flying golf balls and clubs than are killed by sharks. More people are killed by escalators and automatic doors than are killed by sharks.

    Last year, more beachgoers killed by being swallowed by the sand than killed by sharks.

    And if a person were to take a dollar and buy himself a single lottery ticket, that person's chances of winning the lottery is vastly greater than his chances of being killed by a shark, even if that's the only lottery ticket he ever buys and even if he goes surfing every day. Shark attack is beyond merely rare, it's next to impossible.

    Unfortunately, the sharks have a lot more to fear: The 40 million sharks we kill every year (and that's a conservative estimate) mean every single shark in the ocean has a decent chance of being killed by a human.

    August 5, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  27. winarni,indonesia

    Well 'look closer' and you will understand better. Great adventures thanx for sharing.

    August 5, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  28. Jo Anne Cummings

    Anderson, I swear sometimes I think you must have a death wish......I am grateful, however, that there is someone to bring us the real story about things that puzzle and amaze us THANKS......for the truth.

    August 5, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  29. Eric

    Sorry if I dont agree with this. OK, nobody should kill them, but come on!!!!!!!!!!! Not man eaters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Bottom line is... HUMANS SHOULD STAY AWAY FROM THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If sharks think we look like seals, then we shouldnt risk that. And for the guys who try to convince us they are not as bad as we think.... How do they feel when somebody accidentally gets eaten. Heres the message they should give "dont kill them, but stay the heck away from them"!!!

    August 5, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  30. Gloren (Florida)

    Anderson, you deserve a medal for your bravery! I recall from reading Dispatches from the Edge your fascination about sharks. I admired your writing and your fascination. I must admit sharks are definitely not on my list of things to watch thus I have always avoided movies or documentaries that included them. Last week, I was afraid to even look at the screen when I first saw your special report. However, your reporting was so incredible that at some point, I actually sympathized with these ferocious specimens. Instead of cowardly changing the channel, my eyes were glued to the screen – my perception of them completely changed. Blame it on your impeccable reporting. Needless to say, I am anxiously awaiting for the next Planet in Peril: Battle Lines. Did I mention you deserve a medal for your bravery? 🙂 Great Job! You have my undivided attention! 🙂

    August 5, 2008 at 10:09 pm |
  31. Sara.ro

    Strong experince and couraje. Any broken fang or feng in the cage?

    August 5, 2008 at 9:57 pm |
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