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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. Larry of Boston

    Fascinating tale Anderson, but I have you topped. Last weekend I went to a pool party thrown by my brother, a trial lawyer.... and I swam in a pool – without a cage – with over 12 lawyers .... and some of them had great white hair 🙂

    August 5, 2008 at 9:56 pm |
  2. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Hi Anderson,
    The Great White has it's place and purpose in this world like every creature. They are here for a reason. However, they are not the most pretty face in the ocean, but they can't help nature made they homely as a mud fence. And those teeth! Best to view from a distance. Good work.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    August 5, 2008 at 9:48 pm |
  3. Karen Coates

    Thank you for this story. My family have recently seen the film sharkwater and felt so sorry for these magnificent creatures it was heartbreaking to watch. It also gave hope that there were people who are out there to fight for sharks.

    August 5, 2008 at 9:45 pm |
  4. Alexis Miami, FL

    I can't wait for the new Planet in Peril!!! Thanks for all the videos you bring us Anderson. You are truely talented

    August 5, 2008 at 9:40 pm |
  5. Tom, Tampa

    "The chances of getting attacked by a shark are extremely small."...except, perhaps, when free-diving with Great White Sharks. Everything in moderation, including placing your life in the ocean's top predator's fins, that's my motto.

    August 5, 2008 at 9:26 pm |
  6. louis Lanchantin

    Do you think there is some way we could get a great white shark to eat the Olsen twins?

    August 5, 2008 at 9:20 pm |
  7. jetman

    Sharks are amazing creatures at the top of their food chain. I've scuba-dived with Tiger, Reef and Nurse sharks. I can assure you that sharks are no more dangerous to you and I than congress!-

    August 5, 2008 at 9:16 pm |
  8. Lori, Boston

    Hi Anderson,
    Thank you for including a story about sharks for PIP2. It will be so nice seeing them in a different light instead of the man-eaters they are portrayed to be. It proves every species has a place and job in this world. It must have been a fabulous experience!

    August 5, 2008 at 9:00 pm |
  9. Judy Stage/Brooklyn MI

    Hey Anderson, Remember these words? "I imagined myself swimming slowly alongside a Great White, my hand resting slightly on its cold, silver steel skin". Your words from, "Dispatches from the Edge". Following your recent experience with the Great Whites, I bet your happy you were only imagining a swim with them.
    I was not aware that science knows so little about sharks. I am so old I thought I, at least, had some knowledge about most things, but your reporting never ceases to amaze me. I still learn new things.
    See ya` tonight.

    August 5, 2008 at 8:58 pm |
  10. jackie

    As an avid scuba diver, i want to thank you for publicizing what has long been noticed in the dive community.

    I was once a novice diver afraid of sharks until i was underwater with them and found: 1. they didnt bother or come after me (in fact most sharks keep away from divers), and 2. they are magnificent creatures to observe.

    Over the years i have travelled to specific regions just to see sharks and Im sad to say that within the last few years they are becoming a rare sight.

    August 5, 2008 at 8:38 pm |
  11. Genevieve M, TX

    Anderson, thanks for sharing the video and posting a blog entry about your time with the sharks- it is quite interesting.

    I would not ever get close to sharks like that, getting close to one in a zoo (that was in a glass-walled aquarium) made me nervous.

    I remember the "Jabber Jaw" cartoons from way back when. I saw that cartoon in the 80s (reruns, obviously). For me, it was not a favorite, I thought the Jabber Jaw was creepy and avoided the show whenever possible.

    August 5, 2008 at 8:33 pm |
  12. Robert Wooller Bradford, UK

    Jaws was a great film and I only watched it the other day. As usual thanks Anderson for the really interesting article and video about sharks. I was reading on Wikipedia that like with whales and fish sharks are being over caught and killed and are rapidly going exinst and hopefully your journalism here will have made us aware of this and what we can do about it for the better. Check out the Megalodon on Wikipedia.

    August 5, 2008 at 8:32 pm |
  13. KS

    Anderson there have got to be thousands of people that love the life you live. It is so full of adventure. I would imagine that you are still living an adventure even when you are sleeping. You are so fortunate to have the opportunity to do the things in life you have done. We are fortunate that you can share them with us through CNN. Thanks so much

    August 5, 2008 at 8:32 pm |
  14. Linz

    Interesting that I'm the first male to respond.........Anderson......I think you know who your target audience is. Thanks for the sharkage.

    Linz

    August 5, 2008 at 8:24 pm |
  15. anne,newfoundland canada

    Anderson:

    Welcome back!

    From the smiles on your face as you filed your reports,you must have had an incredible experience seeing the sharks up close like that.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us,and I look forward to seeing that,plus more,on the next Planet In Peril program.

    Take care.

    August 5, 2008 at 7:50 pm |
  16. Annie Kate

    Anderson

    Watching the footage of you in that dive cage was fascinating and scary at the same time. The big jaws and sharp teeth of the shark looked like they could make hash of that cage pretty quickly if the shark really wanted to get to the "shark snacks" inside. I'm glad the shark opted for the easier chum and tuna head put in the water to attract him.

    I can't believe that a hundred million sharks a year are killed; that is just staggering. And its even worse when you realize they just kill them for their fins and then dump the shark back in the water to die. That is as wasteful and as tragic as when we hunted the buffalo almost to extinction just for their pelts. I hope that in doing shows like Planet in Peril that people will become more conscious of the wonderful wildlife who share this planet with us. Perhaps then we can make real progress in cutting out all the senseless killing of wildlife.

    BTW, I thought you were quite brave getting in that cage knowing there were those big sharks in the water. So now you have this amazing experience you will always remember – that's cool.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 5, 2008 at 7:43 pm |
  17. Jan from Wood Dale IL

    I think as long as Rutzen didn't refer to you as "Chum" you were safe. If I recall correctly, Mike Rutzen is known as the "shark whisperer". I've seen film footage of him free diving with sharks, where after many days of earning their trust, he puts them into a seemingly catatonic state. By holding onto their dorsal fins, the sharks then take him for rides. Rutzen has also helped the White Shark Trust organization in tagging sharks to gather more data about their migration habits and other valuable data. Rutzen is a remarkable advocate for all sharks.

    August 5, 2008 at 7:26 pm |
  18. Karen

    Hey Anderson,

    It was good to see your smiles and laughs on Regis and Kelly this morning – viewers don't get to see much of that watching the news.

    When I watch the video of you with the sharks I am freaking out about your little hands holding on to the cage – I get to thinking the shark could bite them – I would have held them down by my side – I'm scared of sharks.

    See you tonight.

    August 5, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  19. deborah, OH

    Nice to have you back on the blog, Anderson.
    Did you have any desire to 'free dive' with the sharks? The footage seen so far is remakable, & congrats on overcoming your fear.
    Am looking forward to PIP2 for the 'entire' story.
    Am glad you are ok, &, as usual, making us feel that 'we are there' with you. You do that best. Thank you.

    August 5, 2008 at 6:28 pm |
  20. Jo Ann, Ohio

    Anderson,

    As I watched you in the shark cage I thought about your comments in “Dispatches from the Edge” and I couldn’t help but wonder if you somehow felt as though you were fulfilling your "Calypso" dream of swimming with the sharks.

    The videos of your dive looked frightening, yet stimulating! As with the mountain gorillas, it must be a very humbling feeling to experience the sharks in their own habitat, on their terms, knowing these animals have no sense of who you are, seeing you as just another creature in the world.

    One can better appreciate many things and situations when they are more clearly understood.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    August 5, 2008 at 6:25 pm |
  21. Brittany Parker, CO

    Hey Anderson =]

    This is so interesting. I can't wait to see Planet in Peril. The last one was so incredible. It made me see things in an entirely different light. I can't wait to see what is revealed about these majestic creatures in your report. Thank you for all of your time and effort and everything you put into this to bring these amazing stories to our tv's and er... currently, laptops =]
    Hope life is wonderful,
    ❤ Brittany

    August 5, 2008 at 6:21 pm |
  22. Jocelyne

    Hello Anderson,
    it's fascinating to read your report. U'r very brave to have done this: diving with the great white sharks. Me, no... i'm not that brave, sorry... – I sure look forward to see PIPII this fall. - & welcome back 🙂

    August 5, 2008 at 6:07 pm |
  23. Jolene

    Anderson:
    Thanks for blogging about your experience and for teaching me something about sharks that I didn't know. I now understand their importance. Watching divers swim with them cageless is quite exciting. Talk about being at the edge of your seat! On one of the Shark Week specials, they even placed a camera on one and talk about some cool looking video. It was right up there with the shot of that shark biting your cage! Well, needless to say, you have enlightened me on the topic of sharks. I hope you stay with this topic and keep us updated as to new findings and learnings of the Great Whites. Looking forward to PIP2.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    August 5, 2008 at 5:58 pm |
  24. Isabel

    Hi Anderson,
    Impressive work and an awesome experience! Can't wait to see what's next for you.
    Take care!

    August 5, 2008 at 5:56 pm |
  25. Martina Ilstad

    Hey Anderson
    It must be a big feeling looking in a mouth of a big wite shark.i am hornest bevor i saw this verry nice pictures i was not a big fan of sharks,but now i see how powerful , clever and beautiful this animals are.

    August 5, 2008 at 5:45 pm |
  26. Megan Dresslar

    Hellooo Anderson!!!!
    That is so amazing to see you, I felt so scared of sharks, I know you were so scared of sharks!!!!!! LOL!!!!!! 2 days ago I watched the shark on the discovery channel, I learned so lot of sharks, if people are aware warning from lifeguard if sharks are really dangerous in the ocean!!!!! I knew what people didn't know sharks are dangerous to attack!!!! or shark will smell this person to attack people who hurt or kill. I am so nervous of you!!!!! you are so lucky go down to cage to see shark! I am so thankful that you are safe from shark!! I love your face smile, you really so brave!!!! you are so my hero!!!! One time I watch "The Jaws" in the film. that was so scary!!!! I can't wait see this Planet in Peril 2 in December!!! I am so exciting to see sharks!!!! Thanks for reporting from S. Africa about sharks!!!!
    I will see you tonight on program and live blog!!! See you there!!! love you. XOXO
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    August 5, 2008 at 5:38 pm |
  27. Sarah

    Anderson...

    Welcome back.

    I am glad to see that sharks are getting some" positive press" But I, personally, am not in any hurry to go diving with them. The video on last night's " Shot:" was amazing.

    August 5, 2008 at 5:37 pm |
  28. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Am I the only person who remembers Jabber Jaw, the cartoon shark that came out in his own show on Saturday mornings in the late 1970's to offset the fear of Jaws for kids? Jabber was anything but scary. What you watched underwater was just outright beautiful. I always thought sharks were cool because my dad made them cool for me. He taught me about them. He took me to aquariums to see them in captivity. That education as a child of sharks (and all animals for that matter) gave me a respect and appreciation for them, an ability to see what they teach us, and a responsibility toward them I still have to this day. I think adults need to sit with kids, watch these PIP shows (and other programs about nature), and talk about the issues raised. Last year my students loved watching and discussing PIP. I can't wait until this next one comes out. They offer such teachable opportunities we have to share with kids if we want our planet to survive. And as adults we can ooh and ah at Anderson looking at sharks and gorillas and elephants all we want, but reality says the oohs and ahs won't change a thing unless we can get children to ooh and ah and believe they can make a difference one day as well.

    August 5, 2008 at 5:33 pm |
  29. Nora M.

    Anderson:

    Thanks for getting out the word about the imperiled plight of the great white sharks!

    Saw you on Regis & Kelly this morning. Very funny! Just thought I would point out that the gas one breathes while Scuba diving is "compressed air," not "oxygen" as you and Kelly stated. "Compressed air" is approximately 21% oxygen/79 % nitrogen (there are some other trace gases in there too)–exactly what we breathe at the surface.

    Keep up your excellent work!

    August 5, 2008 at 5:31 pm |
  30. Minou, New York City

    hey Anderson, I don't know anyone who still thinks sharks are killer-machines out to get swimmers! I think thanks to a lot of smart TV documentaries, people these days are actually informed about the necessity of the shark, and the fact that attacks are rare and usually by mistake.

    BTW, how come you're not wearing scuba gear? How long can you hold your breath?

    Looking forward to the whole PIP2 film, and kudos for overcoming your fear and diving despite of it.

    August 5, 2008 at 5:31 pm |
  31. Paula, Colorado

    Anderson,
    Hi! It's great to see your blog-writing this afternoon. I admire your courage and care in preparation for your shark report.
    I know you could never be completely out of danger surrounded by great white sharks. The one that hit your cage during the video, though, looked more dazed than predator-like. I can see how being close to the sharks would give a more thorough understanding of their nature–and could eventually help their survival.
    I look forward to seeing you later!

    August 5, 2008 at 5:20 pm |
  32. Maureen T

    Anderson,
    thanks so much for sharing your experiences with the great white sharks. Your report shows these sharks in a different light. Hopefully they will get some of the respect they deserve! How brave of you though Anderson!! Very impressive! What's next for you Anderson? I can only imagine! 🙂

    August 5, 2008 at 5:07 pm |
  33. Mary H. St. Louis, MO

    I can imagine how fascinating it was. I can say that even watching it, scared the bejezus out of me... Yikes... It is amazing when you think about it..... All creatures, no matter how small or how big have a place on this great earth and a shame to think of those that are at risk.

    Should be an awesome series, something to look forward to in December after all the political coverage is over. I'm so glad that AC360 is doing this planet in peril series. With all the other issues out there right now, how are we ever going to address these bigger broader issues. Unfortunatley I think everyone is so focused on energy prices, economic issues, healthcare, saving for retirement, etc etc. and solving those issues seem so overwhelming that there is no time for the "planet in peril" type issues, which is a shame.

    August 5, 2008 at 5:03 pm |
  34. Renee

    Anderson:

    You may have missed Mike Rove's show this week on Discovery - Dirty Jobs. The scientist Mike was working with was is an expert in shark autopies and he too was tagging sharks off the coast of Africa.
    The shark bodies were so amazing and the scientists were trying to figure out what killed some of the great whites.

    If you get a chance you may be able to pick it up on the internet or on a Discovery re-run. It definately is worth watching and very interesting. I would encourage anyone interested in sharks to watch the show.

    As always, my family and I wish you the best!

    August 5, 2008 at 5:01 pm |
  35. Hannah Storm

    Hey Anderson....thanks for writing about your experience diving with the sharks. I don't think I would ever do it so I will enjoy it through your account of the experience.

    I am so looking forward to PiP 2....December can not come fast enough

    August 5, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  36. Kim, Bolingbrook, IL

    Anderson:

    Thanks for bringing us along on your diving experience....what an adrenaline rush that must have been.

    Between you diving with the sharks and Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, last week was a great week for shark fans. It's a shame that they are needlessly killed for their fins, like so many animals that suffer needless deaths at the hand of mankind.

    I hope you continue to report more animal stories, so that you can be the voice for those that cannot speak for themselves.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  37. Dorte N.Denmark

    Hi Anderson.
    Thanks for the upclose and the videos about great whit sharks.
    Looking forward to PIP ll.
    Take care
    From Dorte

    August 5, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  38. Diane N.

    I really hate the way that an old book/movie from the 70's has ruined the perception of these animals, as well as a culture and culinary movement that is contributing to a decimation/slaughter of an entire species . If only the where some sort of international law, strick patrolling measures with stiff fines and/or even stiffer prosecutions of the people responsible for this frenzy of slaughter.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  39. Barbara in Culver City, CA

    I have tried to teach my young students that predators are not "bad", that other animals are simply the food that their bodies are designed to consume. But here on the Pacific Coast there are frequent stories of surfers killed or injured by sharks, so it's wise to be cautious when in their territory.

    I'm just wondering though, Anderson, why you're not wearing a scuba tank in the photos. Did you take it off for the cameras or did you have to hold your breath the whole time you were in the cage?

    I'm glad you're back safe and sound and I'm looking forward to future segments of Planet in Peril. I just love your field reporting!

    Barbara

    August 5, 2008 at 4:53 pm |
  40. Jennifer - Michigan

    Hi Again, I'm really looking forward to the Planet in Peril: Battle Lines show in December. Keep up the great work and Thanks. Good day, see you later.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:49 pm |
  41. Vicky, Ottawa, Canada

    Thanks for the amazing pictures from South Africa. While seeing the sharks swimming near the surface by the side of the boat would have been amazing ... don't know about being submerged in the cage with the shark charging at you! Did you need to hold onto the inner bar of the cage to stay submerged? I don't think I could have kept my hands anywhere near the sides of the cage with a shark approaching in that way. Memories of scenes from "Deep Blue Sea" would come to mind. While it is rare for the sharks to attack humans, I seem to recall a story you reported awhile ago about someone being killed by a shark while on a free dive. The cage seems to be a much safer bet!

    The demise of the great whites reminds me of your story about the effect of killing off wolves in Yellowstone, and the unforseen effects that had. Looking forward to Planet in Peril II in the fall.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:47 pm |
  42. Fay, CA

    Anderson, the footage of you with the sharks has been great–but it was hard not to think of that creepy scene in Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss was in the shark cage while watching it.

    I had no idea sharks were being killed in such large numbers on a yearly basis or that many of their habits are still unknown. Sharks are fascinating creatures but I don't think I'd be brave enough to go free diving with them–the shark cage is about as far as I'd want to take it.

    *you were hilarious on Regis and Kelly today, btw.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:47 pm |
  43. Gabrielle

    hi, Anderson. I am glad that you are back safely. That was one kind of experience you had there. It must be surreal to see those white sharks that close. I am so looking forward to see the Planet In Peril this December. It is gonna be wonderful.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm |
  44. pati mc., camp hill, pa

    Hi Anderson,

    Thanks for the informative comments about the dive and the Great Whites. Awesome job. Man, I would love to experience what you have. I would be a total whimp about it, but it would be so worth the effort.

    Were you able to discover any previously unknown facts about the sharks while you were there? Just wondering.

    Only through study and inderstanding of these incredible creatures, can we begin to change the way we think about them and move forward to protecting them. The work that you are doing with PIP is therefore vitally important. As someone who loves the sea and all of its creatures, I thank you for taking this on.

    It has to be said that I sincerely hope that your next installment does not include you swimming with the Great White's sans cage. That is one step waaay over the line mister! LOL. Please be safe. We prefer to have you around for a long, long time.

    Really apprecaite the time to blog about this. All the best Anderson!

    August 5, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  45. Maritza

    Never a dull day with you, hanging with sharks, Gorillas , crazy liberals all in a days work, I really liked the clever little seal who tricked fate. Must say I'm jealous, except for the hanging with the crazy liberals part. thanks for your intrepid flare for life.

    Maritza

    August 5, 2008 at 4:40 pm |
  46. Lilibeth

    I think the movie “Jaws” gave sharks a bad rap that they’re out to hurt and eat man. Hopefully, PIP 2 will provide us all a better understanding about them and an awareness that these natural predators are necessary for a healthy underwater ecosystem to exist.

    You know, a diving vacation has never been my thing, but since hearing about your latest adventure, it has got me intrigued. I like a nice challenge every now and then, and someday I’d like to get in one of those cages and experience it myself. I also want to help preserve these remarkable creatures.

    Wow, Mr. Rutzen free-dives without a protective cage? I just find that truly amazing and brave of him.

    Thanks for blogging about this today.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    August 5, 2008 at 4:40 pm |
  47. Pamina

    Hi Anderson,
    Sharks are a vital member of the food chain. I still remember your report last year on the effect on Yellowstone when wolves were re-introduced. I have been in Alaska for the past week and it is amazing to think that one predator can have such an impact on the environment, but they do. The park ranger in Glacier Bay National Park was explaining how important sharks and whales are to the ecosystem in keeping balance. I'm excited to see your report this fall. Thanks.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:27 pm |
  48. Sarah Atlanta, GA

    Anderson, thanks for sharing you experience with sharks with us. Sounds like you had a fantastic time. PIP II should be interesting.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:24 pm |
  49. Cindy

    Anderson,
    It's about time you rejoined us here on your little ole blog! LOL Thought you'd forgotten us! LOL

    It must have been really amazing getting to dive though in a cage with sharks. I would LOVE to do that!! I know you had to be scared to death! I would have been but would have done it anyway! LOL

    Sharks got a bad rap from the movie Jaws. Ever since then everyone has seen them as nothing but man eaters which is so untrue. They are dangerous but they are very much needed to keep the ecosystem alive and well.

    I've seen great whites when they were caught when we were deep sea fishing but only after they were caught and being reeled in.. But I have snorkeled and seen other types of sharks...less dangerous ones of course! LOL

    Thanks for sharing your experience and videos with us Coop! I hope that we get to see a lot about this in the PIP 2 doc in December. I can't wait!

    C-Ya tonight!!

    Cindy..Ga.

    August 5, 2008 at 4:21 pm |
  50. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Anderson,
    Thanks for the upclose and personal experience with a great white.
    They really are incredible creatures albiet I don't think I want to snorkle with them. The sea lions didn't have much luck with that.
    Thanks for bringing us this valuable information for the PIP.
    And congratulations for staying out of the food chain!
    XXOO

    August 5, 2008 at 4:16 pm |
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