8 min read

Great White Shark Breaks Through Cage With Diver Still Inside

This happened because people did something illegal.

A YouTube user posted a video this week of a great white shark thrashing around between the metal bars of a diving cage, and it's already racked up over a million views.

"On a recent great white shark cage diving trip we experienced a very rare event, a shark breaching the side of the cage," the caption to the video reads. "What might appear to be an aggressive great white shark trying to attack the cage, this is not the case. These awesome sharks are biting at large chunks of tuna tied to a rope."

To the YouTube user's credit, the caption points out that the shark is not being aggressive. In fact, the caption admits that the shark was lured there by food, in a practice called "chumming" or baiting. And that's what appears to have left the terrified shark stuck and bleeding in the cage.

"I believe this unfortunate incident was due to the boat operators acting illegally," Candace Crespi, campaign director at Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), told The Dodo. "In Guadalupe, [California], chumming or baiting over or on a shark-diving cage is prohibited. There are plenty of sharks in this area to observe without force feeding the wild animals."

The dramatic footage shows a recreational activity that's popular along the coasts of California, Mexico, South Africa and Australia, and can do animals more harm than good.

"When a great white shark lunges and bites something, it is temporarily blinded. They also cannot swim backwards," the YouTube caption reads. "So this shark lunged at the bait, accidentally hit the side of the cage, was most likely confused and not able to swim backwards, it thrust forward and broke the metal rail of the cage."

The video shows blood pouring from a cut in the shark's skin, just before he manages to break away from the metal bars and swim free.

"[W]hen the shark thrashed back outside the cage, the diver calmly swam back up and climbed out completely uninjured," the caption reads. "The boat owner, captain, and crew are to be commended for making what could've been a tragic event into a happy ending ... I want to return next year for another great white shark adventure!"

So, a tragic event was avoided - this time.

Originally, cage diving was popularized as an alternative to hunting sharks for sport. But sharks are still under threat from human beings. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year because of the shark fin soup industry alone, while sharks off the Australian coasts are being controversially culled for getting to close to beachgoers.

Meanwhile, cage divers want to get as close as possible to sharks.

Some people have become concerned that baiting sharks for cage diving teaches them to come close to people, associating human beings with food sources. This is why Guadalupe Island, off the coast of California, where the viral video was shot, among other popular destinations for cage diving, have banned the use of bait on the cages.

But the ban, it seems, is hard to enforce. "Like in many places, people don't follow the rules - which aren't even necessarily for their own protection, but that of the animals," shark biologist Dr. Christopher Lowe told Earth Touch News Network. Earth Touch identified Nautilus Liveaboards as one of the operations it has seen use bait.

"Great white sharks are ocean predators, more than capable of feeding for themselves, and any unnatural enticement seems unnecessarily dangerous," Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, told The Dodo. "Best to leave wildlife to behave naturally and watch from a distance.

The more that scary encounters like this between humans and sharks go viral, the worse the reputation of sharks - as man-eating beasts rather than amazing, prehistoric creatures - suffers. And that can be a matter of life and death.

YouTube/Gabe and Garrett

"There will always be controversy when it comes to interacting with wild animals," Crespi said. "It's a shame that a few selfish individuals can give 'eco-tourism' a bad rep with one video. Remember, over 100 MILLION sharks are killed every year for their fins and meat. If you were a shark, wouldn't you prefer a GoPro over a spear?"

When asked whether baiting was used, despite the ban, and what the operation would do to prevent incidents like this in the future, Mike Lever, captain of Nautilus Liveaboards, replied: "Our cages are very safe. We comply fully with all park and national regulations. The safety of our guests is always #1."

Clarification: Earth Touch clarified that the cage diving incident in the viral video was not aboard Nautilus Liveaboards, though similar mishaps have occurred on those ships, but on Solmar V.