Baited Dives on Protea Banks

The story of the famous Baited Dive on Protea Banks

The story of the first Baited Dive done by African Dive Adventures started a good 6-7 years ago when Lloyd Williams phoned Roland Mauz and told him that he needed footage of Zambezi sharks (Lloyd being an underwater videographer). They discussed how to get the best footage in the shortest amount of time and the conclusion was that they would have to use bait which Lloyd was going to provide while Roland would arrange safety divers and equipment. They really had no idea what to expect as it seemed absolutely outrageous to take bait to Protea Banks where sharks are usually so plentiful – what if it started a feeding frenzy?

By Amilda Boshoff and Roland Mauz

protea74They then decided that Peter Oaks, Ruth Hagen, Lloyd Williams and Roland would take their lives into their own hands and brave this crazy venture. After an extensive meeting, planning every step thoroughly from beginning to end, they were ready for action. Roland and Ruth were to be the safety divers, each armed with a 2,5m long iron pipe to protect Peter who would be the bait master and Lloyd, the camera man.

The setting was outside the Southern Cave of Protea Banks where they would stash a second nitrox cylinder, just in case, and could hide there if things went wrong. On the planned day, a very nervous team of adventurers boarded the African Dive Adventures boat, all apprehensive about what the outcome of this adventure would be.

Once they got to dive site everyone kitted up, ready for action! The current was, as always, pretty strong, which caused the skipper to drop them slightly up current from the GPS spot. As the team rolled overboard, Ruth and Roland shot down and took position in the cave. Armed like warriors, they waited for the bait master and the cameraman to arrive. Lloyd came down but the Peter was nowhere to be seen. Unknown to them, Peter struggled but couldn’t get down with the huge load of fish that he had with him. In the end he was so worried that he would become part of the food chain if he kept hanging on to the bait, that he just dropped the lot and shot back onto the boat without even taking his kit off first!

In the meantime, the three other divers were waiting and worry slowly crept up their spines as they thought that maybe Peter had been attacked by the sharks of Protea Banks.

They waited about 20 minutes before they gathered up the equipment and started drifting with the current. After a few hundred metres they came across the tied up bunch of bait fish lying on the ocean floor. Lloyd, being the ‘anti-waste’ man, quickly grabbed the bunch of fish. At that time they hadn’t come across a single shark. Slowly ascending to the surface, there still wasn’t a shark in sight – so much for the notorious sharks of Protea Banks! As they were getting ready for the safety stop, suddenly a huge head of a Tiger shark appeared from the dark depths of the ocean, heading straight for Lloyd and his bunch of fish. As the shark approached Lloyd, he decided to cut loose the fish and get out of the way. The Tiger took all the fish in one bite; it was a beast of note. Once they were back on the boat, they laughed until they had tears in their eyes… and decided to give it a rest.

In the meantime, Tiger shark diving was done quite vigorously in Umkomaas and the team were well aware of this practice but never condoned it. It was always African Dive Adventures’ pride to say that they were diving with wild sharks in their natural environment and baiting wasn’t an option for ethical reasons. But on the other hand, they noticed that the shark population was declining (surely because of the worldwide practice of shark finning) and there were periods when they didn’t see sharks on a dive. The periods of not seeing sharks on the dives grew longer and longer and divers grew more and more disappointed by not seeing any sharks. Ultimately, African Dive Adventures was starting to lose business.

protea62Three years later, in January 2007, Lloyd approached Roland again about starting Baited Diving. Roland had to make a business decision, so he swallowed the morality issue and prepared to start baiting for sharks. Lloyd supplied the bait and Roland the boat – the first time they tried to anchor on Protea Banks and put the bait bucket (a 25-litre plastic drum) in the water, the anchor barely grabbed the ocean floor when the current started to pull hard on the boat. After a few minutes they were running into danger of the boat sinking because the current was pulling so strong. They managed to cut the anchor loose just in time. Losing the equipment but saving their lives, they went back to shore, not yet discouraged, and made another plan.

A few days later, they drifted with the bait and it didn’t take long for the first Tiger to approach the bait station. They had the recipe for the baited dive but still had days when not a single shark would show. Slowly but surely they fine-tuned their technique.

In order to soothe his conscience, Roland looked at how other operators practiced their baited dives and compiled his own set of rules that were both environmentally and shark friendly. They have a safety protocol which is adhered to when doing a Baited Dive –divers are not allowed to touch, stroke or hold onto sharks, respecting the wild and not interfering with nature, just observing. A thorough and detailed dive briefing is done before the boat leaves the harbour in order for every diver to be sure what to expect, what not to do and what is expected from them. The Baited Dive is executed at a depth of 12-15m which gives divers and unlimited dive time (depending on how long the tank lasts and how long their dive computers allow!)

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Being the only Dive and Baiting operator on Protea Banks, diving is exclusive and safely executed. African Dive Adventures bait irregularly and don’t feed sharks – in this way sharks don’t get used to the bait and don’t change their behaviour. They have never had an accident or threatening situations with sharks, just pure, adrenalin pumping fun. Roland and Beulah are proud to say that they have had a 90% success rate over the previous years and this year there wasn’t a single baited dive without shark sightings. They mainly get Zambezi sharks on the baiting station, which is quite unique, and during Tiger season they almost always get one or two Tigers on the bait bucket. There are also Black-tip sharks around but always in small numbers, and they also see Dusky sharks during the winter months. Baited Diving has changed their business and given them new motivation after more than 14 years of diving Protea Banks. After a total of 256 Baited Dives, Roland is still looking forward to the next one…

Author: Amilda Boshoff and Roland Mauz