Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From the ATA Archives: Anderson Cooper Dives With Great White Sharks

In honor of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel (thanks to a heads up and request from a reader) we dug through the ATA archives and found some video of Anderson's two trips to South Africa to dive with the "Great Whites"....

First up is his original trip in August of 2008 as part of the Planet In Peril Battle Lines Special

From Planet in Peril Part 2 -

He wrote about his experience on the AC360 blog ~

Great white sharks - up close

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.

That lead to a second trip as an assignment for 60 Minutes and the report aired on March 28, 2010

60 Minutes:  Sharkman


Anderson wrote about that experience for The Daily Beast ~

My Swim with the Great White Sharks

CNN's Anderson Cooper, on assignment for 60 MINUTES, writes about plunging into bloody water to swim with one of the world's most vicious—and endangered—predators.

It is an odd sensation, sitting with your legs dangling in bloody water, watching enormous great white sharks swim underneath you. It is an even odder sensation knowing that you are about to plunge your whole body into that water and swim with the sharks, who are searching for food. I kept thinking of that line in The Godfather, “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

I am not one to take risks unnecessarily. I don’t jump out of planes, or bungee jump. I don’t see the point. But I had agreed to dive with the great whites because I was doing a profile of Mike Rutzen, who in South Africa, where he lives, is known as the Sharkman. Rutzen is not a marine biologist, in fact, he’s not a scientist at all. He is a fisherman who has become fascinated by great whites, and has spent more time up close with them than just about anybody else on the planet.

Rutzen dives with the Great Whites to learn about them, and to prove the point that they are not mindless killers out to eat humans. He is not an aquatic version of Timothy Treadwell, the eccentric man who tried to live with bears in the wild, only to be eaten by them. Rutzen does take risks, but he is not under any illusion about what these sharks are capable of.

I’ve dived with Rutzen once before, and agreed to do it again because it is among the more thrilling and interesting interactions you can have with an animal in the wild. Great whites have been around for millions of years, and yet there is still a lot we don’t know about them. They’ve never been seen mating for instance, or giving birth. They can travel great distances, and getting close to them for long periods of time is difficult and obviously dangerous. Few people like great white sharks—or any kind of shark, for that matter—so the problem with that is that few people seem to care that some 70 million sharks are slaughtered every year to make shark fin soup, a delicacy in Asia. The sharks are caught in nets or long fishing lines, and their fins are cut off while they are still alive. Their bodies are dumped back into the sea. Rutzen believes if more people understood sharks and respected them and their role in the ecosystem of the ocean, they would work harder to protect them.

So what’s it like diving with great whites? In a word - terrifying. They are enormous. The sharks I could clearly see from the surface of the water were about 15 feet in length, but what you don’t realize until you are underwater and they are coming straight at you, is just how thick they are; their girth is massive, and what’s worse, they seem completely un-intimidated by humans. It turns out they don’t like scuba bubbles, which seem to make them nervous, and when they get nervous, they open their mouths and display their teeth. It is quite disconcerting. Mike Rutzen told me to try to “project confidence,” but I forgot to ask him how to do that underwater through a wetsuit.

I did ok in the end. I survived and did gain a new appreciation for sharks. I am glad I’ve done it, but I am not sure I need to do it again.

Tomorrow night we'll look back as when Anderson did another 60 Minutes report about the coral reef off Cuba and again went diving with sharks as part of that report!

AC360 Transcript
AC360 Podcast

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting these segments for me. I know I would never get in the water with Great Whites.

Anonymous said...

Great job Anderson, I work with a 90 year lady and she enjoy watching you every night, we haven't seen you the whole of this week, I Google your name and I found out you in south africa. Have fun and see you soon on 360.