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Guadalupe a gathering place for great white sharks

September 5, 2008 |  3:18 pm

Photo courtesy of Shark Diving International

As surfers ride waves and swimmers splash along the coast in these waning days of summer, great white sharks are convening near Guadalupe Island off Baja California, and around the Farallon Islands beyond San Francisco.

A year ago at this time, I was mentally preparing for my second trip to Guadalupe, which is arguably the world’s premier white shark viewing destination.

There will not be a third, this year anyway, but I envy those who are or soon will be making the long trek to the remote, otherworldly volcanic island.

Especially after reading the latest newsletter from Lawrence Groth and the staff at Shark Diving International. Groth recently returned from the company’s 100th voyage to Guadalupe.

He called the “return of a dear old friend, Zapata,” moments after anchoring, a promising omen because, naturally, Zapata is a big, fat white shark.

“He swam up to the cage just as it was being deployed, five minutes after anchoring, and way before we started chumming,” Groth stated. “In fact, I was still doing the dive safety briefing. I knew that this was going to be an epic trip of biblical proportions.

“We had a total of 15 individual sharks during our three days at the island. As always this time of year they were all males. On the second day, we were joined by an even larger brute than Zapata (who is all of 14 feet and really wide). The other sharks ranged from five to 10 feet. They would show up every morning at 6 a.m. as if on cue and the action would last until 5 or 6 p.m.”

Groth runs his trips aboard the Mexican-flagged Solmar V, a luxury dive boat, and later in the season aboard the Searcher, a long-range sportfishing boat out of San Diego.

I went once on the Searcher and traveled last October with Capt. Mike Lever aboard the Nautilus Explorer, which is also luxurious and, in fact, has a Jacuzzi at mid-deck, from which you can rest after a dive, gaze out and watch sharks circling the boat.

Soon the larger females will arrive, and these boats have some openings on the calendar. If you haven’t tried cage-diving (scuba experience is not necessary) and can afford to spend about $3,000 for two days of boat travel and three days of cage-diving and gourmet dining, it’s worth every cent and will provide lasting memories.

I have but one piece of advice: Do not go without a camera!

—Pete Thomas