Greedy Muppets trying to start Cage Diving in Cape Cod, USA

By Doug Fraser /
September 04, 2012

CHATHAM — Monday, when most people were relaxing, enjoying a Labor Day off from the daily grind, others were hard at work fulfilling their dreams — in this case, of sharks.

Garth Donovan, a house painter based in Needham, loves to make movies and has seven independent feature-length films and one short to his credit, many as director.

Bradley Louw, an offshore lobsterman, wants to have a successful business showcasing one of the Cape’s newest natural wonders, the great white shark.

Those two desires may seem an unlikely pairing, but Donovan is shooting a movie about a man confronting his fears and Louw wanted to try out his almost-new $10,000 shark cage.

For the sake of his film, Donovan has already searched for sharks off the Cape by dropping chum — a brew of fish parts — and then jumping in the water, paddleboarding at the mouth of Chatham Harbor and swimming from a research vessel to a seal haul-out to photograph a seal freshly killed by a great white attack.

He was willing to finance a day at sea filming great whites from Louw’s shark cage on the Chatham scalloper Three Graces.

“I think today went awesome. No one got hurt, we got the sharks, we got footage,” said Louw, 23, after spending five hours off Chatham. He said the team saw four great whites ranging from 14 to 17 feet long.

Cameras, of course, were everywhere, with a cameraman circling above in a plane, two filming from the deck of the scalloper and another on a chase boat. There also were several underwater cameras strapped to the cage.

Where are the sharks? Click to view details of recent great white shark sightings

Soon after the crew departed from the Chatham municipal fish pier in the early morning hours, the pilot of the spotter plane saw sharks before cameras or crew were even ready.

Louw said he was most scared when he jumped into the cage by himself to secure some buoys, knowing that a big shark was seen circling close to the cage by the spotter pilot. Although he’s originally from South Africa where shark cage tourism is a full-blown industry, Louw had never been in one before Monday morning.

He bought the cage — a big box of marine-grade aluminum bars that looks like portable jail cell — from a man in Montauk, N.Y., who also had a dream of diving on great whites.

“It was harder to do than he thought it would be,” Louw said.

It only seemed natural to Louw that, just like a local excursion industry grew up around the population of gray seals that’s exploded over the past 20 years, there would be plenty of people willing to pay to go nose-to-nose with the sharks.

He looked at Monday’s expedition as a chance to work out the bugs in the operation. There turned out to plenty. They learned the following: Don’t tow the cage to the sharks with divers inside (“I felt like a lobster in a trap being hauled to the surface”); wear scuba gear not snorkels; let the noon sun improve water visibility; and playing loud music underwater while banging on the cage to attract sharks basically does the opposite.

The latter tactic was used instead of chumming as is done in other countries.

State shark researcher Greg Skomal said chumming is highly controversial with some scientists worrying that the sharks could start associating humans with food. That’s an extremely dangerous association when public swimming beaches are just a few miles away.

The expedition was encouraged that the spotter plane was able to find sharks quickly and guide the boat there in time. All of the services for the day, such as the boat and the spotter plane, were donated.

But limited visibility from inside the cage proved a major drawback Monday, Louw said. Even though the sharks came within a few feet of the cage, neither Louw, fellow diver Shawn Vecchione, nor Donovan could see anything but murky shadows as visibility often shifted from a couple of feet to 15 or so. That seemed to improve as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Seeing sharks was not a problem for Justin Lynch, 29, who was filming from a small skiff and saw two big great whites circling underneath him, including one measuring 17 feet long and more than 3 feet wide.

Donovan is hoping people will relate to a human being feeling vulnerable.

“It’s a real documentary; there’s no safety net,” he said.

Louw is hoping that people will see his shark cage as safe and that some would be willing to pay him to enter the shark’s domain. Like Donovan, he is willing to risk his own capital, hoping to buy a boat this year capable of transporting and lowering the cage. He wants to return to South Africa over the winter to see how the professionals do it there.

“Here,” he said about the Cape, “we have this great opportunity.”