I saw a really interesting documentary recently on six-gilled sharks. Apparently they are quite a primitive form of shark compared to the more common five-gilled sharks of all sizes and shapes that generally populate the oceans. Using the term ‘primitive’ means that most of their closest relatives are found in the fossil record, as opposed to swimming alongside. It doesn’t mean that the six gills are deficient in any way – these sharks are, in fact, perfectly functional and beautifully streamlined, like most sharks. You could argue that they must be perfectly functional if they haven’t needed to change their body shape for millions of years and have in fact outlived the dinosaurs, right?
So I googled primitive shark types and did some happy reading for a short while. I next discovered that there’s another type of primitive shark which goes one better than the six-gilled sharks: the seven gill shark, which also means an ancient lineage. Hah! How interesting. Five- plus six- plus seven-gilled sharks, all separately roaming the oceans from time immemorial. Who knew? (Well, I’m sure many scientists and marine biologists are completely aware but it was all new to me, the layperson.)
Then I came across a page that really interested me – the opportunity to swim freely with a type of seven gill shark off South African waters. The page invites the reader to experience the thrill of scuba diving (no cage) with these ancient seven-gilled sharks just off Simonstown, in the western Cape. Wow, locally! That’s just down the road from me in global terms. And although my licence has long expired, I once completed a scuba diving course, qualifying in the open waters of Sodwana Bay, off the Kwazulu-Natal coastline.
I am actually terrified of big water and not the world’s best swimmer, but back then, something made me decide to stretch myself. I was immensely proud once I’d completed my five qualifying dives in the sea, hyperventilating incident notwithstanding (another story, another time). I even had a dolphin briefly and companionably swimming with me when we went snorkelling for a short while on the boat ride out to the final dive. It was one of those amazing, awe-inspiring life experiences that is beautifully and fondly etched in my memory. Maybe, I thought, this would be a great reason to think about doing the course again and taking up scuba diving? My husband swims like a fish – oops, no pun intended! He’d absolutely love it and I knew I’d feel so much safer underwater if he was my dive-buddy. So I started daydreaming – you can see why below, where this snippet from the actual site mentions that even novice divers can swim with these prehistoric creatures.
‘Seven Gill Cow Sharks – Diving -South Africa- Sharktraveler
Set a few kilometres outside of Simonstown you can experience the thrill of scuba diving with this very unique species of Shark. Experience this prehistoric animal in its natural environment without a cage, and see why they are so popular. These animals are one of the oldest known species of shark and also a very deep water species, they can be found in all oceans but what happens here is very unique, this is the only known place in the world where anybody from a novice to an advanced diver can dive with them.’
So I was almost, haha, hooked. It sounded amazing. But just when I was thinking, “Hmmm. Interesting!” I scrolled further down the page, where it also invites the reader to ‘Take a look at the Great White Sharks also in the same area’ (also presumably with no protective cage on the dive). With a nice up close and personal photo of a large great white smiling its extremely toothy grin straight into the camera from zero feet away.
So then I thought, “Hmmmmmmm. Perhaps not!”
The give-away, for me, was the picture of the Cape fur seal – the reader is also invited to ‘Take a look at the Cape fur seals also in the same area’ – beside the pic of the great white. Great white sharks love Cape fur seals. And not romantically either.
So no. No diving with seven gill sharks, thanks very much. Instead, I’ll continue to get my shark-watching kicks from television documentaries and the safety of an aquarium. And while I give complete respect to those who do swim with sharks, I find I’m just not that brave.
But it was a happy daydream for a while.
(Here’s the full link to the page for those who are braver than me.)