GANSBAAI, South Africa — On the edge of a boat off this coastal village, Michael Rutzen stubs his cigarette into a soda can and stares pensively out to sea.
He has free-dived withfor nearly 20 years, and he has never known it to be this difficult to find them.
Extensive research by Rutzen and his marine biologist partner, Sara Andreotti, has found that great whites off the South African coast are rapidly heading for extinction. The area long has been one of the world’s best places to see the sharks, which also live off Australia, the United States and Japan.
Streams of fish blood and oil trail in the water behind other cage-diving boats nearby. Rutzen phones one of his spotters, who has been searching for hours.
“Nothing here, let’s move on,” Rutzen tells his crew.
Rutzen started free-diving with the sharks in 1998 to show they are not the monstrous creatures they are portrayed to be. He has built a successful business in Gansbaai’s shark diving industry, which has prided itself on almost guaranteed interactions with great whites and has boomed in the past two decades.
His clients have included Halle Berry, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, the King of Jordan and Prince Harry.
But while it once was not unusual to see 15 to 20 great white sharks per trip, Rutzen now counts himself lucky if he sees one or two…..