47 Meters Down is a 2017 survival/horror film focussed on shark diving. The plot involved two girls vacationing in Mexico who go cage diving with white sharks on a whim with a fishing vessel refitted to get folks eye to eye with Mr. Great White.
As you might deduce by the film’s title, things don’t go, shall we say, swimmingly. The sharks appear. Then the cable snaps. The cage plunges and shit generally goes places it’s got no business going.
Any guesses how far they plunge (surrounded by scary, evil, Great White Sharks)? I’ll give you a hint.
47 Meters Down
The film works on an emotional level. Its job is to slowly poke away at some of your deepest fears and amplify them with the presence of one of cinema’s most accomplished villains (great white sharks). If you want a good scare, 47 Meters Down brings the jolts.
But while it’s a decent horror flick, 47 Meters Down doesn’t exactly install confidence in the growing popularity of cage diving with great white sharks. So let’s take a technical look at the situation that leads to the train wreck of a nightmare in 47 Meters Down, and whether or not this could actually happen.
Spoiler alert: it pretty much wouldn’t.
1 – Most Commercial Shark Cages Are Secured to the Boat
47 Meters Down happens because the cage is suspended independent of the boat by one cable. Of course, that cable just has to be rusty. The winch has to jam, and the cable becomes so stressed that it snaps. Then our two favorite potential shark victims plunge to the darkness below.
At the three major white shark diving locations, South Africa, Australia and Guadalupe Island, most cages don’t float independently. They’re fastened to the boat’s stern with at least two metal brackets: one on top, one on bottom. The cages are further connected to the boat with padlocks and ropes to keep things secure if the unthinkable happened.
Most new and even experienced cage divers with great whites are in cages attached to the boat as described.
Granted, some of the more advanced shark dive offer customized experiences in cages that float independently. These are generally kept bouyant with air-filled metal canisters and at least one rope or cable as a redundancy system. If a shark punctured a canister, the cable would likely act as back up. You’d also be a quick extraction away thanks to the guys on the boat, who would have planned for such a scenario before sending you down.
No competent shark diving shop is going to send you down in a rusty cage held by a single frayed cable.
2 – Shark Diving Equipment is Subject To Inspection
Let’s talk about that rusty cage for a second.
Watch the trailer for 47 Meters Down and it’s quickly evident the girls are in for some trouble. Note how they look on with a hint of dread at the sight of that rusty cage made to look like it will fall apart with a slight gust of wind.
Yeah. That’s not gonna happen.
I just touched earlier how there are 3 hot spots for white shark diving. One is Australia (the Neptune Islands). One is South Africa (just off Cape Town). And the third is at Guadalupe – about 260 miles south of San Diego, and the site where I first when shark cage diving back in 2007.
Guadalupe Shark diving tours are based out of California. The other two sites are subject to the safety regulations of Australia and South Africa – and they’d get shut down so fast it would make your head spin if they went out with equipment like that.
All three sites generate millions in revenue. They’re not going to send divers out with Great White Sharks in decrepit equipment. And, um, how exactly would they qualify for business insurance if they did?
But wait, you say. The girls in 47 Meters Down went shark diving in some remote location not subject to government inspections on a fishing boat! Would THEY use rusty equipment? Not if they didn’t want their reputations filleted on Trip Advisor.
Welcome to 2019 – a time of remarkable things, like digital cameras, social media, and the business-killing bitch-slap of too many one-star reviews.
3 – Most Cages Have Escape Doors
Here’s another reason why 47 Meters Down doesn’t really fly in the state of things shark diving. Most shark cages have escape hatches. In the event of an incident, you pull a strap. The doors open. The cage collapses. You climb out of the cage and you’re back on the boat.
You’re typically briefed of this before your first dive.
Hang on now. What happens if you pull doors and leave the cage? There’s a great white shark out there waiting to eat you!
I am aware of two shark diving accidents at Guadalupe on a stern-mounted cage, the most recent of which happened in 2017. Both were caused by human error, and both resulted in a shark getting stuck, the escape doors pulled, and the shark shaking the cage apart to get unstuck.
Then the sharks took off. All of them – and they didn’t come back for several days.
The point being? If there’s a shark breach, it’s not trying to eat you. It’s fucking terrified, wants to get out, and never wants to be in that situation again.
Neither of these accidents led to diver injury.
4 – Most Shark Dives Use Surface-Supplied Air
I’m not giving much away by telling you that air supply – or lack of it – plays a key role in 47 Meters Down. The longer they’re down, the less air they have. The fact that they’re hyperventilating in fear doesn’t help either. But then again, they’re 47 Meters Down…
That’s busted too. We’ve already established that most great white shark cage diving tours use stern-mounted cages. The divers in those cages typically breathe surface-suppled air, meaning the tanks are on the boat.
But what about those independent, free-floating cages? Many of those are close enough to the boat to use surface tanks too. Yes, there are some SCUBA divers with their own air supply, but that means they’re SCUBA-certified. The girls in 47 Meters Down are not.
You shouldn’t be in a free-floating cage with sharks and your own Scuba equipment without plenty of training – and a short distance from help if something goes wrong.
5 – Sharks Don’t Want to Eat You
The sharks in 47 Meters Down are nasty, evil creatures. They’re huge, blood-thirsty, and go to great lengths to eat their unwelcome guests.
Unless you’re a seal, I wouldn’t worry about that.
Sharks have evolved over 500+ million years to successfully chow down on a very specific target. Hammerheads eat stingrays. Tiger Sharks eat turtles. Great Whites eat seals. In each case, their bodies have literally evolved for this purpose.
No offence. But sharks don’t want to eat you. You’re too bony – and you definitely don’t provide the calories and nutrients of an elephant seal, which a great white shark needs to maintain its metabolism.
But, but, but, what about all those shark attacks I’ve seen on TV?
In 2018, the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File researched 130 alleged shark attacks. Their findings document the following:
- 66 Attacks were Unprovoked (That’s Bad)
- 34 Attacks were Provoked (That’s Someone Being a Rocket Scientist)
- 30 Attacks Could Not Be Classified (That’s Unfortunate and/Or Doubtful)
Five shark attacks were fatal. And white shark attacks, according to shark expert Robert Collier, are typically a ‘displacement attack’. That means the shark sees a surfboard or kayak and thinks it’s a threat. It attacks not to kill, but because it wants the object to leave the area.
So, in 2018, sharks killed 5 people out of a population of over 7 Billion good folks living on this planet.
Wager a guess how many sharks are killed by humans each year? Another hint: close to 100 million – many with their fins hacked off. That’s a huge problem.
6 – It’s a F**king MOVIE!
The scenario in 47 Meters Down is a shark diver’s worst nightmare. Writer/Director Johannes Roberts is an experienced film maker who knows how to press your buttons and weave pretty much beyond the worst case scenario in a series of events that, simply put, wouldn’t happen to you.
That’s his job. Give him credit, the dude delivered. If he didn’t – had that winch not jammed, that frayed cable not snapped, that rusty cage actually been equipped with escape doors and those great white sharks not been total psychos, well.
That would suck, because you’d be out your price of admission without some timely scares.
But shark diving is a serious business – one that employs people and, more importantly brings folks in front of sharks to see what they’re really about and the role they play in the health of our planet.
It’s no stretch to say, given the impact of our oceans on air, weather, and the food chain, we likely could not survive without them.
I’m not saying shark diving is without risks. All extreme sports come with an element of danger. You accept that, as an extreme sports affectionado/adventure traveler. If you don’t? Well, you’re in the wrong business.
To that end, call the operator in question before you dive with sharks to confirm their safety precautions in place. Remember, you, and only you, are responsible for your safety.
But 47 Meters Down is a film about shark diving in a series of events that, realistically, just wouldn’t happen. Great movie, but not reality.
Relax, bro. Sharks don’t want to eat you.
Disclosure: Abenaki promotes shark diving tours and is an affiliate of Liveaboard.com