When adventure tour operator Rainer Schimpf took a boat of tourists out into Mossel Bay, South Africa, they found themselves at the mercy of a shark that began attacking their inflatable boat. Suddenly, the group felt their safety thrown into jeopardy. And being so close to the predator made them question whether they would return to dry land unscathed.
Schimpf is a renowned tour leader and cameraman from South Africa. One day in 2016, he took a tour group out to view the wildlife in Mossel Bay, and they came a bit closer to a shark than they’d planned for. Consequently, MaxAnimal, a YouTube channel specializing in animal videos, shared incredible footage of the “legendary” Schimpf’s adventure.
The tour group were aboard an inflatable, semi-rigid rubber boat, which Schimpf told MaxAnimal was a “typical dive boat for South Africa.” This type of boat is made up of malleable tubes, or pontoons, that form the side of the boat and allow the waves to run over them smoothly. Unfortunately, however, they are not shark-proof.
Schimpf explains in the MaxAnimal video that you need this boat if you want to keep up with the sardine run. This is an event in the natural world that occurs around the coast of South Africa and attracts all kinds of wildlife. The run takes place from February up until May with sardines congregating in the area between Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay.
On this trip, Schimpf had taken the group out towards an island in Mossel Bay that is home to roughly 5,000 Cape fur seals. The bay is also a haven for many species of shark, making it a popular place for cage diving with the monster fish.
Once the tour had reached the island, they circled it once and stopped to take pictures. It was then that they spotted something fishy lurking in the water next to the boat. Schimpf told MaxAnimal it had been a female shark, measuring an impressive 15 feet long.
Schimpf explains in the video that everyone was excited to see the shark. He told MaxAnimal, “Everyone had a good look at the shark and took pictures.” But before long, the shark began circling the boat and acting in a way that shocked everyone on board.
According to Schimpf, the shark then turned sideways and bit into the side of the boat, specifically into the back of the pontoons. But it seemed that there was no real panic in the boat. He explains that, “Everybody was very excited… they took a good look at the shark.”
The shark punctured the pontoons, which started losing air straight away. Nevertheless, the tour group didn’t show any signs of fear. Wetsuit-clad tourists grabbed their cameras and began filming the shark. The MaxAnimal video even shows them moving closer to the fish to get a better look.
Schimpf told MaxAnimal that he had been “standing at the front of the boat on the console with the steering wheel in [his] hand.” Luckily, he had shut down the engines, minimizing the risk of damage to propellers and the shark.
MaxAnimal asked Schimpf why the shark had attacked the boat in the first place. Schimpf theorized that because the boat had been moored in the harbor next to a fish factory in Mossel Bay, some fish effluent might have come into contact with the boat.
Schimpf came to the conclusion that the shark could have mistaken the boat for a whale carcass. Indeed, he said to MaxAnimal, “This is the only logical explanation.” As soon as the shark worked out that the boat was not food, it lost interest and swam away.
Furthermore, Schimpf backed his theory by pointing to how the shark had bitten the boat. He explained to MaxAnimal that footage of sharks eating whale carcasses showed that they opened their jaws and “bite[s] itself through the blubber.” Schimpf added, “This is exactly what this great white shark did to our boat.”
Even though the boat was deflating, it made it back to shore safely with everyone still intact. And MaxAnimal could assure viewers online that everyone involved was safe, saying, “No, the shark is fine and so is the crew! Everyone made it out.”
When MaxAnimal shared the story on its YouTube channel, it posed an interesting question. “Why does a rubber inflatable boat sink in the ocean? Because a Great White Shark has just taken a chunk out of it!” And commenting further on the adventure, it said, “Is the scariest part when the shark eyes our folks on the boat? Ah Yeah.”
Perhaps Schimpf’s coolness about this excitement is understandable, since he is clear that shark encounters are not rare in the bay. He told MaxAnimal that there were as many as 400 sharks in the Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth area.
Schimpf also relayed some research surrounding the movements of these sharks, some of which have been tagged by scientists. This tagging has revealed that the sharks can range over astonishing distances. Schimpf said, “They cover the distance from South Africa all the way to Australia and back in 99 days.”
Despite the numbers of sharks congregating in the bay, Schimpf doesn’t think a shark attack is very likely. Indeed, he explained to MaxAnimal that you were, “more likely to be hit by a car, or killed by a toaster than by a white shark.”
However, out of all the many shark species, great whites are the ones most commonly involved in human attacks. In two decades from 1990-2011, they attacked 139 times, and in 29 of those attacks someone died.
Luckily, only the boat fell victim to the shark’s jaws that day. Although shark attacks are rare, when they do occur, it’s common for someone to be sent tumbling overboard. Who knew boats were such a tasty treat!