Great White Shark Jumps on Boat, Stressing Everyone

Marine researchers chumming the ocean to lure sharks closer to their vessel off South Africa’s southwestern Cape coast got more than they bargained for when a half-ton (500-kilogram) great white shark leaped into their boat.

It happened on Monday near Seal Island, off Mossel Bay, in a part of the ocean famous for its “flying” sharks. (View the photo gallery Sky Sharks: Pictures of Super-Predators Snatching Prey From the Air.)

A great white shark breaching in False Bay, South Africa, similar to the shark that jumped into a boat in the same area. Picture courtesy of Chris Fallows/


“We go out into the bay everyday to get data on the shark population,” Enrico Gennari told National Geographic News Watch in a phone interview. Gennari is director of Oceans Research, an independent research organization that works with universities and runs public awareness programs to teach people about sharks. Oceans Research has also collaborated with National Geographic to produce television documentaries about sharks and other predators.

“Our team was chumming to attract sharks to the boat so that we could photograph their fins, which, like human fingerprints, are a way to identify individual animals,” Gennari said. “They waited for four or five minutes, but nothing happened until there was an enormous splash and a shark landed in the boat. It did not come from the stern area, where the bait had been put into the water, but from the side.”

The team’s first thought was to make sure everyone was well clear of the giant predator, which was thrashing around on the deck. “They moved everyone out of the way, then radioed us,” Gennari said. He and a colleague arrived at the boat within minutes. It was not possible to push the flailing animal back into the sea by hand, and an attempt to pull it off the vessel with a rope attached to the second boat also failed.

Picture of great white shark on boat courtesy of Oceans Research


“We radioed the harbor and said we were on the way, and that we needed a crane. It took about 20 minutes, and the whole time we were splashing water on the shark’s gills, trying to help it breathe,” Gennari said.” At the harbor a pipe was placed into the shark’s mouth to pump water over its gills, to keep it alive. The crane was used to hoist the animal by its tail, a risky maneuver because its great weight out of the water could have damaged its spine and internal organs, Gennari said. “But the only other option we had was to let it die on the boat.”

The shark was lowered into the water, but it stranded itself on a harbor beach. Attempts to push it back into the water by hand failed, so the Oceans Research team lashed the animal to the side of a boat and drove it out to sea. After half an hour of the assisted swim through the ocean the shark seemed to recover, slapping its tail strongly, Gennari said. The shark was released and it swam away, he added.

“We don’t know whether it’s still alive; we hope to see it again soon,” Gennari said. The specimen is well known to the Oceans Research team because it has been photographed regularly and it is readily identified by its unique dorsal fin.

“This was the first, and hopefully last, time a shark has jumped into our boat,” Gennari said. “It was quite stressful for everyone, both for the shark and the humans. But the people were safe and apparently the shark survived, so it really could not have ended better.”

White shark breaching clip from National Geographic Channel.


This is not the first time a shark has jumped into a boat in this part of South Africa’s coastal waters.

“There have been several incidents of leaping great white sharks in the past,” Chris Fallows told National Geographic in an email interview. Fallows has been monitoring and photographing breaching great white sharks for 20 years. His work has also been showcased in National Geographic documentaries and recently featured in a highly popular News Watch blog post about breaching sharks in the same coastal waters where a shark jumped on to the Oceans Research boat.

“In 1976 in False Bay, it happened on two different occasions,” Fallows wrote today. “One of the incidents resulted in a very badly injured fisherman. Sadly in both cases, the shark died.”

Fallows said that the crew of his company, Apex Shark Expeditions, records around 600-700 predatory events every year at Seal Island, “Often during these events we see spectacular breaches. It is thus inevitable that over the years we have had a few sharks jump close to the boat, but due to a huge emphasis being placed on safety, good fortune, as well as a fairly large boat, we have thankfully not had a shark land in [our] boat.”

What could cause a shark to jump on a  boat?

“There can be several things,” Fallows explained. “In most cases the sharks breach while in pursuit of something, be it a seal, or fish, or a decoy. Occasionally however, great whites and some other species perform what is known as a natural breach. This type of breach takes place for no apparent reason, although it is speculated that it could have some form of social function of communication or dominance. These breaches are often very high, the mouth of the shark is closed, and it is often when there are several sharks in the immediate vicinity.”

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn


  1. Carsyn
    February 23, 2016, 12:12 pm

    What does breeching mean

  2. Jack
    July 28, 2015, 11:11 am

    That’s why the captain stays in the wheel house folks!!!

  3. Ai que sono
    January 1, 2015, 1:27 pm

    Ai o que realmente me tirava do s

  4. Steve
    December 9, 2014, 4:31 pm

    As someone who studies great whites for the fun of it considering I cant get the job *marine biology* they lure these animals with bait to watch them they do not mean to alter its behavior and these guys were obviously stupid u should leave the bait far out from the boat so the shark doesent do what it did in this documentary

  5. Cristian garcia
    Lovington,New Mexico
    October 27, 2012, 2:49 pm

    wow that realy happen a white shark got in a boat

  6. Cristian garcia
    Lovington, New Mexico
    October 27, 2012, 2:45 pm


  7. cc
    October 5, 2012, 10:58 am

    not all sharks are as bad as they seem.

  8. Shannon
    March 8, 2012, 3:51 pm

    You can almost hear the thoughts of that shark. “Yeah, this is MY area! I’m going to jump real high and show all you other sharks who’s boss. Watch this… here I go! YEAH! You seeing this height! Uh oh *smack* Ouch! Wait, what the? What is this? What happened?” *hears other sharks laughing at him* ” I MEANT TO DO THIS! To, umm, show the humans who’s boss… so… there.”

  9. Rich
    February 26, 2012, 7:12 pm

    To see the very recent video of a mega-pod (2000) dolphins racing along side a whale watching boat off of the coast of California, Feb 2012, go to

  10. Eduan Naude
    South Africa
    December 1, 2011, 3:41 am

    @Victor Carmelo Sciberras
    That’s so true my friend

  11. Victor Carmelo Sciberras
    November 20, 2011, 8:15 am

    It’s a shame Jenn calls researchers stupid, millions of us can’t see these wild life wonders first hand, we need these people to show us the beauty of this earth. Don’t you think life is a thrill itself? Where would we be without Darwin, Sir David Attenborough, Dr. Robert Ballard and others to enrich our lives with these images and watch in the comfort of our own homes on our TVs via channels such as Nat Geo and Discovery. How poor our lives would be if these stupid researchers did not exist!!!

  12. Anderson Krohn
    Joinville, Brasil
    November 16, 2011, 11:16 pm

    show de imagens

  13. Buzz About Bears | :Dandilyon Fluff
    October 1, 2011, 6:00 pm

    […] creatures that have decided that they want to get in our space.  Recently a group of researchers got a surprise when a half ton great white shark decided to hop in their boat with them.  Another recent animal […]

  14. Katherine Chiofalo
    Sydney, Australia
    August 15, 2011, 7:41 am

    I knew this would happen. From the moment I saw the documentries I thought one would land in the boat.

  15. Phil Swift
    August 7, 2011, 10:05 pm

    Why do some cretins feel the need to post in capital letters? That is shouting.

  16. Ken Rumbarger
    Trooper, PA
    July 29, 2011, 3:05 pm

    Not a word about damage to the boat? 500kg crashing down on the deck, on a boat of the size pictured, didn’t break anything? Sturdy ship, indeed!

  17. […] National Geographic // Foto: Chris […]

  18. Greg
    Hong Kong
    July 28, 2011, 12:10 pm

    Their gonna need a bigger boat…

  19. CBowen
    Washington, DC
    July 27, 2011, 10:55 am

    How ’bout large white shark jumping into boat to eat people? In the NG film it appears to be breaching to catch prey – but in this other case the prey was in the boat! Oh, sorry, not the rosy-colored view of nature. Darwin Award anyone?

  20. CBowen
    Washington, DC
    July 27, 2011, 10:54 am

    How ’bout large white shark jumping into boat to eat stupid people? In the NG film it appears to be breaching to catch prey – but in this other case the prey was in the boat! Oh, sorry, not the rosy-colored view of nature. Darwin Award anyone?

  21. Im
    Cape Town, South Africa
    July 27, 2011, 10:26 am

    Hi Guys,

    I’ve been out with Chris Fallows on his boat on a few occasions (shark spotting and yellow tail fishing). The guy really knows the waters of False bay and the GW’s in the area and knows what he is talking about. I’ve seen a few of them myself. Whilst fishing a few months ago, one came past our inflatable, and the thing was larger than the boat…scary!!!! Anyway, the guy that claims they are being fed and should be left alone…get a life…its called chumming…not feeding…and that’s only to attract the sharks so they can be documented and their movements traced…. Some of these guys are doing an amazing job to protect these creatures…

  22. […] They waited for four or five minute, but nothing happened until there was an enormous splash and a shark landed in the boat.” The team made sure at first that everyone was safe from the giant shark that was thrashing around on the deck. Then with the use of crane, as it was impossible to push it back by hand, they lowered the shark into the water and released. The shark then seemed to recover and swam away. Amazing story, I’d be scared to death if I was in that boat! [source:National Geographics] […]

  23. Gordon Bombay
    Mighty Ducks Ice Arena
    July 26, 2011, 7:14 pm

    I think these sharks are cool….but they arent as astounding as my ducks on the ice…..go ducks

  24. Jenn
    July 26, 2011, 1:10 pm

    Stupid! Feeding predators to lure them in closer… hmmm. And they really don’t know why the GWS jumped into the boat? I don’t see rangers doing this to study grizzlies in Yellowstone. Why do we allow “researchers” (aka thrillseekers) to feed these particular predators. It alters their behavior – an animal behavioralist would know this.

  25. khairiatun ali
    July 25, 2011, 11:26 pm

    A shark in a boat, that must be a heart stopping moment. Glad everyone in the boat and the shark survived. Hopefully the great white shark will stay here till the end of days.

  26. Lisa
    July 25, 2011, 12:37 pm

    After watching the night footage and hearing about the shark jumping into the boat, I realize the movie “Jaws” was actually, unfortunately, very close to the real life actions and movements of the Great White Shark. I love National Geographic more now than when I was a little girl reading the magazines.

  27. Paul
    July 24, 2011, 3:44 am

    Is this what they mean by fly fishing in S.Africa?

  28. zino okaro
    July 24, 2011, 3:08 am

    qudus to the team and thank GOD they survived. more power to their elbow. i have a question though. I would like to learn more on how u are able to differetiate between the various whales of the same specie by the uniqueness of their dorsal is wonderful to learn that whales even of thesame specie have different ways their fins are configured. i await your reply with tremendous anticipation.

  29. dan
    United States
    July 23, 2011, 5:59 pm


  30. me
    South Africa
    July 23, 2011, 3:42 pm

    Aha, so Steven Spielberg wasn’t exaggerating in “Jaws.”

  31. SomeRandomGuy
    July 23, 2011, 12:51 pm

    Let’s hope Chinease shark fin soup don’t exterminate these fantastic predators.

    July 23, 2011, 10:17 am


  33. JO manny
    July 23, 2011, 8:37 am

    Sounds pretty cool to me dude.

  34. Sil in Corea
    South Korea
    July 23, 2011, 12:45 am

    The night filming of the great white shark leaping out of the water is astounding. The creature appears to flip 180 degrees in mid-air! Thank you for showing this video!

  35. […] Jumping white shark lands in boat Bet this was a scary ride. Great White Shark Jumps On Boat, Stressing Everyone – National Geographic News Watch […]