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The documentary follows a diving crew on a six-month expedition as they search for rarely seen great white sharks, considered the most dangerous predators in the world. The group includes lead diver Peter Gimbel, underwater photographer Stanton A. Waterman, Australian spear fishing champions Valerie May Taylor and her husband Ron Taylor, diving coordinator Phil Clarkson, still photographer Peter A. Lake and folk singer Tom Chapin, a member of the surface team, among others. Traveling on the 158-foot-long steam ship called the Terrier VIII , the expedition follows several whaling ships one hundred miles off the coast of Durban, South Africa. Once a whale is harpooned, sharks, attracted by the whale's death throes, swim from miles away to feed on the carcass. The divers then suit up and are lowered into the water in special diving elevator cages specifically built to protect them from the sharks. Under water, they shoot footage of huge dusky sharks, great blue sharks and whitetip oceanics, but do not see any great whites. Using controls in the cages, the divers ascend after several hours and follow the whalers back to Durban, where the whale carcasses are loaded onto trains and transported to processing plants to be skinned and quartered. After a rest, the crew returns to sea but whitecaps prevent spotting any whales for two weeks. However, a break in the weather allows the whalers to make a kill, attracting dozens of sharks. The divers descend that night using lights to watch the sharks feed. Later back on the ship, the divers discuss whether they will leave their cages to get better views of the sharks. While some worry about the risk, Peter reminds them that the sharks bump into their prey to assure that it is dead before attacking. As Peter has observed, the sharks' pattern is to leave a human alone if he reacts assertively when bumped. Additionally, each diver is equipped with a stick loaded with ammunition to wound the shark in case of an emergency. The next day, with dozens of sharks still feeding, the divers leave their cages to film at a closer range, but the great white does not appear. Returning to the ship, the divers discuss how to keep calm while so close to the predator. Ron notes that to avoid paralyzing fear he must convince himself that there is no danger. The group then travel to islands off the coast of Mozambique, where they dive for fun in shallow waters. After three weeks without spotting a great white, they sail to Vailheu Shoal where they are joined by French divers. After a strong current almost drowns one diver, the group head east to dive over the HMS Hermes I wreck, a British aircraft carrier which sank in 1942 near Ceylon. However, the wreck's extreme depth causes problems for the divers as they try to secure lines which to attach the cages. Soon after, Peter attempts to surface too quickly and gets the bends. After Peter is forced to stop to decompress every ten feet on his ascent to the surface, the crew becomes discouraged. Ron then suggests that they make the long journey to Dangerous Reef in South Australia, where fishermen and divers have spotted great whites before. Arriving months later, the crew is joined by Rodney Fox, an Australian diver and one of the only people to have survived a shark attack. Using dead livestock, whale blubber and whale oil, the crew then "construct" a whale carcass to attract the sharks, "chumming" the water with the bloody bait. After days of waiting, they spot a sixteen-foot-long, 2,000-pound great white which breaches the water's surface to attack the bait ferociously. Thrilled by the sighting, the divers suit up and descend in their cages to watch the spectacle. As two divers leave their cages for a better view, the shark severs a line thus disconnecting a cage, but the divers manage to avoid the shark's bite and save the cage. Valerie and Lake descend later to take the last glimpses of the great white as it gnashes at its prey and buckles the cage bars. That night the divers and surface crew celebrate the successful trip.