WATCH: Michael Phelps raced a Great white for Shark Week and almost won!

Cape Town - As South Africa's Great Whites industry remains concerned about the recent orca predation that has seen sightings become scarce in the famous Shark Alley off Gansbaai -  Michael Phelps is shining the conservation spotlight on the species for shark week.

SEE: Orca killing spree: SA's iconic shark cage diving under threat

In a man versus beast when the American former competitive swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps races a great white shark to kick off Discovery Channel's thrilling Shark Week.

This great swimming race of all time, according to Discovery Channel, kicked off with Phelps taking on his most fierce competitor ever — a deadly great white shark.

Celebrating its 29th anniversary this year, for the first time, Shark Week, running between 24 and 30 July, will premiere around the world delivering shark stories that use innovative research technology and give viewers compelling insight into some of a unique shark species in the world.

Worldwide, sharks kill fewer than 10 people per year — while humans kill up to 100 million sharks per year. According to Conservation International, dangerous practices putting sharks at risk include finning, overfishing and ocean pollution. 

Phelps has been training in the open ocean after traveling 30 hours all the way to South Africa for the epic challenge. In a pool, he swims at about 6 mph (about 9km/h) while the top speed for a great white in the ocean is 25mph (about 40Km/h).

'The 100-meter race, which took place in Cape Town'

NOTE: Shark Week runs on Discovery Channel (DStv 121) until Sunday, 30 July.

“Obviously it’s very different from swimming in a swimming pool. Open-water swimming and pool swimming are extremely opposite. So, just kind of understanding a little bit about how the waves move in certain directions and how you get from point A to point B; after a week to two weeks in open water with sharks, I guess I just picked up on certain little things throughout the process," says Phelps.

"The 100-meter race, which took place in Cape Town actually happened back in June, but we’re finally going to find out who is faster during the July telecast," according to discovery.

“I think, going into it, I was prepared that it was going to be the safest possible situation,” says Phelps. “When you see the video of me in the water with the shark during the race, the shark and I weren’t side by side racing – we didn’t have a shark in the pool. You can’t put sharks in a swimming pool, it wouldn’t be very good for them. I don’t think they’d last long in chlorine.” 

According to Phelps, viewers will be able to see how focused he was while trying to prepare himself to face something that he truly dislikes – cold water.

'Learn how to stay calm in the water, what to do and not to do'

“55°F (12°C) and 80°F (26°C) are so different. And I’m somebody who really doesn’t like cold water. So, I think that was the most difficult part for me, but it was an awesome experience.” says Phelps. “We set up a swimming lane that I was swimming in, and with the amount of research and stuff that has been done about sharks, we tried to see how fast they would swim in a straight line.”

Phelps says that he had to learn how to stay calm in the water, what to do and not to do. “Learning from the basics and getting to the point where I’m basically face to face with the Great White in a cage, and then eventually swimming with a shark, to see what top speed they have; being able to just see how they are in their own element, I think was the true treat for me.”

During Shark Week, Phelps will also join Doc Gruber and Tristan Guttridge of the Bimini Shark Lab to get a crash course on everything shark related. The two are trying to dispel the myths and common misconceptions we have of sharks, while Phelps gets schooled on how to safely dive with sharks,  including how to stay calm when a hammerhead swims 60cm above his face.

ALSO SEE: South Africa's great white shark mystery: The full story

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