A cage, AC/DC, and a great white shark called Bruce

After training dolphins a few weeks ago, this week’s adventure was cage diving with great white sharks in Port Lincoln

Things I had no eyed deer about sharks:

• They have a sixth sense – (not in the Bruce Willis “I can see dead people” kind of way)
• They can weigh over 2000kg – or two Fiat 500s
• Playing AC/DC is particularly good for attracting them to the boat
Shark skin is made of tiny tooth like structures
• Baby sharks are called pups and they can have up to 14 of them
• They can smell blood up to three miles away

imageIt is an early start as we set off at 630am on the Shark Warrior for the two and a half hour journey out to the Neptune islands. I’m slightly worried about how my stomach is going to cope as a large focus of the email we received earlier in the week from the tour company was on curbing motion sickness. I don’t have the best track record for the strength of my stomach, so I dose up on travel sickness pills. As it turns out, the ride is bumpy but enjoyable as we ride up and down the waves like a junior roller coaster. The constant spray at the window forms rainbows as we travel along through the national park.

imageThe sharks are temporary visitors to the Neptune islands, visiting to feast on seals. They are frequent visitors but there is no guarantee that they will make an appearance. Apparently there were no sightings for weeks after one great white was attacked by a killer whale. Along the journey we take our time to stop and look at white bellied sea eagles and seals on the rock faces. However, when we get to our moorings it is all hands on deck as there is already a shark in the water. We get into our wetsuits as the crew start winching the cage and the glass walled Aqua Sub (for those who want to stay dry) into the water. The shark is Bruce. Many of the sharks in the area are tagged and the shark cage dive boats aid monitoring by recording how many are seen each day. Many are listed in the boat’s “Sharkalogue” along with their temperament. Other sharks include Sheila, Mrs Moo and Psycho.

imageWith the cage and Aqua Sub lowered, we are fitted with our weight belts and shown how to use the air regulators. It is as simple as snorkelling. We then lower ourselves into the cage, as one crew member kindly points out that if we miss the step between the boat and the cage it will be a 25 metre drop to the bottom in our weight belts. What hits first when we get in the water is that after the first initial tingle through the wetsuit, it really isn’t as cold as you think it will be, despite the temperature being only 14 degrees on land.

imageUnder the water we feverishly swing our heads around to spot Bruce. Despite growing to as much as six meters, and potentially weighing over two tonnes (that’s two Fiat 500s) they are still masters of disguise in the deep water. Twenty years ago when I was learning to dive, an instructor informed me; “don’t worry, I can guarantee you will never see a shark…. they always take you from behind.”

Indeed, when Bruce appears it is as if from no where and he is majestic. I respond in a less majestic manner. I excitedly shout “shark!”, forgetting that I have the breathing apparatus in my mouth; or as it turns out, not anymore, so I have to surface quickly – thankfully it is up a very short ladder and holding my breath is not a problem.

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Speaker playing AC/DC

After a while Bruce disappears and the crew try to bring more sharks to the boat. They do not use food bait to attract sharks as it disrupts feeding patterns and causes sharks to be more aggressive when they come to the cage. Instead, they use a number of acoustic techniques to attract the sharks’ natural curiosity. Top of the list is a speaker playing rock music in the water – apparently a popular shark favourite is AC/DC. Other methods include banging sticks on the boat, starting the engines, bright coloured buoys, rattling marbles, throwing a fake seal in the water and a blue half full water bottle in the cage which makes a noise as it contracts in the water.

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Flinging the fake seal

Over lunch whilst we are waiting for sharks to appear I spend my time reading the various shark books scattered around the boat. Did you know that the skin of a shark is made from tiny tiny tooth like structures called “dermal denticles”, shaped like carved teeth and even have the same structure as teeth? This gives them reduced friction in the water. The book states “that’s why shark skin feels so rough when you rub your hand against it”. This is good to know but I’m not planning on getting that close. Apparently softer animals just brushing against a shark can be injured. They also have a sixth sense, not in the Bruce Willis “I can see dead people” kind of way…although I’m sure they can, but in that they have a lateral line of cells from tail to head that senses vibrations up to 250 metres away. The shark’s greatest sense is that of smell, it can smell a drop of blood in 100 litres of water. Indeed, they can smell blood up to three miles away. Baby sharks are called pups, a seemingly unfitting term, and they can have up to 14 of them. It can also roll it’s eye back in its socket to protect it whilst attacking prey…. bang goes my theory of what I would do if attacked.

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Looking down into the Aqua Sub

I’m reading, losing hope of seeing another shark, when the cry goes up – Shark! Just before we leave for the day Bruce makes a reappearance. Unlike the Jaws movies, there is no music to warn us, and no fin above the water. Sharks know how to disguise themselves and will swim just below the water, with the tell tale fin hidden. We rush back down the stairs to the Aqua Sub viewing area, as quick as we would if Brad Pitt himself was down there. We listen to the theme to Rocky playing as he (Bruce not Brad) swims by, ignoring the six pairs of eyes staring at him.

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The shark top 10

Seeing Bruce again is a perfect end to the day, and we prepare for the journey back. What absolutely struck me today was how I wasn’t nervous at all in the water. In fact a few times I realised that I was standing relaxed with my hands resting outside the cage. (But I did correct myself quickly when I realised.) Bruce was absolutely disinterested in us. We put an awful lot of effort into attracting his attention for hours on end, but he was more interested in AC/DC music than us. There was no Jaws moment – he just passed by gracefully and went on his way, leaving us with the utmost respect for this majestic creature. Indeed, the most aggression I saw all day was the person next to me attacking the sausage sandwiches on the journey back to shore.

I travelled with Adventure Bay Charters.

This is not a sponsored post. This represents my personal opinion.

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