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Shark Attack!!!

Written by Lee Johnson

Two words that send a shiver down your spine and make you think – as a diver – that could have been me.

With the recent events off our coast I thought that I should probably address this as I know a lot of you are now thinking – is it safe to dive or not?

Well I am going to tell you a few things about the way things are and why certain things happen at certain times of the year.Great White Shark, South Australia by Lee Johnson

Great White sharks (the species of shark being blamed for the recent spate of attacks) generally move through our waters around October every year following the migratory whales. They often prey on the weak or young whales at the back of the migration group. This whale migration coincides with the movement of the Leeuwin current which at this time of year moves warmer water from the north of the state and pushes down as far south as Albany.

Great White sharks are not known to be a warm water shark and are often forced past Perth with the warmer currents. They also stick around for a little while because of the Snapper spawning in the Cockburn Sound – although this only occurs for a few weeks.

There are a few things we need to do to protect ourselves from any potential harm. These things are not hard to do – you just need to prepare and be aware of the conditions around you.

The first thing I will say – is that a shark attack on a diver is very rare – there is usually a case of mistaken identity with swimmers and surfers as they are on the surface. To a shark – these people look potentially like a Seal. (a good food source for Great Whites), give this the added issue of an overcast day where visibility is reduced and the background looking upward is more “shade” than colour, and you have the perfect recipe for a hit by mistaken identity (which unfortunately with the size of the Great White – it tends to be quite a hit).

The next thing is spear fishing. Unfortunately the recent attack was on someone who was spearing fish. The problem with spear fishing when diving (on scuba), is that unfortunately – most scuba diving spear fishermen tend to carry a catch bag for their catch. Free diving spearos generally have a line (usually 5 or 6 metres + in length) and a float which when threaded through the gill plate of the caught fish – works as a great way for the spear fisher to get a good distance between him and his catch. This way if a shark does come along and goes for the catch – the spear fisherman is not in line of the bite for the fish (which in almost all cases when a spear fisher is attacked by a shark). When fishing – most people use burley to get the fish to the area. Liken a couple of dead (or maybe injured but not dead) fish in a catch bag – then drag that catch bag around the ocean with you. Effectively you are spreading burley in the water, at a level where if there are any sharks in the area – they will pick up on the scent. You are effectively baiting the shark. Without that distance between you and the catch (bait) you are probably more likely to be injured if a shark attacks the catch.

It is VERY unlikely for a shark to attack someone who is not spear fishing while Scuba diving. In fact I don’t know of any that have occurred on a diver who wasn’t either catching abalone (commercially) or spear fishing.

So what should we do to avoid being a potential victim of a shark attack?

  1. During the month of October be aware that there is a possibility of sharks in the areas around Perth Waters.
  2. Avoid diving at dawn and dusk – traditionally known as the best times for sharks to feed.
  3. Avoid diving on very overcast days during the month of October.
  4. Avoid spear fishing. But if you must – wear a shark shield *
  5. Wear a shark shield – Yes they work and give peace of mind to you and your family.
  6. Avoid diving around Seal Colonies at this time of year.
  7. Learn about sharks – don’t fear them – find out how they work – Be AWARE

Following these few simple things will give you more peace of mind and eliminate any potential risks. Remember though that sharks can’t live on land and we are in their playground when we take part in any water sports.

Very rarely do sharks attack humans for a food source – it is almost always a case of mistaken identity.

* Shark Shield state in their warranty that a shark in a feeding frenzy may not be deterred by their product. However these products have been extensively tested and have saved many lives over the years since their introduction to the market.

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