By Carl Roessler
In July of 2006 I joyfully headed
for the remote Neptune Islands in the prime season for great white sharks, mid-Winter
in South Australia. This
was my thirty-second expedition to photograph these mesmerizing behemoths; I
was as excited as I had been on my very first foray in 1975.
presence of thousands of sea lion pups rafting in large groups right offshore
attracted eleven predatory great white sharks during our stay. Some of these
sharks, such as Johnny, Kal and Lefty, had been in the area for months or years,
and had therefore encountered divers in cages before. They were crafty veterans
in search of an easy meal at the expense of the foolish humans.
My long-time friends, Rodney and Andrew Fox, now charter as their platform for attracting the sharks a superbly comfortable and practical vessel, the Princess II, whose previous career had included live-aboard cruising in Fiji and the Solomon Islands.
Our divers found that Princess II works brilliantly for photographing the sharks in three different ways: topside photography from the main deck level, cages at the surface with wonderful daylight conditions and an elevator cage which takes teams of four divers to depths of 45-70 feet. Here in the gloom far from the all-revealing surface is the dark world of these massive, stealthy predators.
My own dives in the surface cages were wild-action thrill rides. Kal, Faye and Lefty made sweeping attacks on the baits, often outwitting crew members who tried their best to pull the baits away at the last minute. The sharks were both relentless and diabolically clever as they stalked us and the suspended tuna baits. It became a contest between the crew and the sharks, with our divers photographing the action as it exploded around us.
After many years of diving around the world, I have found no experience to match being face to face with these imperious, majestic creatures.
I have often told audiences that each shark is as much an individual as we are. Some, such as Kal, are hot-headed and impulsive, repeatedly turning after each attack to immediately launch another. Others, perhaps older and wiser like Johnny, circle until they see conditions favorable for their success. They come at us from any direction, including directly up from deep in the shadow of our boat.
Lefty, for example, would accelerate her vast bulk upward until she seemed submarine-sized, conveniently showing us the chopped-off left pectoral fin that inspired her name.
I’ll be heading back in a few months for another try during Australia’s balmy summer months. As a legendary wuss, I always like the water just a bit warmer!! Meanwhile, it will be a long time before I forget Johnny, Moo, Faye, Kal, Tinker, Lefty, Fluffy and the other great performers of 2006. Their images on film or a computer screen bring back those magic moments in the cages and paint them indelibly in our minds.
Rodney and Andrew, aided by the invaluable Ian “Pato” Paterson and mate Johnsy, have an adventure to offer that has been life-transforming for a generation of thrill-hungry divers.
Soon, perhaps, it may transform yours…
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