I have a question regarding dealing with reef sharks.
I have been listening to your podcasts for a while now and thankfully so because there has been some really valuable information for dealing with sharks that I was able to put into practice a couple of weeks back.
A few of us did a trip out to Lucinda, this was my first time at the GBR so I was not overly sure what to expect (I usually do some diving in and around the Keppel islands). When we got to the reef there was a trawler parked just off the drop off, he was anchored up out of the swell. Anyhow, we got in and did some of the most amazing diving I have ever done, seriously like 30+m vis.
Whilst diving I managed to shoot a big Tusky however I noticed the flopper had not gone through and before I could get to him the shaft fell out and he took off. Seconds later a 2.5m bull shark came flying in, remembering back to what some of the advice was, I held my ground and swam at the shark, it turned away and took off after the Tusky. I decided to reload and swim back to the boat at this stage, but on the way back I had a feeling something wasn’t right. I turned around and the bull shark was back and about a meter off my fins. Again with what I had heard (on the podcast) I turned around and hit it as hard as I could on the head with the spear to which it turned around and left. My mate and I at this stage were pretty impressed at how well these tactics worked.
After a short move on the same reef system, we were back in the water. All day we had been seeing quite a few reef sharks and had gotten to a point where we were not too bothered by them. On our last dive my mate shot a spangled emperor, he seemed to have it in hand so I started looking for some Crays while he dispatched it and put it on the Corby board (boogy board with pouch on it to stuff your fish in - see in picture). Whilst doing so a 2m White Tip Reef Shark raced in on me. I was pretty shocked initially and managed to hit it on the body with my spear. It then came at me a second time and I only just got my spear to it. I put my head up out of the water to tell my mate there was a shark and simultaneously he was calling me to let me know the same. Hahaha so I swam over to him (about 10m away) and kept fending the shark off while he got the fish in the bag on his Corby board and sorted himself out (he was nearly code browning at this point). A second shark arrived but then disappeared, we then had to swim back to the boat which was about 75m away. That White Tip Reef Shark got increasingly aggressive with me, it was coming in super quick at me so I continued lunging at it with my gun, sometimes hitting it and others not. It followed us right back to the boat and continued circling the boat once we were in.
My question is, hitting the shark with the spear only seemed to aggravate it to a point where it was really p*ssed off. I honestly was at the point of accepting that it was likely going to bite my foot or my calf however I was thinking that I should still be fine and that I just have to get back to the boat. Is there anything different that we could have done? Is there anywhere specific on the shark I should have hit before it got really cranky with us?
Photo of the Corby boards I made attached along with one of our fish (I am in the middle).
Thanks for all your work with the podcast, it certainly makes a world of difference!
- the small grunting noise as a fish swims off is gold, doesn’t work for all fish but has a pretty good success rate on a lot of the reef fish.
Mate thanks for your message and apologies for the slow response.
First up, I'm stoked you've found some valuable info from the podcast!
Secondly, you are now more of an expert with the pesky reef sharks up there than I am:)
Despite that, I guess I have a few recommendations and then I'll answer your question.
The Corby Boards look excellent - they look well made and will keep your reef fish out of the water and disincentivize sharks from hanging out higher in the water column and attempting to steal fish. I still love running a boatie though, even when current is minimal. My main reasons for this are;
- The boatie comes and grabs your fish (hopefully bled and Iki'd and possibly gutted before you hand it up) and the fish goes in the ice slurry faster and this will help with eating quality later on.
- You can exit the water relatively quickly when sharks get frisky and move spots faster and thereby minimize opportunity for something to go wrong.
- A boat can also provide faster support in the event of injury (i.e. major trauma, blackout etc) AND run interference if other boats are in the area (dive flags and floats are hard to see in any sort of sea)
Sounds like you have grown massively in confidence but still have the respect and wariness that you need to navigate sharky waters - awesome mate. I'm stoked that we could play a small part in that:)
Another small trick that can work is to slap the surface of the water when sharks begin rising through the water column. The reason for this is that once some sharks get on a level with you they can sometimes become much more confident (*slapping the water surface can also have the opposite effect too though and they get further excited/attracted to the splashing. This behavioural response seems to be species-dependent). Try this one out if you haven't already.
Like I mentioned earlier, you now have more reef shark exposure while spearfishing up North than I do. I know exactly what you mean though when you say the smaller reef sharks can become aggravated and turn on you and get silly. Back in the day, older gen spearos would use this kind of shark behaviour to justify smashing a powerhead into their melons and leaving them for dead.
For me personally, in these types of situations, I'd move spots if I assessed their behaviour as getting a bit loose. Reef sharks seem a bit sillier than many of their cousins. Shark aggression, confusion and hunger don't marry well with a spearo poking a spear into them at times although I still think you need to do it if they are coming too close. The space around their eyes is obviously very vulnerable but you've got to be careful. If they get injured, they will die. If it’s a choice between you getting bitten though and them dying, I choose you everytime mate.
In the short term (while waiting for the boat to arrive), I'd get back to back with any and all nearby dive buddies and stop swimming directly at the shark UNLESS it was making first or near direct lines towards you. If the shark/s can see you all moving together cohesively to deal with threats together, I think you become a much more difficult proposition for them. They do seem stupid at times though and recklessly aggressive - that's why I'd recommend moving.
Anyway, I hope this helps mate. LMK either way or if you find some more useful reference material around the traps.
BTW: Can I use this story and my response (and your pics) in a blog post? I'll redact your last name and anything else you'd like :)
Absolutely you can use the story and pics, not a drama at all. Thanks very much for the feedback, I think the boatie idea is the way to go and next time we will surely adopt this method, it is difficult in and amongst the reef especially with inexperienced boaties coupled with high winds and low light conditions, that said a bit more planning and taking our time and I’m sure we could have made it work.
The boards work well for getting the fish out of the water asap and for swimming it back to the boat, I need to make some mods though as we still had to run a float attached to them so we had a dive flag, looked odd but worked a treat.
We were very lucky to get an invite to go out to the reef last weekend off the Whitsundays (Hook and line reef), thankfully there was very minimal shark interaction and instead a lot more of the target species. We were with an old spearo Duncan who was brilliant in giving us a full safety run down before we left Airlie beach, he had the sat phone, showed us how to use it and he had the coast guards number saved in the phone ready to go and also gave us his expectations with looking after one another when getting in the water. He had a system where we would only take a couple of fish from any spot then he would move on. Such a good idea to make sure that we look after the reef and make sure there is fish there for years to come.
Anyhow Shrek thanks for getting back to us and for all the helpful information you have provided to date both through your pod pasts and through your emails, as someone new to it this information gives me the confidence to get out there end enjoy the spearing. Bloody legend mate
I forwarded our email exchange onto 'a buddy who shall remain nameless' and he said;
What they did was about right. One other thing I’ve found that has worked for us up on the reef with the reef sharks is we carry a tip cover with us made from a small bit of metal tube with a cap and some rubber hose so it holds tight to the shaft tip. Then we slide that on and shoot the sharks with that when they want to really play up. Just to get them associating the sound of the gun going off with ouch instead of a dinner bell. It also leaves a mark on the shark where it hits so you know how many times you have had to do it to a shark. For example, a shark with one mark that starts to keep its distance has obviously learnt a lesson. Whereas if you see one with 5 plus marks that shark might need a more aggressive “teaching” method. I’ve found most sharks attitude changes very quickly even before having been shot at as soon as you slip the spear tip on as they sense the change of dynamic of the diver.
Most sharks learn after one or two hard hits. A shark that learns not to associate spearos with food is useful, as when it comes in and acts in a scared manner or cautious manner other sharks around seem to follow suit.
So if you see a shark with a 10-20cent size circle in its head then you know where it came from :)