Diving with Great Whites on Neptune Island

Daniel Scott
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Diving with Great Whites (Photo: SATC)
I am not by nature an adventurous person. As I sit at my desk, this very ordinary person that I am, I cannot for the life of me understand how or why I did it, what possessed me to join an expedition diving with great white sharks near the Neptune Islands, off South Australia. But that’s exactly what I did:

Kerplonk. Legs splayed, I crashed into the cage, going down like a dropped bowling ball.

Numbing water stormed my heavy-duty wet suit. A frenzy of blue bubbles blurred my view. I bit tight on my mouthpiece. My laden weight-belt snapped at my hips.

My rubber-booted feet finally found the cage floor. Then they lost it again. My hands reached frantically for the side bars. The cage was swaying in the swell like a palm in a hurricane.

Smacked brutally by a surface breaker, I gasped, and seawater flooded my nose and throat. I thumbled for a metal edge and gripped it firmly.

A raging pulse convulsed my body. My muscles constricted. My tongue thickened. The lank struts of the cage felt alarmingly flimsy.

For a second, the swirl diminished, clearing my mask, bringing new fear. Somewhere, unseen in the flaxen water nearby, were two 4.5m great white sharks.

In the cage, I could hear only the sluice and swoosh of rushing and retreating water. The deathly clank of the cage against the boat. Anticipation stole my breath, sent my heart into a rampant beat. Still I saw nothing.

Instinctively I pulled my hands from the exposed cage bars. Peering down through its latticed sides I could just make out the sandy, weedy ocean floor, 20 metres below.

Then there it was, like an underwater jumbo jet, gliding upwards at me from 10 metres away. Fear swept up and down the piano keys of my spine. I dropped to my knees.

The great white was looming closer to the cage. It was enormous, perhaps thrice my 184cm frame and easily three times its girth. It was coming to look at me. Slow. Graceful as a shadow. I felt like I was strung up shivering in a butcher’s window. Behind bars I was the curiosity. From above, the boat crew were pulling the surface baits closer to the cage.

Level with my eye-line, two metres away, the sight of the shark now filled my mask. Its mouth opened in a trademark great white grimace, I was staring straight at its ranks of unforgiving teeth. I felt engulfed by adrenalin. With a dismissive sweep of the tail it whooshed past, the cage rocking in its wake.

Then, off to my right around 10 metres, the shark bent, twisted and went volte-face on a sixpence, gathering speed as it cruised back toward me. On the surface near the top of the cage, the tasty tuna bait was bobbing eerily. I struggled to my feet. Now the shark passed closer, faster, almost brushing the cage.

Around and around me it went as if I was an ornament at the centre of a giant goldfish bowl, orbiting the cage once, twice, three times. My eyes followed it everywhere, riveted by its immutable expression, troubled only by the heave and shove of the ocean. I have never felt smaller or more awed in my life. This shark was seventy million years in the making. Then, suddenly, at the edge of my vision, I sensed commotion. I turned to view the full slanted body of the second 4.5 metre great white bursting upward through the water. With its eyes closed, jaws wide apart and its entire armory exposed in a ghastly gummy smile, its head looked like a necklace of death. Two seconds later the necklace slammed shut around the tuna bait at the edge of the cage, the shark’s jaws sliding and swivelling, teeth and gums spilling out of its mouth with every bite, a shock wave of muscles rippling through its massive body, its tail slapping the surf furiously.

My breath was stuck in my stomach, my limbs benumbed, my senses catapulted into a no-go area where terror meets exhilaration. Five seconds later the sharks snapped the line and with a final smack of the tail flew away. The cage was left shuddering and tilted back almost on its side.

“You did it, you dived with the great white sharks” said Rodney Fox as I clambered from the cage still quaking. Fox, probably the world’s most famous survivor of an attack by a great white shark, off South Australia in 1963, has been running such expeditions to study and photograph them almost ever since.

On the deck of the Falie, the 150ft ketch used by Fox for these six or nine day trips, I wrapped myself in a blanket, unable to believe what I’d just seen, just how close I’d got to this crucial key stone predator.

I am not by nature an adventurous person. But diving with those beautiful creatures was a highlight of my life and I’m glad I did it.

Australia really is a diver's paradise. If you'd like to it for yourself, diving and snorkelling tours can be booked in locations all over the country.

Published under licence from Travel Intelligence