The ocean is an amazing place that is largely alien to us. I have always been fascinated by the sea and everything in it and have spent a large part of my adult life exploring the underwater world. Most recently, I have been using video technology to try and capture the behaviour of creatures that inhabit our coastlines and to provide previously unseen footage of majestic fish like marlin, tuna and sharks. With regard to my work with sharks, in particular, there has been a lot of interest. People think the risks I take to get up close and personal with these peak predators are too high, but I have always been comfortable with it – until recently.
Everything came to a head while I was filming recently off Port Stephens on the NSW coast in February. We had hooked up to a marlin and had it boat-side getting ready to dehook and release it, when I thought I’d jump in and get some footage of the fish being revived. I did it without a second thought and I was already on a high after filming a wild striped marlin that had lit up like a neon light for some awesome images earlier in the day. This last footage seemed like a good way to round out a great time out on the water.
The plan was to film the release to document how marlin handle the stress of catch and release. After taking a series of close-up shots, I moved back and was preparing for the final shot when all hell broke loose.
Without warning, a massive mako shark of at least 600 pounds raced up and nailed the marlin right in front of me. At first, the crew had no idea what was going on and couldn’t work out what all the commotion was about. For me, stuck in the water, I felt amazingly calm considering what was going on barely an arm’s reach away. It really came down to accepting that I had no chance of getting to the boat so I may as well record the whole event. But I can still clearly remember thinking: ‘Man, that is one massive shark!’
I can only speculate as to what the poor marlin was thinking! We were basically witnessing the awesome marine food chain in action, with predator and prey locked together in the game of life in the ocean.
In my life I have seen some amazing things, including a number of shark attacks, but never have I witnessed such a breathtaking spectacle from outside the safety provided by a boat. As sad as it was to witness the marlin being eaten, seeing nature in the raw and capturing it all on film – both stills and HD video footage – was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Looking back during the closing stages of the fight with the marlin, we actually marked a second fish on the fish finder a couple of times. At the time, we thought it was another marlin, but in retrospect, it was most likely the shark stalking the marlin. It certainly explains why the marlin was so agitated throughout the fight.
Reflecting on the whole encounter afterwards, it now seems clear that the shark was watching me for the whole five minutes I was in the water and what is even more impressive is that it deliberately waited until I moved out of the way before attacking the marlin. I suspect it was unsure of whether I was a threat or just some kind of fat, weird looking walrus. Either way, it definitely wanted the marlin and needed me out of the way for the attack. Makos and other sharks close their eyes for protection once they have committed to an attack, which makes them vulnerable, too, as they close in for the kill.
After the event, the ensuing media storm was not unlike a shark feeding frenzy, with the images hitting the front pages of nearly all the leading newspapers as well as a full story on A Current Affair and even the international media got in on the act. What was most impressive was that there was very little negative feedback with regard to recreational fishing. Overall, I believe the footage and pictures helped to show anglers in a positive light.
In Australia, anglers tag and release more than 2500 striped marlin for science every year and the chance of a shark attack is normally in the order of millions to one. Being that one amongst millions was an incredible experience that I was fortunate to survive and be able to share with others via the media.