Ever since I decided to take scuba diving to the next level and undertake my PADI Divemaster, the idea of diving with sharks has been at the back of my mind. I’ve toyed with the idea of cage diving with Great Whites, and envisioned myself swimming nervously above hundreds of hammerheads. But the reality is that I never actually thought it would happen. For one, I’d have to be able to afford to get to that desirable exotic place and for the dive itself, and secondly; I doubted my brave persona would actually get me in the water knowing sharks were waiting at the bottom.
When a wedding brought me to Australia, and a planned road trip meant I’d be hugging the coast for three weeks, I began looking at my dive options – what sharks were nearby? It was then that I came across Wolf Rock Dive Centre at Rainbow beach, Queensland and the gateway to Fraser Island. Run by a humble couple, Kevin and Cheryl are the only dive shop in town, and the only ones licensed to charter their boat to Wolf Rock. This particular set of protruding rocks is an important aggregation site for the critically endangered grey nurse shark (aka ragged tooth and sand tiger shark), and thanks to its ‘green zone’ status, these animals are fully protected in this area.
It pleased me further to find out on the day there would only be 3 of us diving, plus both Kev and Cheryl who would each take us for a dive to see the sharks. Before heading off we had an informative briefing, with the added crude joke to relax us into our adventure ahead – this would be the first time all three of us would come face to face with grey nurse sharks, or any shark for that matter.
Once at 30m, we began swimming anti-clockwise around the rocks. Suddenly, I was face to face with not one, but 6 sharks. My initial reaction was somewhat unexpected. Instead of gulping in air and letting out a high-pitched squeak, I continued finning as I normally would. It wasn’t that I was unimpressed or underwhelmed. Rather, their presence was calming and peaceful. Cheryl had mentioned that during the day the sharks would be sleeping. As an onlooker, it was hard to tell – their eyes were open and they continued to swim slowly in circles just above the sand. All the while it was reassuring to know it wasn’t feeding time for the sharks, especially when one came face on toward me.
Not only were we graced with the presence of these beauties. The Giant Queensland Grouper, a fish that grows to 1.5m in length and feeds on baby nurse sharks, happily followed us around. In all honesty, seeing that thing swim towards me with its wide open gob had me swallowing air just that little bit faster. Above us an eagle ray spread its wings and slowly flew by, the twinkling of sun-rays spreading around its silhouette. Beneath me, a shy clown fish guarded the dancing anemone, daring me to touch it.
Resentfully accepting that my air was low, I headed up the line back to the boat. It’s almost as if the batfish understood my sadness, as it happily followed me to my 5m stop and stayed there with me until I hit the surface.
My intimate encounter with these animals was something I will never forget. Not once did I feel threatened, in danger or uneasy when I was with them. Sure, they were sleeping and not interested in neoprene, but I truly believe that these sharks would never attack a human unless seriously provoked.
“They are listed as critically endangered because of one thing; human destruction.”
These sharks are not killed by fishers because they are tasty, but because they feed on fish that get caught up on hooks. One thing that has hit me in the face again and again recently is the fact that large pelagic species are being wiped out because of our eating habits. To think the Grey Nurse Shark was once hunted because of it’s ‘man-hunting’ status is unbelievable.
The staff at Wolf Rock Dive made this day what it truly was, thanks to their professional stance, passion and relaxed demeanour. It was incredibly refreshing to come across a company that is not all about making money. Their charter is small – a maximum of 6 divers – safe, and personal.
It is a dive day that will be truly hard to match.