Some of you have asked me about the sharks in Australia–what they like to eat, for instance.
Well, as far as I can tell, sharks like cold barbecue chicken.
I’m not a marine biologist or a shark expert. I am a swimmer and diver who gets to see sharks now and again. All I can tell you is what I’ve observed–I won’t attempt to spell out the science.
Sharks are just another fascinating part of Australia, like kangaroos and rock monoliths and beer rivalries. Because the country has so many different kinds of shark in so many places, most Australians are pretty shark aware. Beaches post signs and warn against dangerous sharks (like Great Whites) and it’s a good idea to avoid swimming near seal colonies, where some sharks feed.
That said, some of us want to see sharks. In Queensland, I saw sharks on all but one of the dives: black-tips, white-tips, and a good-sized gray reef shark. Seeing a shark on a dive is a good thing–it’s a sign of a healthy coral reef.
As a diver, I find that reef sharks are extremely shy fish. The minute you show up with your big tank, long fins, and a noisy stream of bubbles blowing out of your face, the sharks slide away. You might spot them later on in the dive–their instinct is to keep an eye on you and your instinct is to keep an eye on them–but they don’t bother you.
The sharks I’ve met are all camera shy, so I had to incentivize this photo shoot with chopped poultry. Baiting sharks with leftover lunch is probably unethical and environmentally wrong, but I imagine that’s what real documentarians do and that they use stuff like sashimi-grade tuna. Sharks feeding intensely makes much better TV than sharks resting on the sandy bottom (which is what you are far more likely to see on a dive).
Interestingly, even with fresh meat floating in the water just inches from my face, these little black-tip reef sharks were smart enough to swerve before hitting me. My most intimate physical contact was getting slapped on the chest by a tail fin as a shark sped away with his chicken–and then right after, the shark glanced back at me, almost in apology (“Excuse me!”).
I’m not saying sharks aren’t dangerous–they can be, just like any wild animal can be unpredictable and deadly. That’s why, even now, whenever I see that shark shape looming in the blue, I still get a bit of an adrenaline rush. If I’m not diving (or filming), I always get out of the water. Better safe than bit and bleeding. I don’t need to prove anything–I already know that sharks are tougher than I am.
Now, what did attack me in Australia was a gigantic mommy Triggerfish, right after I accidentally swam near her nest. She chased me away, and I fended her off by kicking my fins, although she was quite persistent in biting through the plastic. It’s amazing how many bubbles you produce when laughing underwater.
I’m sure there were some sharks laughing at me too, watching, from a distance.
Follow along with Andrew as he travels through Australia at @WheresAndrew on Twitter.
And visit www.nationalgeographic.com/wheresandrew
for daily photo clues, blog posts, and videos from his journey.