Joe Backer – Recreation & Professional Shelldiver

You may have caught an abbreviated part of the White Pointer encounter put in the full test review of the Shark Shield on www.digitalreviews.net , but here’s the full story. Having been a recreation swimmer/spear fisher and professional shell diver for approximately 40 years, diving up to 15 km off the coast and 60 metres deep, I’ve had all sorts of encounters with sharks. From having to “smokie” a 3.5 metre Bronze whaler (silly move) then being back to back with the buddy, pushing them off when 11 or 12 more of them sensed the blood. The choice being for us to go up and die, (7 minutes into decompression after a 44 metre dive) or stay down and maybe die. We chose the latter on that occasion.

Even though we were not shooting fish on the many excursions we encountered sharks, no matter what the species, they always seemed to do a circle around us, usually not in any hasty or aggravated manner, but a cruise to see what was happening. Were we edible, maybe????

Usually, if I tried to attack them with the hand spear they would stay out of reach and on all of the occasions with the exception of one, they seemed more scared of me than I of them until the encounter at Bird Rock.

On this next encounter we were shell diving Cheynes Beach, Bird Rock, known to be out in the wilds, 58 metres to the bottom and about 5 kilometres offshore. We had been enjoying ourselves looking for cowries as usual and had gone a bit over our usual stay time which meant it was essential that we do a minimum of 8 minutes decompression.

Visibility was great and we could see about 35 metres of anchor rope going lazily to the bottom, and proceeded to play our usual charades while we waited for the dive computers to say we could break the surface. Suddenly, out of the blue haze at about the same depth we were glided a big Grey and White shark coming straight for us. I immediately realised that this was a White Pointer. Not because of his colour or shape or anything else, but his eyes and manner was so different. He was not scared and swam toward us with absolutely no fear and with such self assuredness and arrogance that he left no doubt that he was superior.

I find it difficult to put into words the difference between other sharks and sightings, so that you could understand the vast difference between everyday sharks and White pointers, anyway I removed the safety off the smokey and with 14 feet of hand spear extended, tried to prod him. He casually and arrogantly glided to the side, completed his circum-navigation of us while we clung feverishly to the anchor rope. Eyeing us with his gimleted unblinking black eyes, he casually mouthed the outboard leg, the harsh crunching sounds breaking the ominous silence as he tested the strange metallic object that dared to stay still before him, and then silently glided away. As the deco meter hit zero we jumped back in the boat, feeling a great sense of security with 3mm of aluminium between us and the water!

I have written this article mentioning the former White Pointer shark encounter hoping that you will see the difference between the encounter at Bird Rock and Cosy Corner.

Saturday the 10 December 2008 the sun beams down, clear skies, no wind, another magic day. We decide to shoot some fish and therefore we must go away from where other divers may go to look at the beautiful life beneath the sea. We head to Cosy Corner and run the boat well out, away from islands and pick a spot in open water where it’s about 15 metres deep. Throw on the Scuba gear, velcro strap the borrowed Freedom7 Sharkshield on to my ankle whilst having a shot at my buddy about wearing an old model Freedom 4 and we are good to go.

Over the side, visibility is good and I go straight to the bottom, already lining up some good sized Sea Sweep for dinner. I shoot 5-6 Sweep and after gutting them mid water decide I have effectively got sufficient dinner for both of us. After looking around to see if any Wobbegong sharks have come for the gut remains now drifted to the bottom, I caught sight of a large Queen snapper.

Away I go and decide this will be the last fish, pick the lateral line and with a good solid “thunk” I have my fish. With blood all round me I realise this will be the last fish as he is too big to get fully into the bag, so I pull out the hand spear paralyser’s prongs and with the Queenie’s tail sticking well out of the catch bag, I turn to go.
Whoa, what’s this; my buddy has a fearful expression on his face and is giving frantic shark signals. I can see nothing but decide “discretion is the better part of velour” so let’s get to the boat. Once in the boat my buddy finally becomes coherent and tells me how a 4-5 metre Grey and White shark arrowed down towards me as I was putting the fish in the catch bag. “It got to within 5-6 metres of you, gave an immense shiver, veered then departed as quickly as it came” he said. I shudder to think what may have happened with no Shark Shield as here is one of the most feared sharks, the White Pointer, lining up my catch for tea (maybe with me as dessert) and yet he departs as quickly as he came.

It’s the difference between encounters that interests me and the fact that he gave a shake, and then goes away and does not return.

Draw what you will from the story, but I am convinced that the Shark Shield works well even when the sharks are focused on feeding, so needless to say both my wife and I have now bought a Freedom7 each which we religiously wear swimming, snorkelling and Scuba diving.

Kind Regards
Joe & Kerrie Baker
Albany Western Australia

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