By Gavin Smithers

For divers in southern parts of the Bull shark’s range encounters may be rare and they can be easily confused with other medium size sharks. Study the accompanying photo carefully and if you meet one or more Bull Sharks treat them with the utmost caution. The following is a description of the first of five encounters I had with Bull sharks off Coffs Harbour in northern NSW during the Summer of 2002. Brett Vercoe and I jumped into the water one April afternoon for some spearing and to collect some video footage. Moments after hitting the water, and prior to shooting any fish, Brett called ‘shark’ and told me he’d used his gun to fend off an aggressive shark but that it was not very big. We gave it little more thought and continued diving. Shortly afterwards a wahoo approached me near the surface in 80 feet of water, accompanied by a small shark. I paid little attention to the shark and concentrated on setting up a shot at the wahoo. When it came within range I extended my Rob Allen gun and placed a good holding shot on the fish. The wahoo took off with the shark in close pursuit. Somehow the wahoo managed to evade the shark in the deep water. I dispatched the wahoo with my knife and got the fish to the boat as quickly as possible. I then got back into the water.

"The shark grabbed the spear in its jaws and shook it violently..." Things went a little quiet and when I saw a Bonito (good burley) near the bottom I shot it and headed for the surface. As I took the Bonito off the spear I noticed that the small shark had followed me up from the bottom. I recognised it as a Bull Shark of about 1.8m (approx. 6ft). I had the Bonito in one hand and my spear in the other. The shark approached me from the front fairly slowly but deliberately. At about 1.5m I drove the spear into its face with force. The response was instantaneous but it was not the response I expected. The shark grabbed the spear in its jaws and shook it violently while crunching on the steel! It then fronted up to see if I wanted to go on with it, before escorting me back to the boat. "I saw Brett being dragged backwards..." We then decided we should get some video footage of the Bull Sharks as Brett had seen another slightly larger one in the same area. The confidence and aggression of the smaller of the two sharks impressed us and it made a good video subject. There were a number of Dusky whalers also in the area and it was obvious that the Dusky sharks, although similar in size to the Bull sharks, were thoroughly intimidated by them. Once again things went quiet and Brett shot a fish and placed it on his rig line. No problem - until I saw Brett being dragged backwards and looked down to see the bull shark munching on his fish. I descended to get some good footage and all was going well despite my reservations about getting close to the shark. I glided down to about 6 metres and levelled out as the smaller Bull shark swam past the front of the camera. I was totally focussed on capturing good video and had no idea that the second Bull shark was closing in at speed. Brett was on the surface directly above me and relates to us what he saw. “I was hovering over Gavin as he panned the video camera with the smaller Bull shark and everything appeared to be under control. The first thing that grabbed my attention was a sudden nervous reaction from that shark as it passed Gavin. The water was about 25 metres deep and I couldn’t haze out the bottom but out of the corner of my eye I saw a grey blur come streaking up from the blue and head directly toward Gavin. It was approaching him from below and to the rear and I knew there was no way that Gavin would see this bigger Bull shark coming at him.

"It came up so quickly that I couldn’t get down to help him in time." It came up so quickly that I couldn’t get down to help him in time. The shark did not pause or deviate in it’s track but closed in on Gavin, hitting him solidly along the lower left arm and knocking him sideways through the water. The shark just hung there beside him for a few seconds before turning and gliding casually away. I was convinced that Gavin had been bitten and was planning the trip to hospital in my mind. I was shocked and mighty relieved to hear Gavin as he broke the surface and calmly say that it had hit him not bit him!!” In conclusion Gavin makes a few comments based on a number of recent encounters with Bull sharks: Consider moving to another place if you encounter them while in the water. As shown above they can be aggressive even without blood or speared fish being present. I am very reluctant to take fish if I have seen a Bull Shark as they tend to remain out of sight but often in close proximity. Do not try to punch or push a Bull Shark with your hand, they don’t scare easily and may take a chunk out of you. I prefer not to act aggressively in their presence, most Whalers can be intimidated but Bull sharks act very unpredictably.

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