A shark story by Master Gavin Nell, Amamzimtoti KZN South coast South Africa
Well not quite a Bloody Sunday though this particular Sunday could easily have turned into one even if it had a different protagonist to the popular U2 song. It was one of those cold and rainy dive mornings which made the early wake-up and subsequent dive day that much less inviting. Even a fairly routine chore like packing the boat becomes less intriguing when you have to do it under the constant fall of rain and impending wet clothes so early on in your day.
We arrived at the launch site knowing that the past few days had brought river breaks and brown water to the horizon so there were times when I thought about whether or not I had wasted a perfectly good family day. But one of my crew was down from Johannesburg for only a few days and this being his second attempt to dive in as many trips, I had already decided to launch the boat, regardless, to ensure that we found him a fish before he had to travel back.
The day started pretty much as expected, with an average of around 4m visibility wherever we went and as little as 2m in some places. Just to put things in perspective, ideally, in summer we’d like at least 15m and anything below 8m is not fantastic, so this water was not-too-kosher to say the least.
I read the currents and tides and made a few adjustments to my plan and route. Heading where I thought we would find some “viz” and hopefully some fish! But without much luck initially it certainly took all my persistence to finally start finding some diveable water, which was only made more frustrating by reports from the scuba divers of 12m visibility where they were diving in the shallows. Of course nowhere to be seen where we were diving except for a small patch here and there.
Things did improve and one quality fish after another slowly found its way into the hatch, which bolstered motivation levels. What was most uncomfortable were the dirty layers of water all the way from the surface in some areas, with a thick brown cold layer below that combined with plenty sharks in the area harassing our attempts. Lo and behold, not that I thought it was going to be possible, I found an even colder stretch of water, on the bottom, at one of my deeper spots. BUT this cold water was clean! I got prematurely excited though because I didn’t know that only two dives later we would be packing up and going home.
On one of my next dives I hit the bottom and saw a few quality fish so I took my time enjoying the clean water for a change on the floor and I started lining up on a fish while I looked around before taking the shot to ensure that I didn’t see anything better before pulling the trigger.
I turned my head right and then left whilst still tracking the fish, and as I did that, I saw a massive head not 5m away approaching directly at me at a steep angle out of the dirty layer above me. It was the biggest White Shark I had seen to date and it was showing me far more interest than any other had done before.
I had made the educated guess by the end of this experience that she was a female. What really concerned me was that she had probably been swimming around me sizing me up in the dirty water already and then she followed me down and it was only now that I had seen her! We don’t see them too often in KZN South Africa but they are the number one predator that you do not generally want to see whilst spearfishing! Especially in less-than-ideal conditions where you can’t keep an eye on their movements one hundred percent of the time.
I immediately forgot about the fish, rolled over onto my back and flared my limbs to make myself look, at least a little, more intimidating and less like a meal. But she kept on coming so I had already started turning my spear tip towards her and used it to push her away gently while I started to slowly ascend. At this point she was so close I could see her Ampullae of Lorenzini (sense organs on the nose that detect electrical fields) clearly and even her old battle scars in the form of darker lines that had healed up and her large black eye peered at me, as though she was looking straight into my soul, to truly test my resolve.
I swam up whilst keeping an eye on her below me, keeping my gun between my fins, pointed straight at her, in case I needed to fend her off again. But to my dismay she turned and followed me up just below my fins! At this point she opened her mouth just a little, almost tasting the water for signs of whether or not this strange creature was a meal or not. I could see her rather large teeth clearly and directly into her mouth, certainly not the best view considering I could fit in there fairly easily!
Swimming into the thick brown layer I lost sight of her for a second then she gave a few harder beats of her tail and re-entered my field of vision soon after too close for comfort. I had to pull my knees up a little and give her a more convincing prod this time, at which point she banked and disappeared. I hit the surface and immediately called for the boat, while my head was on a constant swivel looking down into the depths for her next appearance. I jumped on as soon as the boat arrived next to me and spent the next few moments comparing shaking hands with my dive buddy who had seen all of this transpiring while he was swimming up. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour for the rest of the day we packed up to go home and perhaps return in better conditions.
Only a spearo would understand! But these experiences don’t put me off of spearfishing, they only ignite my passion further. There is no more sustainable form of fishing. It is the most physically demanding and challenging way to harvest fish and all whilst getting some incredible exercise! We enjoy the unbelievable experiences and being one with nature. We see sights that someone who does not dive simply won’t believe! We experience close encounters with the sea’s creatures which are humbling, profound and mesmerising at times.
An experience like this reminds you that in the sea you are truly part of the food chain and it’s one of the few places where we are not the apex predator in the chain. Seeing this beautiful creature so close-up and personal, in her natural environment, doing what she does best is even better than sitting on a game vehicle, photographing lions, rhinos, or elephants, and was a privilege, that I perhaps strangely look forward to again, But perhaps the next time under better conditions and different circumstances…
Wow Master Gavin nerves of steel hey! Peeps keep your eyes on stalks and your dive buddies on watch when you are diving marginal to poor viz conditions. Master Gavin had a close shave here but by being calm and reacting (going on his side showing size and keeping spear tip between himself and the shark) in the correct manner came out okay but shaken. It was definitely the right call to leave the hot spot and dive another day. No fish is worth a life,,,period.
As always Dive Safe and Straight Spears from the Bear…
#spearfishing #masterwatermen #kznsouthcoast #greatwhite #close_encounter #sharklore