Monday, March 02, 2009

Shark Alarm

May paddles into a wave and slides away. The waves are long and clean and small and fun and she's already 50 metres down the line when I turn back to the ocean.

The water is clear and I let myself roll off my board, floating under the surface and looking back up at the light refracting it's way down to me. I swim up and breathe and climb on my board.


I sit and float and enjoy the sun - the waves are fun, but the wait between sets is longer than I'd like. There's a few crew out, and it's mellow.


As I watch the water a black mass of mullet heads towards me, magnified through the swollen water. Urgh. They pass under my board and seem to stop, hovering. Al is near me,

'You know what follows fish don't ya? Someone's gonna get bitten soon I reckon.'


He paddles further out and I pull my limbs up onto my board, sitting like a child with my legs stretched in front of me. I will the fish to move along...


Everyone knows Old Whitey hangs between here and the Cape. There's been several separate attacks over summer - not good for tourism. But what do you do? Friends of mine snorkel between the Cape and here every Saturday. They swim out to the the reefs to chase turtles and leopard sharks. They go so far out they need to take a buoy with them so the boats know where they are! But the fisherman have warned them to stay out of the water for a few weeks and my friends have paid attention as these guys don't tend towards hysteria.

Sharks have been a constant topic of conversation in the town for the past 18 months and stories have been flying about from all directions...

"It was so big he paddled straight in and collapsed on the beach crying!"

"...rolled over and looked straight at me as he swam under me board..."

"It played with her off the rocks for ages before it let her go and she could swim the 300 metres back to her friends."

"....he told the young fella to stay behind him and lined up with the animal and paddled towards it, like he was gonna attack it himself. Saved them both I reckon."

Stories old and new, true and not-so-true. Stories to inspire fear and keep you out of the water. But not so many stories about actually being attacked.

May comes back out.

'Al reckons there's a shark around.'


The words fall out of her mouth as something very large and dark sweeps underneath us in the direction of the fish. We look at each other.


'Dolphin?'


'That wasn't a dolphin.'


'Why do they have to look so much alike? Fuck.'


Al yells at us,
'Youse'll be right. Don't worry about it.'

An attack of any kind in my town is not so good for business. A tourist town that sells itself by promoting the beautiful, protected beaches that frame the area would not benefit from any kind of attack on a swimmer. Which, to my recollection, there has never been. On surfers, divers and kayakers, yes, but on swimmers, no. So we're looking good. But the feeling is that if there is an attack, then there would have to be something done about it. Like last time.

The last fatal attack in my town was in 15 years ago when a honeymooning couple was scuba diving. To cut a long story short, he was taken and never seen again. Until local fisherman tracked the shark down, caught it and it regurgitated his body. Recently one local surf legend is reputed to have offered to go and catch the biggun' that keeps getting sighted off the Cape. His reputed offer was not taken up, but I wonder if it might be, should something happen that affected the town's tourist image?

I heard a report on the radio this morning about The Attack down in Sydney over the weekend. The reporter claimed that people were saying the Government should do more to protect swimmers. What a crock! What exactly are these people proposing Kevin and co. do? Redefine the War Against Terror to include man-eating beasts? Fence off the ocean into People and Non-people sections? Kill all sharks by allowing vigilante shark patrols that then string the animals up and allow us to revel in our own kings-of-the-world status? Get a grip.

Everywhere I go at the moment, everywhere I look, people are talking about sharks, posting pictures of sharks, showing footage of sharks and generally obsessing. I just went and got a coffee here in Brisbane and everyone there was talking about sharks. In Brisbane!!

They're there. They cruise. They have teeth. In an unarmed, underwater fight between a shark and a person, it's likely that the person wouldn't win, so yeah, they're frightening. And me no likey. But they're a part of ocean life.

May looks at me,

'Do you wanna go in?'

'Nah. Al reckons it's ok, and no-one else is going in.'

I push my fears to the back of my mind (where they probably belong), but I keep my legs up on my board for a little bit longer...

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