Friday, October 07, 2005

Former hunter now protective of great white sharks

From hunter to nurturer

IN the mid 1980s Rolf Czabayski made a living from hunting and killing white pointers.
Today he has turned from hunter to conservationist and prides himself on sharing the wonder of great whites with local and international tourists.

He now gets a buzz from interacting, studying and tracking these massive creatures that strike fear in the hearts of those who work and play on local waters.

He does not think a cull of great whites will solve shark attacks or make the waters safe.
However Mr Czabayski has suggested authorities capture and kill sharks believed to be responsible for an attack.

The shark should then be weighted and tied to the seafloor in the vicinity of the attack, which he said would discourage all other sharks from entering the area for some time.

There is still very little known about the numbers and behaviour of great whites.

Mr Czabayski leads between one and four expeditions a month to the Neptune Islands where he takes thrill-seekers up close and personal with the ultimate predator.

But he is adamant trips are about more than just thrill seeking as a major part of each expedition is identifying each of the tagged sharks that are viewed as well as tagging any new sharks in the area.

One of two licensed operators to berley for sharks in the State, Mr Czabayski is also heavily involved in the CSIRO white shark project, with his latest involvement being servicing listening stations at the North Neptunes that track the daily movements of specially tagged sharks.
"The sharks travel great distances and the listening stations have shown the sharks from North Neptunes swim to the South Neptunes and the sharks from the South Neptunes swim to Dangerous Reef," Mr Czabayski said.

Securing research funds was also a challenge for the CSIRO scientists and so Mr Czabayski said the researchers had come to rely on the expeditions to monitor the sharks and help collect data.
Mr Czabayski and the expedition he led earlier this month also had a bit of breakthrough when one of four sharks fitted with satellite tags back in November reappeared with a damaged and non-functioning tag.

But the shark-expedition leader was very pleased to see the 3.8-metre male shark he believed to be Sam-C, the same individual that survived being trapped in shark net off the Far West Coast but not before leaving behind one its two tags.

"We know he's still alive and it's good to know he is in the same area at approximately the same time of year," Mr Czabayski said.

During the recent expedition, which he said was typical, the Calypso Star crew used about 20-litres or one plastic drum of minced tuna a day to attract the sharks to the vessel.

About 15-litres of tuna oil was slowly dispersed while pieces of sections of tuna or tuna gills and guts were also used to bring the sharks closer to the submerged cage.

Mr Czabayski said the berley only attracted sharks that were already around the islands and did not spread beyond the immediate area, with berleying also not allowed at Dangerous Reef closer to Port Lincoln.

New restrictions prevent the licensed operators from luring the sharks out of the water, while the vessel is also required to fly a special berley flag.

Thrilling assignment

PORT Lincoln Times journalist Stan Gorton was fortunate enough to be invited out on a shark diving expedition this month, here are his experiences:

ONE would think getting into a 2.7-metre aluminium cage with big gaps to view sharks over four metres in length would be scary.

Well, it's not - with descriptions such as mind-blowing and fascinating springing to mind after getting in the cage up to three times a day for three days of action.

Sessions in the cage lasted up to two hours despite the 14-degree temperatures with up to five different sharks seen each day.

The fear of not wanting to go diving or go fishing in my 4.2-metre tinny after seeing the sharks did not eventuate, although if I were to dive off Port Lincoln I would be using a Shark Shield.
Some of the sharks appeared to have personalities such as the satellite tagged individual believed to be Sam-C that seemed reluctant to take the bait but keen to check out the divers in the cage.

It was a humbling experience to think that one of the sharks I saw who had names like Adam, Bam Bam and Feisty could have been involved in previous attacks.

But then sharks have been proven to swim vast distances and some of the larger sharks travel from as far away as New Zealand and South Africa.

Charter operator Rolf Czabayski and his deckhand Andrew Wright were truly committed to the science of the shark observation and tagging with one of the biggest disappointments of the trip not being able to tag and name a shark.

Most of the sharks we saw were tagged with only a brief glimpse of some untagged individuals.
The trip was rounded off with a swim with up to 20 Australian sea lions off Hopkins Island and while some might say this was foolish, it was on a white sandy beach in waist deep water and felt perfectly safe.

Diving with cave cowboys

DIVING with great white sharks attracts thrill seekers to Port Lincoln from around the world, and participating in an expedition to the North Neptunes earlier this month were a group of divers that specialise in entering the unknown.

On board the Calypso Star were three members of the group known as the Limestone Cowboys, cave divers whose favourite areas include the limestone caves around Mt Gambier in the State's southeast.

And getting to dive with the sharks was turning out to be just as much of a challenge as squeezing through a narrow underwater passage, as the three cave divers had come out in June only to be treated to gale force winds and no sharks.

Normally a mechanical engineer, cave diver Neil Vincent also makes a few dollars from his hobby of photography and in particular underwater photography.

At one of their favourite sites known as Tank Cave, the Limestone Cowboys have travelled as far as 900 metres underground discovering new caverns.

"There is a lot more planning with cave diving, but with shark diving the cage is all set up, everything is provided and you just jump in," Mr Vincent said.

The only draw back being the expense involved as whether here in Port Lincoln or in South Africa and the United States, getting to the sharks was the domain of specialist tour operators such as Rolf Czabayski.

Previous expeditions have included diving with whale sharks, humpbacks and manta rays off Western Australia as well as freshwater crocodiles in north Queensland.

Closer to Port Lincoln, Mr Vincent and his wife have dived with the cuttlefish off Whyalla and most recently locating leafy sea dragons off Tumby Bay's jetty.

Between them, the Cowboys had been diving in exotic locations from New Guinea to Alaska but Mr Vincent said capturing images of great whites had always been a goal.

"It's not what I anticipated," Mr Vincent said.

"It was a mixture of excitement and intrigue, figuring out which direction they would come from and whether there was any pattern."

In addition to the Limestone Cowboys who other than Mr Vincent had jobs in IT and installing blinds, the two other passengers were a computer specialist and a commercial carpet business owner.


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