Sunday, December 30, 2007

Great White shark sets a record during her trip to Australia

A female great white shark nicknamed Kerri who was tagged off Stewart Island has appeared at the Great Barrier Reef, setting a new distance record for a local shark.

Kerri's 3000km trip also provides evidence that New Zealand great whites travel to Australia.
The 4.4 metre shark carried an electronic tag for 9 months, recording the shark's movements.
"Our tagging results show these sharks can be highly mobile, though they may also hang around seal colonies for several months at a time," said Department of Conservation scientist Clinton Duffy.

"Australian tagged sharks have turned up in New Zealand waters; and now for the first time we have evidence that this is a two-way process. Our results suggest that white sharks in the south-west Pacific may comprise a single population".

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Great White shark sighting not uncommon near Australian beaches

AMAZING pictures of a white pointer shark frolicking off a NSW beach have emerged - as an endangered pregnant grey nurse shark was killed in nets off Bondi.

Meanwhile holidaymakers have been warned of a surge in shark activity over the holidays.
The NSW National Parks Association warned beachgoers to expect more shark sightings - as shown by the incredible pictures of a Great White chasing fish at Stockton beach, Newcastle.
"There's always a record number of sightings at this time of year ... and it's when the school fish go up the coast and the sharks follow them," a spokeswoman said.

"There are probably more people in the water now and school fish and sharks are coming in closer to coastal areas, particularly off beaches."

On Wednesday a surfer near Newcastle survived a bite on his right buttock, becoming the third person in NSW to have a brush with a shark in two months.

However the Bondi discovery brought no fear, just sadness.

Lifeguards patrolling the north end of the beach on jet skis saw the 3m shark's upturned fin floating limply.

The find has enraged conservationists, who claim the "archaic" use of shark nets is devastating marine life.

Producer of Channel 10 show Bondi Rescue, Martin Baker, was one of the first to see the shark being untangled. He described seeing the carcass being hoisted out of the water.

"As it was lifted up onto the boat, you could see its full size - it was as least as big as I was," Mr Baker said.

"Everyone is gutted that it was a grey nurse shark."

The death of the fish known as the labrador of the sea due to its placid nature is a blow to attempts to save it from extinction on the east coast.

It is feared that as few as 400 of the sharks remain around Sydney after decades of hunting in the mistaken belief that they were man eaters.

Despite having been listed as a protected species in 1984, the future of the grey nurse in the region hangs in the balance - 93 were killed last year.

The latest death has renewed calls for the nets to be replaced by more environmentally friendly deterrents, such as electrical pulses.

Contractors aboard the net maintenance boat Sea Rogue infuriated shark conservationists by dumping the remains out to sea.

"It is an absolute disaster for something like this to happen, because it has a massive impact on our grey nurse shark breeding program," said Claudette Rechtorik, of the Sydney Aquarium Conservation Fund.

"The species takes up to eight years to reproduce, so to lose a mother and pup like this is devastating."

The Department of Primary Industries, which oversees the management of the nets, said samples were taken before the fish was dumped.

Meanwhile, there are fears a five-year-old ban on salmon fishing north of Barrenjoey is attracting sharks.

Port Stephens fisherman George Trinkler has seen shark numbers "explode" north of Newcastle, near where Ben Morcom was attacked.

He has photographed great whites preying on fish less than 100m from shore, in water less than waist-deep.

Mr Trinkler said the Government needed to take immediate precautions, such as putting up warning signs.

Does protecting the Great White have an impact on protecting people?

ALARM over rising numbers of killer sharks and attacks has prompted renewed calls from marine hunters, surfers and politicians for governments to place human life above "environmentalism gone mad".

Critics have attacked the federal protection order placed on the great white shark a decade ago and NSW's move to cut back on the use of "meshing" designed to deter sharks from popular beaches.

The NSW Greens yesterday countered with an emotive serve of their own, saying the "gruesome death" off Bondi of a grey nurse shark and her newborn pup pointed to "the obscenity of old-fashioned shark nets".

NSW has been gripped by three reported shark attacks in two months, and indications that shark numbers are unprecedented given favourable temperatures and bountiful fish luring them near the shore.

Scott Wright, 34, last week received more than 40 stitches in his right arm following what he claimed was a shark attack at Bondi Beach, the first at the iconic Sydney bathing site in 78 years.
There were doubts about Mr Wright's story yesterday, following allegations he had in fact put his arm through a window.

Mr Wright was also reportedly in jail last night after appearing in a Sydney court yesterday on car theft and robbery charges over incidents allegedly committed in Bondi between Monday night and Tuesday - after the alleged shark attack. He did not apply for bail and will appear in court on February 18.

On Tuesday, what is thought to have been a bull shark bit into the buttock of Ben Morcom, 31, while he was surfing near Port Stephens, north of Newcastle.

The Queensland and NSW governments use nets to stop sharks establishing beach areas as their territory. In NSW, live sharks caught in the nets must be released. The NSW Government used to deploy the nets all year round, but concern about catching whales in the nets during the winter migration led authorities to shorten the meshing season to September through to April.

Second-generation shark hunter Paul Grunsell said yesterday the policy had led to a sharp increase in shark numbers in the Newcastle area, where he runs fishing tours. "It was a really violent move," Mr Grunsell said.

NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner said the Labor Government had moved too far in protecting marine creatures over humans. "If this leads to a death, how will the Government be able to explain it to victims' families?" Mr Stoner said.

Record shark sightings in New South Wales Hunter, Australia

Beach goers in the New South Wales Hunter region are being warned to be wary of sharks this summer, with record sightings of sharks reported along the coast.

It comes after a shark bit part of a 31-year-old surfer's buttock off at Jimmys Beach, near Tea Gardens, yesterday morning.

The victim is recovering at the John Hunter Hospital after undergoing emergency surgery.
Newcastle man Steve Bassick, who runs aerial shark spotting tours along the region's coastline, says shark numbers are definitely up, and he would not be surprised if there was a fatality this summer.

"We've had sightings in one trip between here and Hawks Nest of 28 white pointers," he said.
Mr Bassick says he believes a death is imminent.

"I've said that for the last few years and I won't back down from that," he said.

"When we're looking at Stockton Beach and you see the swimmers, the jet ski riders and some of the parasailers that are right in that proximity - there are plenty of people in the water."

Tea Gardens fisherman Ross Fidden agrees shark numbers are out of control and more attacks are likely.

"They're definitely increasing. They're increasing at unprecedented levels on Hawks Nest Beach in particular," he said.

"Shark sightings are very, very common at the moment."

Mr Fidden says his nephew recently had a very close shave.

"He was out surfing and only about five metres away from him, a large shark leapt clean out of the water and swallowed a seagull," he said.

Both men are urging beach goers to be more aware.

Actors help fighting finning in the Galapagos Islands

Actress BO DEREK has recruited action man JACKIE CHAN to her campaign to stop wildlife traffickers around the world. The 10 star has become a keen conservation activist after learning the sharks of the Galapagos Islands have become a target of poachers for their fins. Speaking on CNN show Larry King Live, Derek says, "When I first visited the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve, I expected to see an untouched paradise.

While it is still beautiful to the naked eye, behind the scenes, all is not well. "While there, I learned that the famous sharks of the Galapagos were under siege for their fins. "According to the Galapagos National Park Service, up to 10,000 fins have been seized, and they are mercilessly hacked off the shark and shipped to Asia to make shark fin soup.

"I was charmed by the playfulness of the fearless and friendly sea lions I swam with. I learned that they, too, are sometimes slaughtered so they can be used as bait for the shark finners. "It made me realise that even the most remote wilderness is now touched by the global economy - in this case, the demand for products derived from protected wildlife."

Derek has since teamed up with San Francisco-based conservation organisation, WildAid, to help in their effort to stop wildlife traffickers, and she has asked Rush Hour star Chan for his help in China. She adds, "Reaching China's 1.2 billion people is no easy task, but by recruiting the likes of Jackie Chan... and, with the support of Chinese state media, we are reaching nearly half the Chinese population with TV messaging."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tough Guy Scott Wright told last night how he fought off a great white shark - by punching it on the nose.

Scott was swimming at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach when the beast attacked.

Showing off the gouges in his arm left by the shark's teeth, he said: "The shark grabbed hold of my arm and wouldn't let go.

"So I ended up punching him on the nose and then pulled him off."

Scott, who was due to have surgery last night, added: "I thought I was a goner.

"If I hadn't punched the shark off me, I reckon I would have died."

Scott swam to nearby rocks where he passed out from pain. He was discovered by his frantic girlfriend, who feared he may have drowned after he failed to return to her. She called to nearby surfers for help.

Surfer Ben Davis said: "As soon as I saw his arm I knew he'd been bitten by a shark."

A lifeguard who saw the injury said the shark must have been relatively small - "otherwise he wouldn't have had his arm left and it probably would have taken him".

Sharks rarely reach the beach because it is protected by a net.

Acoustic devices have also been installed on the seabed at New South Wales beaches - popular with British tourists - so that scientists can monitor the movements of great white and grey nurse sharks.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

UN has support of numerous governments to protect sharks

Dozens of governments agreed in principle today to a new United Nations global agreement to protect sharks, which have long been neglected by conservationists and overexploited by the modern fishing industry.

Three of the largest and most iconic shark species - migratory whale, great white and basking sharks - have been singled out for protection in the agreement reached after a three-day meeting, also attended by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and fisheries bodies, in the Indian Ocean nation of Seychelles.

The meeting was organized by the Convention on Migratory Species, an intergovernmental treaty concluded under the aegis of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) that seeks to conserve wildlife and habitats on a global scale.

Although it had been feared that the interests of individual fisheries would thwart an agreement from being reached, the meeting's chairman, Rolph Payet, announced that Governments had resolved their differences.

To be finalized next year, the agreement will promote cooperation among governments, fisheries bodies, scientists and NGOs, as well as further efforts to conserve sharks, including putting controls on shark finning given the surging worldwide demand for fins as a luxury food.

It also includes encourages the creation of a global shark database and identifying and protecting critical shark habitats and migration routes.

Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of UNEP/CMS, said that this latest agreement brings the total number of new agreements having secured international approval to eight this year. Aside from sharks, these cover the following endangered migratory animals: ruddy-headed geese, birds of prey, sea cows, small whales, Mediterranean monk seals, grassland birds and gorillas.

"The challenge now is to get these new agreements into full operation so they can change the survival prospects of all these precious species," he observed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Warmer water temperature expected to attract more sharks

More shark sightings are expected at Sydney beaches this summer because of rising sea temperatures and greater fish stocks.

Swimmers had to be evacuated yesterday from Wanda and Cronulla beaches, in southern Sydney, after four hammerhead sharks were spotted 30 metres from the shore.

Lifeguards were alerted and used an inflatable rescue boat to drive the sharks out to sea.
But Harry Mitchell, from Shark Aerial Patrol, says swimmers need to be aware of the danger.
"Between the end of November and the end of March, we see lots of sharks coming closer to shore," he said.

"We do have these dangers in our waters and our familiar red-and-yellow airplanes in the air will alert out beach safety providers and the community enjoying their recreation on the beaches."
Mr Mitchell says sharks are attracted by warmer water temperatures and the fish around the estuaries.

"The hot spots are the beaches that are very close to estuaries," he said
"There seems to be a greater prevalence of shark activity in those areas because of the fish stocks that are in those areas."

New Zealand is also home of the Great White shark

It could still be there.
Conservation Department marine scientist Clinton Duffy says the great white is a regular visitor to the Manukau where it hunts along the edge of the deeper channels, seeking prey such as stingrays, snapper and smaller sharks.

This specimen was caught in the Papakura Channel – close to Auckland International Airport – in about eight metres of water.

A 3.5-metre version was hooked near Wattle Bay last year.

The great white is the species mostly commonly linked to attacks on humans.

But Mr Duffy has only been able to verify one incident on the Manukau and it’s not even clear if a great white was involved since the incident was more than 100 years ago.

The victim, Henry Jacobson, was opposite Shag Point when his boat was swamped by a wave in January 1892.

He clung to an oar and started to swim for shore but was attacked by a shark as he neared Muddy Creek.

It bit his hand and he shoved the oar into its mouth, keeping it at bay for a short time while he got out his knife.

Newspaper reports say Mr Jacobson stabbed the shark when it lunged at him again and then waited, terrified, as it circled.

The shark made a third approach and Mr Jacobson used the knife to slash a gaping wound in its tail.

He watched as it swam away and was picked up by a boat shortly afterwards and landed at Laingholm.

Mr Duffy has also read about two other fatalities, one in the late 1800s and another in 1911.
Both men were reportedly attacked after their boats capsized.

Each lost a leg and died as a result of their injuries.

One of the stories is mentioned in the 1966 David Brambley book, Sea Cockies of the Manukau, the other is anecdotal.

But Mr Duffy has been unable to find any official documentation to back up either account.

Shark patrols are ON!

Daily shark patrols have started off South Australia's metropolitan coast.

The state government will fund the $312,000 required for the shark patrols, which follow fatal shark attacks in 2004 and 2005 off suburban Adelaide beaches.

The government-funded weekday patrols started on Monday, reinforcing weekend patrols by Surf Life Saving SA.

In 2005, a marine biologist was killed by a shark while diving for cuttlefish off Glenelg beach, a year after an 18-year-old surfer was killed when attacked by a great white shark off Adelaide's West Beach.

Byron Bay has a shark problem!

A TWO-metre shark cruised off Byron Bay beaches yesterday, forcing the local council to admit there is a problem.

The shark, believed to be a great white, was spotted on three occasions off Main Beach, The Wreck and The Pass between 11am and 2pm.

NSW lifesaving services manager Craig Roberts said Main Beach was closed for 30 minutes while lifesavers drove the shark away from 1000 swimmers. "We believe it was the same shark in all three sightings and also the same shark sighted off Main Beach on Saturday morning," he said.
The reports have sparked a reaction from Byron Shire Council's general manager Pam Westing, who has now promised to raise the issue with councillors.

"There definitely seem to be more sharks out there," said Ms Westing. "It's never been a problem in the past.

"It could have a big impact on tourism and the people who live here. It's the talk of the town so obviously whatever concerns residents concerns the council.

"At this stage we haven't taken the initiative to canvass what the options will be (to minimise sharks). Now there have been a few sightings it would probably be something I'll talk to the councillors about.

"We've really been relying on the lifesaving service to advise us and they have not approached us with anything specific."

Mr Roberts defended the lifesaving service's decision not to take swift action.

"With a shark we might provide a recommendation to the council but we haven't done that because we don't believe there is a heightened risk compared to recent years," he said.

A final decision on action would rest with the Department of Primary Industries, said Mr Roberts.
The weekend sightings come just days after The Bulletin published aerial photographs above Byron Bay, showing sharks within metres of swimmers.

Several other shark sightings have been reported in recent weeks, including an incident in which two teenage girls were left stranded off-shore on The Wreck for half an hour after seeing a shark in the water.

But the problem is not isolated to Byron Bay; sharks are also rife in Gold Coast waters, according to Paul Spillard, co-owner of Extreme Fishing Safaris who said this was the busiest shark season he had seen in 20 years.

"There's been mainly bull sharks and a few tigers and hammerheads. Bull sharks are very aggressive. They are one of the few sharks that deliberately target mammals and the Gold Coast's canals are full of them at this time of year.

"They feed on everything from mullet to the occasional wallaby or even dogs."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Surfers need protection from Great White shark attacks

Central California has long been a mecca of legendary surf spots, but nothing wipes out the line-up like a dorsal fin cruising by.

Let's start with the Facts First:

A Monterey man was bitten three times by a great white shark in late August.

Multiple shark sightings have been reported in San Luis Obispo County this year.

A national survey showed that Americans are most afraid of sharks.

Marine biologists say different species of fish are protected from sharks because of their striped appearance. One central coast company found a practical application for the theory.

Science calls it aposematic pattern coloration, surfers call it Shark Camo.

"There definitely is a lot of fear related to sharks," said surfer Brad Jonas.

The threat of great white sharks have tormented surfers for quite some time, but a local inventor says he has a product that can repel the oceans most feared predators.

"Nine years and not any close calls, bumps, or attacks," said inventor Griff McConal.

A National Geographic special triggered the light bulb in Griff McConal's head. "These guys had this theory that certain fish are protected by a striped pattern."

McConal wondered if the pattern could protect surfers. So he developed the fingerprint, a zebra patterned decal, and tested it with other boards in the waters off Seal Island, South Africa where great whites are known for their aggressive behavior.

"The decoys were almost hit as soon as they were deployed off the boat. Some would take several approaches, some were hit immediately, some were 'Polaris Attacks.' Shark Camo after six days received no bites or bumps," said McConal.

Application is easy: get the bottom of your board as clean as possible, then find the middle of the board, or stringer. Next, unroll the graphic onto the board and remove the plastic to expose the vinyl decal. Then, remove any air bubbles.

Shark Camo users agree the decal is good for peace of mind, but is there scientific evidence to back the theory? For answers we tracked down Central Coast marine expert Terry Lilley, a surfing biologist known for his close encounters with sharks.

"The sharks do tend to, at the last moment, veer away from certain patterns and colors," said Lilley.
McConal and Lilley agree shark attacks are both very rare and most likely mistakes, but the fear is still great.

Surfers say Shark Camo may be protection to calm their nerves.

"I'd do it. Why not? You're protecting yourself," said surfer Charlie Hamilton.

We should note that a shark's reputation far exceeds his bite. In fact, sharks kill fewer than 20 people a year, and people kill over 20 million sharks.

Despite the numbers, sharks remain some of the most feared predators on earth. After countless hours of testing and use, McConal says Shark Camo users haven't even had a close call.

Shark sightings rules are changing in Avila Beach

Attacks, not mere sightings, will close the waters, which will stay off-limits for three days, not five; new policy addresses business owners’ concerns.

Waters around Port San Luis and Avila Beach will now only be closed to swimmers after someone is attacked by a shark or other marine animal.

And such a closure would last for just three days under a significant revision to the shark incident policy approved by Port San Luis Harbor District commissioners Tuesday.

Under the old rules, waters have been closed for five days after credible sightings of great white sharks within a mile of the harbor.

Now, a shark sighting that’s ruled credible would result in public advisories being posted for three days.

“We want to find a balance,” said Casey Nielsen, the district’s operations manager. “We want to alert and educate the public.”

The commission adopted a shark policy after Deborah Franzman of Nipomo was killed by a great white while she was swimming off Avila Beach on Aug. 19, 2003.

The commission voted unanimously to make the change, in part at the behest of Avila Beach business owners who said frequent closures during the busy summer months were hurting business.

B.J. Johnson, owner of B.J. Enterprises, a seafood business in Port San Luis, noted that several of the water closures over the summer came before busy holiday weekends.

“I think the current policy has been very detrimental to businesses,” he said. “This is a big step forward.”

Michael Kidd, an Avila Beach hotelier, agreed that the closures hurt business, particularly when the news got picked up in Fresno and other places where many tourists come from.

He gets cancellations after customers hear about shark sightings. He only wanted public notification in the case of an actual attack.

Commissioner Carolyn Moffatt said the policy of notifying swimmers after a credible shark sighting strikes the right balance.

“It is our responsibility to alert the public to make informed decisions,” she said.

Harbor officials stress that when closures occur, it is only for the water. “The beach is never closed,” Nielsen said. “It just applies to body contact and deep water use.”

The main beach at Avila Beach is posted with signs advising the public that a confirmed death by shark attack occurred there.

According to the International Shark Attack File—a project at the Florida Museum of Natural History that tracks shark attack statistics — the odds of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 11.5 million, and the likelihood of being killed is less than 1 in 264.1 million.

Swimming with Great White sharks off the Baja Coast

The mammoth predator is lured from the abyss by the scent of blood, and looms larger with every fathom it covers.

My heart races as I turn this way and that, sucking air through a hose, peering through a mask, intently following its progress.

Upward the shark swims, slowly, warily, casting a vacant gaze through ominous black eyes. Dagger-like teeth protrude from its lower jaw.

Forty feet . . . 30 . . .

This colossal specimen, 16 feet long and 2,000 pounds, could sever a man with little effort.

Yet its movements are surprisingly cautious. It's as if thousands of years of evolution have taught it to leave nothing to chance, to give thorough inspection.

I'm behind the bars of a submerged steel cage, but it has gaps wide enough to swim through and I keep leaning out to gain an unobstructed view, then jerking back because of fear and paranoia.
Twenty feet . . . 10 . . .

Anxiety builds until, for some reason, it becomes exhilaration. I'm overwhelmed with desire to film this remarkable creature.

So again I reach out and hold my camera steady, as the shark glides closer and closer still, until its menacing face fills my monitor and I glance up to discover that this great predator is only a few feet away.

Our eyes meet and I pitch back inside, startled to my senses, stumbling under the heft of my weighted harness. Cindy Rhodes, my cage partner, has also fallen back. We glance bug-eyed at each other while trying to regain our composure.

Back aboard the ship we'll learn that ours is a common reflex -- although divers are told to keep all limbs inside -- and that our clumsy waltz even has a catchy title: the "White Shark Shuffle."

It's performed frequently each summer and fall in the strikingly blue water flanking the eastern shore of Guadalupe Island, a 22-mile-long volcanic land mass about 150 miles west of Baja California.
Guadalupe emerged in the last five years as perhaps the world's premier destination for diving with especially large great white sharks, and with such distinction has come controversy and concern.

Competition is fierce among the five commercial outfitters permitted to dive here. Regulations are strict but almost impossible to enforce because the Mexican park service cannot afford to police so far-flung a destination.

Thus, outfitters are wary of one another and rumors swirl regarding this boat or that, about questionable chumming tactics -- and risking of lives.

"If you don't play by the rules, you make life difficult for the park service and place all of this in jeopardy," says Mike Lever, captain of the Canada-flagged Nautilus Explorer, who will not point fingers. "We need to stand together in order to make this industry sustainable."

Outfitters charge up to $3,000 per person for a five-day excursion, which includes three days of diving.

White shark seekers, whose only viable options are South Africa or Australia, consider a Guadalupe voyage extreme adventure, a chance to face fears and bond with others while becoming intimate with the ocean's most notorious, yet misunderstood, predator.

"Your photograph doesn't show the size. It doesn't show the gracefulness," says Cathy Church, a photography instructor from Grand Cayman. "Even video doesn't show what it's like to share the same water as this animal goes by.

"And he only gives you a fleeting moment. He doesn't warn you by saying, 'Oh, I'm coming. Get ready.' He just comes into view and goes out of view at his own whim."

Journey, anticipation

We're aboard the Nautilus Explorer, a 116-foot gleaming white vessel with four large cages secured to the stern deck.

Ensenada, our point of departure, is a distant memory. We've slept the night, dreamed of sea monsters, and awakened to find we're still at sea, with no land in sight.

It takes 20 hours to reach Guadalupe Island. We ponder its remoteness, check our gear and get to know one another.

Many aboard are Brooks Institute of Photography alumni, who studied under and now accompany Ernie Brooks, the founder's son.

Also here is Zale Parry, who starred in the late 1950s TV show "Sea Hunt." Parry and Brooks are in their 70s. The youngest are 30-somethings Kelly Kirlin, Sara Shoemaker Lind, Mark Meyer, Mark McWilliams and Scott Henderson.

Many have left worried family members behind, and no one feels the emotional tug like Henderson, a bail bondsman from Costa Mesa who has just discovered, buried in his luggage, a colorful booklet containing photos of his wife and two young daughters.

On the last page, in white lettering on blue paper, are the words: "We love you daddy. Don't get eaten by a shark."

At last, the island's faint outline comes into view. Two hours later, as darkness falls, we're alongside its towering shoreline, bombarded by tiny seabirds not accustomed to bright lights.
The dive masters are already at work. "Scuba Joe" Gonzales and Graham "Buzz" Busby are drilling holes in frozen tuna, then sawing them into chunks. Sten "the Viking" Johansson, a towering, long-haired Swede, has affixed to the stern oozing sacks of chum, which lures thousands of footlong fish.

Looming over the water like a grizzly over a salmon stream, Johansson swipes with his paw and launches a mackerel onto the deck.

Laughter wafts into the blustery night. An elephant seal barks. A million stars flicker. Somewhere beneath us, in the inky depths, very large creatures stir. Sleep comes uneasily for some.

Total immersion

Dawn is gray and breezy. Two cages are secured to the stern, their floated tops at water level. Two more have been pushed 15 feet from either side of the vessel via outrigger booms.

Richard Salas, Shoemaker Lind, Henderson and Meyer have already slipped into stern cages. Air is supplied hookah-style, via hoses. Scuba certification is not required.

There is only one other vessel here: the Solmar V, 400 yards to our north. Both are dwarfed by barren island cliffs and hillsides.

The Solmar V is also a luxury live-aboard. But its operation is unique in that its cages can be submersed to 30-plus feet, offering more close encounters, says expedition leader Lawrence Groth.

Some consider Groth a cowboy. His submersible cages are open-topped and divers can sit atop their rails as they're let down or brought up.

He also has a "cinema cage" with no sides, affording unobstructed views through side gaps eight feet tall and four feet wide. The gaps are big enough for any of the sharks to swim through and attack divers inside, but Groth said the sharks don't act aggressively toward divers and said he has never had an incident with that cage.

Groth denies that he has let passengers swim freely with the sharks, as one person has alleged in a blog. But he once did so with a knife, to cut a large plastic box strap that had become wrapped around a shark's head and gills.

"It was a bit of a cowboy move, but he probably saved the life of that shark," says Michael Domeier, a researcher who witnessed the incident.

There have been no attacks by sharks on humans since the cage-diving operations became full-scale in 2002. But sharks have stuck their noses and in some cases their heads into the gaps between bars, and during at least a few of these so-called breaches, the predators have had to twist wildly to free themselves. In at least one case, involving one of Groth's trips on the Searcher this month, part of the cage broke apart, briefly exposing the divers.

As part of an evolving code of conduct, each vessel is allowed to use only five tuna per day. Processed chum can no longer include cows' blood; it must be fish-based. Hand-dragging roped tuna to lure sharks to or between cages, formerly practiced by some, is no longer allowed.
Lever says he plays by the rules. Groth adds, "There's no bad things going on here."


Finally, there's a sighting and the topside cry. Divers scramble into wetsuits. I'm directed to the port outrigger cage and await my first encounter.

There's a fleeting glimpse, then another, of a wide-bodied shark that is reluctant to surface. But even 20 feet down it looks monstrous or, as Shoemaker Lind describes, "cartoon-like."

Lever explains that sharks don't like surface chop and adds that the wind will subside overnight, so passengers acclimate and learn about the 100-plus adult white sharks that begin to arrive in July and stay into December.

Studies reveal they make a winter pilgrimage to a featureless mid-Pacific destination known as the "White Shark Cafe." Sharks from the Farallon Islands off San Francisco also migrate there, yet it's unknown whether Guadalupe sharks have visited the Farallones, or vice versa.

Also a mystery at Guadalupe is what their primary food source is. Farallon sharks prey almost exclusively on elephant seals. At Guadalupe in recent years, white sharks have commonly devoured large yellowfin tuna hooked by anglers. Though there are three types of pinnipeds here, eyewitness accounts of attacks on them have been sparse.

However, Mauricio Hoyos, a researcher from La Paz, has joined us from his island outpost -- only seasonal fishermen and scientists live on the island -- and reports that "just yesterday" a large shark ambushed an elephant seal, severing its head. It then consumed the mammal while aggressively fending off other sharks.

Our second morning is calmer, the sharks much bolder, rising sporadically to inspect or chomp on large chunks of tuna cast off the corners. This is when divers learn how apprehensive the sharks are. Tuna tied to tear-away hemp ropes is unnatural, so minutes, sometimes hours will pass before the tuna is consumed.

"I was a little nervous at first and kept referring back to Nemo and that one big shark," says Mark McWilliams, a photographer from Dallas. "All these things play back in your mind -- all the movies you've seen and stories you've heard -- and then when you finally get to see it for yourself you realize, 'OK, they're all right.' "

Jim Holm, a doctor from Utah, emerges from the port outrigger cage with video footage of a shark that became entangled briefly in the rope, then shook from side to side and opened its massive jaws one foot from the cage.

It becomes the highlight of the nightly video-rewind in the salon, though I'm honored simply to have footage of my late afternoon close-up even shown before such an illustrious group.

I didn't know that I'd spent three straight hours in that cage, waiting for a shark named Squire to mug for my camera. But time does zip by when you're watching predators the size of SUVs materialize beneath the boat, over your shoulder or behind your back, then disappear like phantoms in this bluest of realms.

Too quickly it's the afternoon of our third and final day, and what an encore performance . . . several large sharks are alternating appearances behind the stern, passing close enough to touch.

One veers away, then another arrives. At one point, two cross paths and turn to swim side by side, as if to size each other up, before the larger shark is given unchallenged access to the baited lines.
The spectacle seems as impressive from the top deck, but as the wide-eyed divers begin to emerge it's clear that what they'd witnessed, for hours on end, was something truly extraordinary.

"I can't believe it really happened," says a shivering Kirlin, who as a specialist in creating underwater portraits will go home armed with proof that, yes, all of this really did happen.

Great White sharks are possibly endangering surfers and swimmers in Australia

FOUR huge sharks were spotted from the air cruising for bait fish along the shoreline at Main Beach, Byron Bay, late yesterday.

A spokesperson for the Surf Communications Rescue Centre at Ballina said a private helicopter flying above Byron Bay at 6pm radioed in the sighting.

It reported each of the sharks as being longer than the 3.6-metre inflatable boat being used by Byron lifesavers to drive them out to sea.

The sharks were within the zone of swimmers had anyone been in the water at the time.

The spokesperson said the best protection for swimmers at the moment was to stick to patrolled beaches.