Have Lunch Or Be Lunch

, , , , , | Related | November 16, 2017

My family has always loved the sea, and we’ve always had a boat, travelling around New Zealand during weekends and holidays. Growing up, my siblings and I loved to swim off the boat whenever it was anchored, and we often proved difficult to persuade out of the water, causing our mother to go hoarse as she yelled over the waves for us to come in.

The year I was 12, we were anchored in the Hauraki Gulf which is around the top of NZ’s North Island. My siblings and I decided we’d have one more swim before lunch. I was wearing a snorkel and a mask and although I could hear Mum calling us in for lunch, I decided to take one more dive. I dove and resurfaced a couple of times, moving away from the boat. On my third dive, I turned up the right way, floating in a circle to see all the fish… and found myself staring into the face of a grinning great white shark.

Looking back, years later and with a degree in marine biology under my belt, I know now it was quite small — probably not even seven feet — which meant it was a juvenile. It was so close I could see each one of its ampullae of Lorenzini, the black marks around the snout. Every cell in my body was screaming in terror, but I had frozen in place. After regarding me for a couple more seconds in what can only be described as mild curiosity, the shark swam away on its business, leaving me to float, still literally scared stiff, to the surface, where Mum was standing on deck waving her arms in the air.

“Honestly, [My Name], you are such a dreamer! I’ve been hollering for you the last 15 minutes. I know you could hear me when you popped up! What do I have to do to get you out of the water, start screaming that there’s a shark around?”

Although that baby great white gave me the fright of my life, it sparked in me an obsession with sharks that has endured to this day. I studied marine biology at university and have a fantastic career in shark research. I’ve cage-dived with great whites in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. The first time, at Stewart Island in New Zealand, I was privileged to see a magnificent, 18-foot male pass majestically back and forth in front of the cage. He was truly astonishing, but as I gazed at him, marvelling at his sheer size and power, I couldn’t help but think back to the little, baby great white who’d started it all!

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