Just received a copy of Rodney Fox’s action-packed memoir Sharks, The Sea & Me (Wakefield Press). Rodney, you may know, famously survived a major shark attack in 1963, fifty years ago this month.

sharksseameHe went on to pioneer abalone diving in South Australia and, in 1965, the filming of great white sharks from custom-built cages. Having obtained the first-ever underwater footage of great whites, Rodney began filming sharks for many productions, including Blue Water White Death and Jaws – the latter providing some of the book’s best anecdotes.

In February 1976 Rodney ran the world’s first shark-cage dive tourism trip, and today Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions is the major Australian player in what is now a global industry. He’s also a leading shark conservation advocate, with the Fox Shark Research Foundation a key enabler of cutting-edge shark science. Of course I’m biased because I was one of the book’s editors, but it’s a great story and unputdownable for anyone interested in sharks, diving, adventure or true-life Australian stories. For more info see the Wakefield Press website.


A decade ago (March 2002) there was a brief media frenzy when a boatful of people saw a large shark breaching four times near Taronga Zoo Wharf. One said, “It turned on its side and you could see its jaws and it looked to me like a white pointer”. The same day a yachtie reported an 8-ft shark near the Harbour Bridge, which rose from the water “shaking its head from side to side”.

A bull shark, most people reckoned, and with good cause – it’s the only large species frequently seen in the harbour. Nino Kinnunen (Manly Oceanworld aquarist) was quoted as saying that great whites had never been ‘officially recorded’ in Sydney Harbour.

AND YET…. on 22 May 1927, fisherman Charlie Messenger caught a 5m great white shark in the harbour’s Watsons Bay. The Sydney Morning Herald covered the story on May 26, stating Messenger ‘caught the monster just after a French mail steamer had passed, and he presumes that it followed the vessel through the heads and into the harbour’.

The specimen was identified as a great white by David G Stead, Fisheries Department naturalist, father of the writer Christina Stead and later the author of Sharks & Rays Of Australian Seas (1963). 

Two days later (May 24) Messenger caught nine bull sharks in the harbour; some are shown in this PHOTO.

Stead declared this catch ‘mullet sharks or whalers’ – bull sharks by another name, even though their usual maximum length is 3.5m and Messenger’s ‘mullet sharks’ apparently ranged from 2.3m to 4.4m. Before Stead saw them, the newspapers misnamed these sharks ‘deadly grey-nurse’.

Stead didn’t identify the great white until May 25th – the day after the bull sharks were caught – so he may have examined all Messenger’s sharks together. The Herald reporter listed the common names of the 5m shark as  ‘great white death’, ‘terror of the sea’, ‘white pointer’, ‘grey death’ and ‘sea tiger’, and noted that it ‘was on this coast a very rare variety’. Stead later confirmed in his Sharks & Rays Of Australian Seas that it was a great white, and speculated that it had followed the French steamer a great distance, as sharks were often observed doing in that era. Over 80 years later it still seems to be the only great white ever seen inside Sydney Harbour.

Here’s a link to Beauty Is The Beast, my story on cage-diving with great white sharks in South Australia.

Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions operate the world’s only seafloor cage-diving with great whites. Scientists often accompany the trips; the Fox Shark Research Foundation does a lot of valuable work in shark biology and conservation. To support the foundation by adopting a shark or sponsoring a tag, see www.rodneyfox.com.au – some sponsorships even let you name a shark.

Sharks at the end of the rainbow?

Great White Shark visits the boat

Luring the sharks in for tagging and viewing

Submersible shark cage going down

New Zealand Fur Seals: what lies beneath?

Rodney Fox (left) and an intrepid diver

Another day at the marine biologist office

Tag that shark!

Check this out!

As I posted before, I’ve just got back from cage-diving with Great White Sharks at the Neptune Islands with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions. It was a writing assignment for a magazine – article coming soon. I’m still seeing giant sharks circling in my eyelids everytime I shut my eyes.

Great White Shark

I’ve been at sea for three days with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions, doing a story on Great White Sharks. The expeditions involve three days at the Neptune Islands (South Australia), combining tourist cage-diving with scientific research programs – an utterly unforgettable adventure. I’ll post a link to the story when it’s published (probably January).

I'm in the cage