White shark by Terry GossWhite shark by Terry Goss

A pair of divers from the Adelaide University Scuba Club came face to face with a White pointer shark while diving at the Glenelg tyre reef in South Australia on 9th November. Although the shark came a little too close for comfort for Jan Busch and Mark Sutcliffe, Jan was at least able to take a few photographs of it.

Details about the incident were published in The Advertiser newspaper. The report, along with the photos, can also be found at http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/divers-come-face-to-face-with-great-white-shark-while-diving-at-glenelg/story-fni6uo1m-1227118365713 .

Here are some of those photos, reproduced with the photographer’s permission:



The white pointer shark at the Glenelg tyre reef

(Photos: Jan Busch)

The Glenelg tyre reef is located about 6km offshore. The shark circled Jan and Mark three times before disappearing into the blue. The pair waited until it had, before exiting the water. They omitted the safety stop on the way up.

The club’s president, Gail Jackman (also SDFSA President) said that her club would now be reviewing its safety policies. The club policy of each dive boat having a shark shield attached to its anchor line may need to be changed so that each group of divers have a shark shield underwater with them.

According to Amelia Broadstock, the Advertiser’s Environment Reporter, “Shark sightings are common at this time of year (November) along the metropolitan coast line. Last November, a boatie captured vision of a white pointer shark circling his boat.” A fisherman was fishing about 4km off West Beach when he captured some video footage. The footage which can be seen here shows a shark repeatedly circling the man’s boat and even biting the boat’s propeller.

Glenelg and West Beach are adjacent to each other on Adelaide’s suburban coast. Nick Peterson was fatally attacked by a White pointer shark whilst being towed behind a boat on a surfboard 300m off West Beach in December 2004. Marine biologist Jarrod Stehbens was also fatally attacked by a shark whilst diving for cuttlefish eggs at the Glenelg tyre reef in August 2005. (I had to abandon a dive at the site just 10 days earlier due to a (completely) broken mask strap. -ed)

To keep things in perspective, it is important to note that there have only been 20 shark attack fatalities in South Australia since European colonisation in 1836. Those attacks have been widely distributed around South Australia’s coast, with only six of them occurring of the coast of suburban Adelaide. The map below shows the years in which these events occurred, and their approximate locations. For the statewide distribution, see this powerpoint presentation given recently by Dan Monceaux.

Years and approximate locations of fatal shark attacks near Adelaide, South Australia
Years and approximate locations of fatal shark attacks near Adelaide, South Australia

Diver Chris Rapson also encountered a White pointer shark at the Glenelg Tyre Reef in June 2014. The shark circled a group of divers until they were able to exit the water safely. Although the visibility was only 3-5m and the light was poor, Chris was able to take some short video footage of the shark.

“The heavy breathing (in the footage) was because I was kicking like crazy to try and catch up to it!” said Chris. “I wanted (to get) a head on shot!” Here is a still image, lifted from Chris’ video footage of the shark.

Higher res version

Chris said that the still was a screen grab from the 30 secs of footage that he had shot. It was then cleaned up by another diver who knew how to improve picture quality and correct the colour balance. In light of the recent shark sighting at the tyre reef, Chris is actually quite keen to get back out there for another look. He just needs a boat skipper who is prepared to take him back there again.

Meanwhile, Steve Saville (OzDiverDown) posted a message on Facebook, posing questions such as: –

  • Had anyone compared footage of the recent shark sightings at the Glenelg Tyre Reef to determine whether they are the same fish?
  • Was there was enough detail in the stills and the video footage from the two sightings for ID purposes?
  • Had any footage or stills been offered to Calypso Star Charters and Andrew Fox at Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions to determine if they are known at Neptune?

We provided links to the above photos and video footage to both Calypso Star Charters and Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions, asking them both for their thoughts about the shark sightings.

Steve Saville’s Facebook post also expressed some concern regarding the manner that one dive boat approached another dive group in the area to advise them of the shark sighting. Steve believes that they inadvertently instilled fear into one or two people who were just learning to dive, with the implication that they may never get back in the water to dive.

Steve enquired whether the SDFSA could look at radio communication protocols for raising awareness with other dive boats in the immediate area, when they are reasonably sure that there are other dive operations in the area.

“I am reasonably confident everyone had good intentions, however, this recent event is a timely reminder to look at communication procedures,” said Steve.

The front cover of our 2015 Calendar of South Australian Marine Life features a White pointer (Great White) shark taken by MLSSA member, Alexius Sutandio. There is also another Great white shark image taken by Alexius within the calendar. These photographs were taken from the safety of a controlled shark cage diving tour.

MLSSA advises divers not to approach large pelagic sharks, and to always put their own and their buddies’ safety first in the unlikely event of any encounter while diving.

A single shark was spotted in the Glenelg area (Glenelg, Glenelg South & Somerton Beach) about three times in three weeks leading up to last Christmas. One of the sightings was made at Glenelg beach on 20th December, forcing swimmers out of the water. According to Shark Sighting at Glenelg Beach “The aerial shark patrol reported seeing the shark about 150 metres from shore, just south of Glenelg jetty, about 5pm.”

None of these three December sightings were listed on the PIRSA Shark Sighting site at the beginning of January 2015.

(Mind you, the only three sightings listed on the site for November were made at Glenelg, West Beach & Somerton.)

Another shark sighting at the Glenelg tyre reef on 2nd January 2015 was reported on Channel 7 TV’s news. A boatie had a white pointer swim around his vessel, eyeball him and nibble at his motor. The man said that he had witnessed some scuba divers depart the location just prior to the arrival of the shark.

It does seem that a shark or sharks are frequenting the spot, and divers need to take that into account when diving there. Shark deterrents should be used and diving practices should be modified to allow for the presence of sharks.

My best advice is to follow the recommendations made by the Scuba Divers Federation of South Australia in their Routines and Procedures for Safe Diving in 2005.

These ‘safe diving practices’ suggest that you “Attach a boat Shark Protection Device to (a) shot line”. Appendices to the ‘safe diving practices’ cover topics such as Lost or Missing Diver(s) and Recovery of Injured or Unresponsive diver .

“Routines and Procedures for Safe Diving” goes on to discuss “Emergency Procedure re Sharks and other Emergencies”.


By Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve is a keen diver, underwater explorer, photographer and is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

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