2011 January
In January 2011 I returned to the Neptune Islands sadly having to downgrade from my previous two excellent dive buddies to….. “The Underwater Channel’s Face of Australia . Almost” ……namely Mr Jon Shaw of Manly. Naturally my friends were concerned for my safety when they learnt that I was going to be sharing a cabin with Jon. They suggested that in view of Jon’s massive comfort eating binge which had followed the announcement of the Face of Australia results, it would be prudent, to say the least, for me to avoid a bunk directly under his carcass. But most impressively his bunk bed proved able to take his full weight. 

Our Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions liveaboard set off from Port Lincoln early one Friday afternoon and headed for a dive with Sea Lions at Hopkins Island. For over 40 years, following Rodney Fox’s world-famous Shark attack and survival, he and his son Andrew have run Great White Shark trips. Their vessel, Princess II has six double, private or twin cabins with en suites and can take a maximum of 12 guests on three to five day expeditions to the Neptune Islands. Unfortunately the underwater visibility at Hopkins Island was dreadful and underwater photography impossible.

After sheltering by the island overnight Princess II headed off at 5.00 a.m. the following morning for the three-hour motor down to the Neptune Islands. There the sea conditions were calm and the underwater visibility excellent.

For a day and a half, Jon and I were treated to ideal conditions in which to photograph or film Great Whites. Not that it was necessarily that easy to photograph them. My first underwater encounter with a Great White taught me that. My solo Shark cage was suspended just below the surface offering great natural light but a rather bumpy ride from the surface swell. To compensate for this, I used a fast shutter speed, 1/160th.  A disadvantage of being in a solo cage is that it is impossible to view 360º at all times and the first Great White Shark I saw approached me from my blind spot. The first I was aware of it was the massive shark cruised silently by the left side of the cage, close enough for me to touch.  Wow! It was now too late to take anything other than a rear end shot but what a memorable moment for me.

With bait in the water occasionally impairing the visibility and with some sharks approaching me from “the wrong side of the cage” there were more missed opportunities.  But to my delight, not to mention relief, there were also times when they approached from a direction which I had anticipated and through clear water.

There are four so-called deadly Sharks in the world.  I had already photographed three, the Oceanic Whitetip, the Tiger Shark and the Bull Shark. Naturally I wanted the full set so it was very satisfying to finally get some images of a Great White. When not in the solo surface cage, Jon and I enjoyed underwater rides in the group cage. This was suspended from a crane on the drifting Princess II. We saw Great Whites in their natural habitat down to depths of 30 metres as well as huge Smooth Rays, Blue Groupers, Eagle Rays and a Bronze Whaler Shark.

My last “dive” was a cage dive with Andrew. Our cage was carefully lowered to the sea bed and Andrew and I could see the Great Whites silhouetted at the surface 25 metres above. As we ascended they cruised around us including Big Ronnie who has been measured at 4.4 metres and Psycho 4.1 metres. It was a fabulous end to a thoroughly enjoyable trip in great company.