The Silence of Sharks

by Lee Roberts

A leap into the unknown Australia


Great white sharks are shocking in their silence. It's irrational to expect the solid and angular beast cruising through the blue haze to be accompanied by the music from Jaws, and yet I'd expected to feel his presence before he appeared. I thought the hairs on the back of my neck would stand on end, or that I'd feel his gaze through a cold shiver up my spine. The shock of turning in the water to find the beast's dark eye and silver flank an arm's length away was staggering. Port Lincoln Australia is a tiny blip of a town, perched on the coast of the Great Australian Bight. It's Australia's largest fishing port, and also enjoys the dubious honour of hosting one of the world's largest great white shark populations in the Southern Ocean waters stretching south from it's sand stone cliff coast. I travelled to this corner of South Australia to confront one of Australia's most notorious animals: the great white shark. Upon moving to Australia, I'd been bombarded with questions from my American friends concerning my new home's deadly animals; the spiders, the snakes, the jellyfish, the list went on and on. No beast, however, seemed to inspire as much fear as the sharks lingering off the beaches. To my surprise, the dangers of Australia's native fauna seemed to have been grossly exaggerated. I'd yet to find a deadly spider lurking in my shoe, and I hadn't been bitten by a deadly snake. Yet my unease when paddling out over the wave breaks remained. My fear of the creatures lurking beneath the waves would need to be addressed head on. The cage was lowered in to the water off the stern of the cage diving boat. My dive group huddled nervously in thick hooded wet suites, preparing to step off the deck in to the shark-infested waters. A rippling grey shape cruised beneath the boat. We gasped and pointed. Our first shark. Rebelling against all natural instinct and impulse, I step in to the cold, sharky water, my breathing apparatus clenched tight in my teeth, my weight belt heavy around my hips. Clinging, white knuckled, to the cage's handrail, l I peer though the depths. The shark came from behind, slicing silently through the water. I let go of the handrail, caught breathless by his brutal beauty. Drifting, weightless in the tiny cage, everything stops. Terrifying and lethal, but full of grace and curiosity, the shark circled, his sharp eye seemingly trained on mine. My fear shifted and contracted. Then, just as silently, he was gone.