Up close and personal with Great White Sharks

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The great white shark is one of the most feared predators on earth. It’s also one of the most spectacular… if you can get close enough.

Up close and personal with Great White Sharks
SPORTFISHING with Al McGlashan: Great whites

All my life I’ve been fascinated by white pointers. As a kid I always wanted to see one in the flesh, but that never happened, even though I regularly fished shark-infested waters like Victoria’s Seal Rocks. It wasn’t until years later when I moved to New South Wales that I finally got my wish.

You’d think the encounter would have occurred offshore, seeing as how I spend so much of my time out wide chasing big pelagics in my trailerboat. Instead, it was in 4m of water right near the beach. But what was even more amazing was that
I didn’t just see one; I counted several in just a few hours. Talk about pouring when it’s raining…

My shark encounter was not a brief one-off aberration of nature, but rather an annual event. Every year the white sharks turn up near the beaches north and south of Port Stephens on the NSW Mid-North coast. For some inexplicable reason they congregate close to the beaches instead of heading offshore as you might expect.

What makes it all the more unique is that they’re not big sharks. They’re juveniles, measuring around 1.5m to 2.5m long, which according to scientific reports makes them youngsters aged from three to five years. It would seem this area is nature’s own white pointer nursery.

A similar nursery situation occurs off Ninety Mile Beach in Victoria. While it’s unclear why the sharks are attracted to the beach, some reports suggest it has something to do with salmon schools (even though these are actually quite scarce).


Ever since that chance encounter all those years ago I make an annual pilgrimage to Port Stephens to film these magnificent creatures.

I should point out that white sharks are fully protected in Australia, which means you’re not allowed to deliberately catch them. It was anglers — not environmentalists — that originally pushed for this legislation. I reckon it’s working, as there has been a surprising increase in the number of encounters in recent years. For example, as this story was going to press I heard a report of a boat that spotted a 4m shark tailing wide off Sydney; a little later I heard of a big one checking out some divers who were spearing on the NSW North Coast.

When I visited Port Stephens this season to see if the sharks were back it took me less than 20 minutes to find one. Five minutes later I saw a second shark and within an hour I’d spotted half a dozen. The numbers seem to be on the increase — something that results in mixed responses depending on who you speak to. For example, the community in Western Australia seems to be largely divided over the "shark issue" that has arisen following several recent attacks on the West Coast. My view is that the decision to issue an order to kill for the offending shark is madness and is a typical knee-jerk reaction from politicians who couldn’t tell the difference between a shark and a flounder.

For we trailerboaters, seeing a great white on the water can suddenly make you feel very small. However, spend a bit of time observing them and you quickly realise they’re not the mindless killers that the media likes to make them out to be. In fact, during my encounters with white pointers they seem to be just as curious about the trailerboat and its occupants as we were of them. That’s all well and good, so long as you stay in the boat!


Trailerboaters interested in finding sharks have several options. For one thing, sharks close to the beach can often be seen cruising near the surface, where a combination of clean water and a sandy backdrop makes them stand out surprisingly well. They spend a lot of time near the surface and the sight of their dorsal fin is unmistakable.

The key to finding white sharks is patience and keeping a good lookout. They are curious by nature and will often swim directly up to a boat and check it out. For this reason, boaters actively looking for sharks must remember that we are entering their world. Like crossing a dangerous road, there are risks. If we understand them, we will appreciate them and ultimately learn to live with them. So next time you’re out fishing, keep an eye out for a dark shape in the water — it may well be a mini jaws! 


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