What you don’t see can’t hurt you, unless it’s a big shark
Well it’s the silly season and sharks are in the news again, big time.
This summer in central Queensland, they are competing with box jellyfish and irukandji for the mantle of scariest critters in the sea, while on land, tourists at Seventeen Seventy have been attacked by a crazed kamikaze flying fox.
That small tourism hot spot marks the place where Captain James Cook put ashore to take on fresh water, but this week three tourists were bitten by a bat later found to have been infected by the potentially deadly lyssavirus.
They are now undergoing a course of injections to fight off possible infection.
It all sounds a bit like the plot of the blockbuster movie Avatar, where the creatures of a beautiful alien plant combine with mystic natives to fight off evil invading humans.
If that sounds like I’m making fun of the people who have been victims of attack by all the above, well no. To be on the receiving end would certainly be no laughing matter and you have my sympathy.
But in the case of sharks at least, when you venture into their territory especially on the Great Barrier Reef, you should not be surprised when you see one – or as in a case reported in The Gladstone Observer this week, you didn’t see one but you know it was there.
The Gladstone woman’s apparent near miss with a 3m tiger shark comes weeks after diver John Pengelly was bitten by a bull shark at Lamont Reef, near Heron Island, last month. Mr Pengelly, who received deep cuts to his wrist and forearm, is reportedly undergoing 12 weeks of physiotherapy.
But he admitted he was in the shark’s territory and bore no grudges. Fair enough, as a former diver and spear fisher, I can appreciate that, but then I’ve never been bitten (by a shark, anyway). Possibly I’ve come close, and if I had a dollar for every shark I’ve seen, I’d be laughing.
Back in the early stages of settlement at Seventeen Seventy when the only access was by a sandy track, the waters off Round Hill Head were teeming with fish. Schools of barramundi mingled with giant cod and sought refuge among packs of bronze whalers when my mates and I were targeting them.
We’d take turns, one riding shotgun, er speargun, from above while another dived among the fish and sharks before returning to the rocks with a thrashing barra on the end of the spear. My mate later recounted how a shark zeroed in on me from behind before veering off only centimeters from my flippers, but what you don’t see doesn’t hurt you.
This is one reason experienced divers generally keep alert for shadowy movements on the limits of visibility. My mates and I always adopted a corkscrew motion when returning to the surface from any depth. In reef waters with a dive boat involved it was always wise to glance upwards as well to prevent the boat being sunk by a speeding torpedo in the form of a diver’s head.
Once I remember persuading a young and very dubious Mrs Mikko to join me on a dive.
Things were going swimmingly until a huge dark shape suddenly materialized just metres in front of us and I thought, this is not good. No sign of panic from the body floating alongside me but while I was admiring her courage in what could be our final moments, I saw the creature’s broad, flat tail glide by. Hallelujah.
I reached out and signaled her to surface. “Don’t worry, it’s not a shark, it’s a small whale”. Wide eyed and white faced, “What!!! Where!!!” She’d been focused on the bottom, hadn’t seen a thing and I shouldn’t have said a word.
Ignorance is bliss, what you don’t see doesn’t hurt you, but that was the end of her diving career.
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