Earlier this year, we sent 8 lucky winners to complete exciting internships in South Australia. Today’s blog comes from Rory Mulloy, an Assistant Shark Scientist based in Port Lincoln, having secured a full time role on completion of his placement.
Twenty-five metres down on the ocean floor, cold water creeping into the gaps in my hood and chilling my neck, while cautiously watching rays, groupers and great white sharks glide around the cage, I had the sudden realisation that I was in my new ‘office’. I have never wanted a desk job, but this is about as far from my previous office as I could have hoped for.
Life on the ocean floor
My appreciation of this was even greater given that this is the only place in the world where you can view sharks in this manner, at the ocean floor where they are at home and a much more relaxed animal than their reputation suggests. Most people’s image of cage diving with great whites is one of sharks biting and tearing at bait, thrashing around at the surface and baring their teeth to the occupants of the cage. However when you observe them under the water you see a completely different animal.
I have learnt a huge amount about sharks and seen first-hand that their behaviour can differ from individual to individual, much like humans. Some, while perhaps curious, are cautious and don’t approach the cage while others show no fear and closely circle the cage for the entire dive, even gently bumping the cage with their nose or teeth. There can also be difference in speed between individual sharks; some cruise slowly by not appearing to be in a rush, while others, especially the younger ones, swim around more energetically changing direction more frequently.
South Australian wonders
My job is the constant highlight of my time here, however, even before the boat had left port for my first shark trip, South Australia (a state I admit I knew not a huge amount about) had surprised me. My introduction to South Australia was a trip to Kangaroo Island, or ‘KI’. Kangaroos, koalas, emus, seals, galahs…The island is a nature lover’s paradise and spending the night by a campfire under the stars was a great way to experience the “real” Australia. As well as seeing iconic wildlife up close, feeding kangaroos and holding koalas, we tried delicious local gin and had an adrenalin-fuelled tour around the beautiful natural landscape on quad bikes.
Port Lincoln offers the chance to ‘swim with the sea-lions’ as well as the ‘swim with the tuna’ experience. However, the main reason for any visit to the town should undoubtedly be diving with great white sharks. No diving certificate or experience is required, however if you do have a qualification you can experience the world exclusive ‘bottom cage’ dive.
Which brings me back to the sharks! One of the great advantages of going on this expedition is the chance to get to speak with experts who have been diving with these sharks for their entire lives, and know many of them by name. During my time here, the Neptune Islands, where the cage diving operators go to view the sharks, has become a protected marine sanctuary zone, which has been a vastly important step towards protecting sharks and other species in this eco-habitat for years to come.