I was just 4 years old when Jaws came out at the cinema, it is a movie I absolutely love and always have done. Directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name it was to become the archetypal summer blockbuster, its release is regarded as a turning point in motion picture history (it gave birth the Summer Blockbuster phenomenon). Jaws became the highest-grossing film in history at the time, and it was the most successful film of all time until Star Wars (another film many of you know I have a love of). It is often cited as one of the greatest films of all time, along with Star Wars, so you see I really do have good taste in movies…
Anyway, I digress, I know the movie does not exactly show sharks in a particularly good light but for some reason it sparked an interest in great white sharks that I have always had. For years I have dreamed of being in the water with them, it was on my proverbial bucket list as it were, well that was until this past weekend then I finally got to tick it off.
The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), also known as simply great white, white pointer or white shark is mainly known for its size, with mature individuals growing up to 6.4 m (21 ft) in length. We went to Port Lincoln in South Australia to meet a few of these fellas and the largest one we saw was probably about 4.5m and as he glided majestically past our boat for the very first time I was reminded of this famous line from Jaws when Roy Scheider as police chief Martin Brody says “we’re going to need a bigger boat”, a phrase I used for much of the day.
It really was something to see them up close, there is something so serene and majestic about them, not viscous and evil as they are often portrayed. I thought I might be nervous when the time came to get into the water, even though I was going to be in a cage, but in fact I was excited. It was amazing to see them in their environment; they really are beautiful creatures if you take the time to appreciate them and not vilify them. As an experience it is up there with the time I went swimming with whale sharks.
They are estimated to live for as long as 70 years or more, and can accelerate to speeds that exceed 56 km/h (35 mph). Great white sharks have been deemed to be at high risk of extinction in the wild since 1996, living to a ripe old age of 70 or more is becoming harder and harder for them as overfishing and culling initiatives greatly reduce their numbers and life expectancy. I acknowledge that the very film that ignited my love of these creatures also gave them the image as “man eater” in the public mind. However, in Australia since 1791 there have only been 892 shark attacks of any kind, 217 of which were fatal.
I am more in awe of them now having been up close and personal, and I would highly recommend anyone to experience them. Long live the great white.