Abalone div­ing, where keep­ing an eye out mat­ters a lot

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - SPORT - David Be­niuk

SHANE Wil­son knows the day will come when he’s faceto-face with a great white shark.

For a Tas­ma­nian abalone diver, it’s vir­tu­ally a rite of pas­sage.

The mo­ment al­most came a few months back while the 29- year-old was work­ing at the tip of Cape Pil­lar.

“About 30 min­utes into the first dive of the day and I get this spooky feel­ing that some­thing isn’t right. I tell my­self that it’s noth­ing.

“About two min­utes later a seal comes strug­gling past with the ma­jor­ity of its side miss­ing in a half moon shape, and an­other bite to its tail, still bleed­ing.”

How can you go to work ev­ery day know­ing there are sharks – big sharks – shar­ing your of­fice?

Wil­son sees plenty – most com­monly thresh­ers, which grow to 5m, and se­v­engills up to 3m long. Other divers have seen huge tiger sharks, nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with warmer wa­ters, off the West Coast.

“It’s in­stantly sheer ter­ror as soon as you see it,” Wil­son says. “And then it’s ‘OK, it’s one of them’. You’re a bit more cau­tious.”

A few months back a co­diver spot­ted a great white within 20m of Wil­son.

“He didn’t tell me ’till the af­ter­noon,” Wil­son says.

Divers are most vul­ner­a­ble as they as­cend and de­scend through the water, al­though they hope a full bag of abalone would help them fight off any at­tack.

When they do spot a shark while work­ing, it’s a case of hid­ing on the sea floor and keep­ing an eye out.

“The way that I see it is it’s just an­other fish — it’s a bit big­ger but it’s no dif­fer­ent from any other fish,” Wil­son says.

“Whether there’s more now it’s hard to say. There’s more food around for them, there’s a lot more seals and they’re not be­ing fished any more, so it would make sense that the num­bers have gone up.”

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