Abalone diving, where keeping an eye out matters a lot
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.”