May 22, 2020

Famous shark attack victim, Rodney Fox, wants to protect sharks.

In 1963, a 23-year-old spear-fisherman was taken by a great white shark. He received 462 stitches and survived to retell his horrific ordeal. But instead of wanting to kill sharks, RODNEY FOX explains why he has campaigned to protect them.

Lucky to be alive. Rodney Fox and his 426 stitches.
BEFORE I was attacked by a great white shark, each time I went spearfishing my mother would say to me "Watch out for the sharks - they are hungry this time of year!" My knowledge of sharks and attacks was limited. It was like when you were young and crossed a busy road. Your mother always told you to watch out for cars - you might get hit and killed. You understood. but never believed it would happen to you.

In hospital, in great pain, I continually thought about shark attacks and whether I would go back into the water. Those thoughts were increased by friends who didn't discuss it and others who said I would make a good golfer.

I was not sure if I could or wanted to go back into the water. When I tried my first dive, my imagination went wild - I saw sharks coming at me from all directions. I remember saying to myself "Stop this! If you don't control your mind, you will never make it."

Sometimes, when sleeping, I would drift into what could be a violent nightmare, reliving the attack.

Just after my attack I was introduced to the underwater explosive power-head. I screwed this device on the end of my rubber-propelled speargun, replacing the spearhead and barb. The explosive head was loaded with a .303 bullet which would go off on contact with the shark's skin, making a large hole and killing it.

I shot a few sharks this way, but we had lots of trouble and great difficulty in finding sharks.

I shot some while being filmed. I wanted to prove to myself and to show others that there was an effective weapon you could protect yourself with while exploring the wonderful underwater world.

Because of the huge amount of publicity the shark attack generated people were very interested. They asked many questions and were very interested in sharks. I read every shark book I could find, but not much was known about sharks and I still wanted to find out more.

Alf Dean, an Adelaide businessman and world record holder for white pointers (great white sharks), sent me a letter in hospital that really made me think. He said: "If you had seen what I have seen, you would give up diving forever". I wanted to see what he meant, so I made the first protective shark cage and organised an expedition.



Alf Dean with his record shark catch at Ceduna SA, 1959

There was Alf Dean, three victims of great whites - Brian Roger, Henry Bource and myself - and underwater cameraman Ron Taylor.

Alf caught five great white sharks between 3.3m and 4.2m long on that first trip, and from the safety of that first underwater cage, I saw just how big they were. How effortlessly they would glide through the water and turn and dive with graceful fluid movements. I saw another side to the story and wanted to find out more.

We filmed them above and below water, cut out their jaws and dumped them back in the sea. This film was the first ever made on great whites and titled Great White Death (1981). It was the start of a long career of more than 150 expeditions to film and study this feared predator.



During the next few years I caught a few great white sharks on set drums. Catching and killing sharks was easy with a good strong boat and a knowledge of the right places.

Each year I also made two or more filming expeditions. Each film company would bring with them nature experts, shark scientists and researchers from all over the world.

I didn't feel right killing sharks for fun. and I did not believe the old saying "the best shark is a dead shark". but couldn't understand why they didn't attack more people. I knew that sea water made up seven-tenths of the Earth's surface and thought there must be thousands, maybe millions of big sharks out there. Not so. Sharks aren't fast breeders and don't have many young, so just killing a few may upset the whole balance of nature.

About two years after my shark attack. my diving pals and I found a huge bed of abalone off Tipora Light, Port Hughes, and I started diving full-time as an abalone fisherman. I thought about sharks a lot, but never saw any big ones.

JAWS. (1975)
A major Hollywood motion picture company asked me if I would organise an expedition to film great whites. I felt quite proud to share my new knowledge, and we spent six weeks filming at Dangerous Reef. Only about one minute of our footage was used, because the real sharks made the big rubber models look unrealistic. This film was Steven Spielberg's first blockbuster movie, Jaws. Millions of people around the world saw this film and some queued for hours. When Peter Benchley was in Adelaide last year he told me "Jaws, the book and movie hit a nerve in so many people who had a great fear of being eaten alive." He could not believe the Jaws phenomenon.

I have met many people who saw this movie and have said because of this film they hate sharks. I felt a little responsible. and have spent years telling people that sharks aren't so bad. We are not the sharks normal prey. They don't like us - we are too bony. If they do bite us they mostly spit us out.

I started to believe we shouldn't kill and wipe out any species because of fear. We must learn to live with the sharks. On average, we only have one death out of six to eight shark attacks in Australia each year.

We need sharks in our oceans because they are a key predator. The great white is at the top of the food chain where it directly controls the diversity and abundance of all other species underneath it.

Without them, the next level in the food chain, such as the seals and dolphins. would get out of balance changing the whole structure of our local ocean ecosystem.

Then their food, such as squid and baitfish which also support other high-level carnivores, would be depleted. causing some species to displace and eradicate others and so on down the line. The health and biological fitness of these populations would suffer.

Footnote: Today Rodney Fox operates an internationally renowned shark dive experience out of Port Lincoln, South Australia. See Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions

END

Source: From the original newspaper clipping




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