An underwater encounter with any large creature is an exciting experience but their size and physical presence makes diving with Australian Grey Nurse sharks truly memorable!
Most of my experience, and certainly all of my up close & personal, face-to-face contact, has been in the cave at Magic Point off from Maroubra in Sydney.
Typically you are not allowed to enter the cave because of the potential impact on the sharks. However in the process of getting the images for this site and articles, after being extensively coached on what and what not to do, I was fortunate to be allowed to spend a reasonable amount of time in there.
The work that Sean Barker & Peter Simpson of Spot a Shark have done with Australian Grey Nurse sharks has shown that when they aggregate together they establish swimming patterns that keep them away from each others “personal space”.
So the presence of a diver and the inevitable curtain of bubbles can disturb that pattern, stress the sharks and probably drive them away from the area. In a confined area like the cave at Magic Point, multiple divers entering it is certain to impact the swimming pattern and is a really bad idea.
A lone diver with a slow and cautious approach can enter the cave area from either end, minimizing the impact on the sharks and giving them plenty of time to adjust their swimming patterns.
Clear signs of stress are changes in breathing rate, indicated by gaping of their mouths, and the speed at which they flick their tails.
The two are linked because an unstressed Grey Nurse will swim in a relaxed manner at a rate that provides enough oxygenated water passing through its mouth and over its gills.
A stressed shark on the other hand has to move faster to increase the flow of water through the gills, and initially “gapes” its mouth to boost the oxygenation effect.
The stress threshold is around 24 tail flicks per minute, but the shark’s overall “body language” is a sure sign that they are becoming stressed. If you observe that behavior, take it as your cue to back off and leave them alone – not that you are in any significant danger, but after all they are a big creature and common sense should prevail…
The exact patterns of migration, aggregation & mating are still not fully understood, but the basic fact is that as divers we are very luck to be able to see the Grey Nurse in it’s natural environment.
Photographing Australian Grey Nurse Sharks
Patience and preparation are probably the two most important factors associated with getting decent images of the Grey Nurse and it took me a lot of dives at Magic Point before I finally got some publishable photographs.
Visibility at Magic Point is rarely very good in my experience and a “good day” is around 15m, but often it is less than 10m. As with all underwater photography, Rule #1 is get close and Rule #2 is get closer – which at Magic Point is not always possible because of the rules about not going in the cave.
This is where the patience comes in and you need to position yourself along the wall at either end of the cave, assume a non-threatening posture, settle your breathing rate down so that you are not making too much noise and then wait for the sharks to come to you – which they usually will.
Then you need to be prepared with your strobe (or strobes..) extended as far out & back from the camera to minimize backscatter, a shutter speed of at least 1/200 of a second because the sharks are moving objects, your f stop should be open enough to allow adequate light for the background exposure and the power of your strobes adjusted to light the shark.
Composure should place the shark in it’s environment and the focus point should be the eye as we are always drawn to the eye of any creature, but particularly so with large sharks… so the eye needs to be tack sharp!
Diving with Australian Grey Nurse Sharks – New South Wales
- Solitary Islands near Coffs Harbor – www.jettydive.com.au & www.divequest.com.au
- Julian Rocks near Byron Bay – www.sundive.com.au & www.byronbaydivecentre.com.au
- Green Island near South West Rocks – www.southwestrocksdive.com.au & www.fishrock.com.au
- Fish Rock near South West Rocks – www.southwestrocksdive.com.au & www.fishrock.com.au
- The Pinnacle near Forster – www.forsterdivecentre.com.au, www.actiondivers.com.au & www.diveforster.com.au
- Big Seal and Little Seal at Seal Rocks – www.forsterdivecentre.com.au, www.actiondivers.com.au & www.diveforster.com.au
- Little Broughton Island near Port Stephens – www.feetfirstdive.com.au & www.prodivenelsonbay.com
- Magic Point at Maroubra – www.prodivesydney.com & www.frogdive.com.au
- Bass Point near Shellharbour – www.shellharbourscuba.com.au
- Jervis Bay – www.oceantrek.com.au, www.crestdiving.com.au, & www.divejervisbay.com
- The Tollgate Islands at Batemans Bay – www.indpethscuba.com.au
Diving with Australian Grey Nurse Sharks – Queensland
- Wolf Rock near Rainbow Beach – www.wolfrockdive.com.au
- Flat Rock near Stradbroke Island – www.mantalodge.com.au