First, you'll need a pod of aggressive orcas, says Ms Brinkley Davies…
You’ve been introduced to Brinkley Davies, the freediving, barrel-hunting surfer marine biologist from South Australia before.
Last time I spoke to Brinkley, the now-22-year-old, was putting the gloss coat on her degree in marine biology and was planning on spending the summer down there at South Australia’s neptune islands, near the fishing town of Port Lincoln. The Neptunes are famous for one thing and one thing only.
Great Whites. Monster Great Whites. Sharks six-metres long and five-and-a-bit wide.
And, so, for the past few months, Brinkley has been working with Adventure Bay Charters, a Great White cage-diving operation that differs from most because they don’t bloody the water to attract sharks. Instead of the diver’s experience of Great Whites being the horror of bloody mouths grabbing the cage with rows of see-sawing teeth and with eyes protected by their second eyelid (haunting!), the diver sees a relatively passive, inquisitive animal.
But, lately, no Whites! Let’s ask why! Maybe, as we all hit various panic and fear buttons after the Byron attacks, it’ll give us a handle on how to keep ’em away…
BeachGrit: So, what happened to all the Whites?
Brinkley: Well, we haven’t seen one in two weeks, ever since a couple of Orcas came through and killed a a big male behind our boat. Neptune is a sanctuary and there’s usually heaps every day. The only people I’ve known who’ve seen a White lately have been a couple of my friends who saw one at Blacks (a popular surf break).
How’d did the Orcas smoke the White?
First they take it down with their mouth or slam it with their body weight. After they kill, Orcas are picky eaters, so they’ll eat the liver and a few other things and leave the carcass. Right now it’s sitting on the sea floor. That’s why the sharks haven’t come back.
What a welcome!
Yeah, Great Whites rock up to the Neptunes, think, What on earth has killed this other Great White? Obviously, no other sharks come in that area ’cause of the Great Whites so it’s a bit of a ghost town. There are a lot of questions being thrown around, as in where have they gone? They might have migrated back to Perth early because of the Orcas. Who knows?
Tell me about your relationship with Great Whites…
I spend a fair bit of time on the boat, on our cage-diving boat, no burley or bait, so all the interactions are really calm, very inquisitive. They swim up directly underneath or side-on and check you out. Going out and seeing an animal that’s been made to be aggressive by burleying as opposed to an animal in their natural habitat completely shifts the experience. People come on our boat and instead of saying, “That was so scary”, they’re, “Wow! What an amazing beautiful animal! So big and so amazing up close!” That’s how I want to see them. Surfing around here, especially, you don’t want to be looking at sharks in an aggressive aspect. I’ve seen Great Whites freediving outside the cage. I saw one off the coast of Adelaide and it looked at me and swum away. It wasn’t scary at all. People see them searing regularly over here. It’s just… how it is. There are mixed opinions. Most people accept that South Australia is a hot spot for Great Whites.
How important are Great Whites, y’think?
They’re amazing apex predators and, therefore, so important in the food chain. Just because people are scared doesn’t mean we should get rid of ’em. Because they’re right at the top, or at least behind Orcas, everything would get thrown out of balance if they were to disappear. A couple of years ago, there weren’t too many sharks and the increased seal population started eating penguins, wiping out an entire colony. Whites have been here since the dinosaurs. They didn’t die from disease or pollution. They clean up our mess and they kill the weak and the dying. That’s a massively important thing. That’s how evolution works.
What colour eyes do they have? I hear they’re baby blues like you!
All the eyes I’ve seen are black. Quite often, they’ll roll their second eyelid over when they attack, when they’re grabbing a boat. Most of the time, it’s all black, no pupils.
Tell me about their amazing swimming abilities!
There’s the western population that goes from South Australia all the way to Exmouth (in northern Western Australia) and the eastern population that goes from Tassie all the way up to Cairns (in northern Queensland). All the sharks here are from the western population. But there has to be a breeding ground nearby. We had a White visit that was way bigger than our boat, a massive animal, then some two-metre males and then a White the size of a tuna. What the hell?
Ok, enough small talk, although I love small talk. Why all the Great White activity? Y’got a theory?
Well… there’s so much hype on the east coast at the moment. Those two attacks in Byron were, more likely, from a bull shark. The thing is, the media has been thrashing it. We’re just looking harder. They’re spotter planes, lifeguards and heaps of people in the water. There’s no actual statistics that prove they’re more Great Whites than usual. At this time of year, all the juvenile Great Whites come straight from their breeding grounds and cruise. It’s where they live! It’s where they swim! They’re one to two km off the coast, that’s totally normal. People in their tinnies film these sharks swimming off their boats and then post it on YouTube. Anyone can get a shark to swim around their boat!
How about in South Australia? Much happening in the surf?
Where I live, everyone has seen someone get attacked. My boyfriend (Tyron Swan, who’s rad. Click here!) saw his friend Monkey (Andrew McLeod) get attacked by a Pointer. It came up from underneath, grabbed his board sideways. Just smashed him from the bottom! It’s pretty exposed down here and in WA. But, unlike, the east coast, we don’t have big muddy rivermouths reaching out into the ocean. Ballina, for example. All those break-walls and muddy outlets everywhere. It’s bull shark heaven. Bull sharks are aggressive.
So, back to the Orca thing, let’s say, and this is cruel, but y’gotta be cruel to be kind, right? How about we slaughter one Great White and we chain in to the bottom of the ocean out the back of every surf spot. No Whites!
It’s a theory, but on the east coast, you have a lot of scavenger sharks, tigers, reef sharks, and they’ll eat dying and decaying animals. A White won’t eat something that’s dead, generally, maybe they’ll have a swing at a whale carcass, but they won’t eat an actual shark carcass. So you might scare off the Great Whites but you’ll bring in the other sharks.
What would you do if a Great White was coming towards you?
Thing thing is, they’re bottom attacking predators. That’s when you get nailed. It comes straight out of nowhere. If I did see one swimming around, and they do swim with their nose out of the water and their eye looking around, I’d get a wave in. I totally get it that I’m in their environment and if I get nailed I don’t stand a chance. I weigh 53kg (slender!) compared to a one-and-a-half tonne animal.
Visit Brinkley on Instagram here.