They say timing is everything, and when you go to watch wildlife there is never a truer phrase spoken.
Earlier this year we were wandering the west coast of South Australia, savouring the idyllic camping, the great beaches, and the spectacular cliffs and headlands. It’s an area we’ve been lucky enough to have explored since we were young blokes, searching for a wave or a rocky reef to spearfish.
This latest trip saw us head to Port Lincoln for a planned shark cage-dive with Calypso Star Charters – no previous diving or snorkeling experience was required. The weather was clear and calm as we headed out of the marina on the Calypso Star, with the sun rising as we cruised past Cape Donington then turned south, passing the historic Memory Cove. We then slipped by Thistle Island into the more open waters of the Southern Ocean for the final leg to the Neptune Islands.
The Neptunes are a known great white haunt; the sharks are attracted to these remote rocks because of a large New Zealand fur seal colony and a smaller Australian sea lion colony that sees around 5000 pups born each year.
These islands and the surrounding waters are protected in the Neptune Islands Group Marine Park, and it’s the only place in Australia where you can cage-dive to experience a close and safe encounter with a great white.
The success of the venture is entirely up to the wildlife itself, and sometimes they don’t make an appearance. Such was the case when we went out. I was in the first group to enter the cage and, while the water was pretty clear and there were a heap of fish swarming around, no shark made an appearance. That became the norm for the day. A good-sized mako shark came and thrilled the group, as well as a smaller bronze whaler, but that was all. No great white!
We were unlucky, being in the middle of a fortnight-long lull in sightings. Rather surprisingly, Calypso Star lets people know when prolonged intervals go without a great white encounter and they give you the opportunity to postpone your dive. If you do go out and don’t see a white pointer, then you get a good discount on another trip – that’s just about as good a deal as you’ll get anywhere when it comes to the vagaries of wildlife watching.
While the great whites are around the Neptune Islands all year ’round, there are peak times for seeing these sharks. The best months are around seal pupping time, late in the year (October to January), so if you want to see a great white in its natural habitat then book your trip for these months quickly. Having a look at the comprehensive records Calypso Star keeps, over those months they see white pointers on nearly every outing with a success rate of well over 90 per cent.
We'll be going back when the chances of seeing one of these predators is almost guaranteed. Maybe we’ll see you in Port Lincoln over the next few months.