When our morning began with a young sealion hurtling down the beach towards us, like a puppy who has just been let off the leash, we knew it was going to be a good week.
Aboard Calypso Star, we donned our wetsuits and got ready to jump in. The clear blue shallows of Grindal Island are home to a colony of Australian Sealions – our only endemic pinniped. Sadly, they are an endangered species, having been slow to recover from seal-hunting practices, and now susceptible to be caught in gill-nets used by commercial fisheries.
However, there was NOTHING sad about meeting these animals! They seemed like the happiest, friendliest, and most playful of creatures, who instantly welcomed us into their world. As soon as we jumped into the water, we were like their new shiny toy, something fun to zoom circles around and boop with their whiskery snouts.
Then sometimes they would just stop, sit still on the sea-floor, and stare up at us with their enormous round eyes. If they were using their cuteness-superpowers on us, it worked. We are under their spell, completely in love with these animals forever.
After an hour and twenty minutes steam aboard Calypso Star, we arrived at the Neptune Islands. Now, the mood was different. We were in great white shark territory. It is abnormal for us to stand aboard a dive boat and hope to see that dark shadow come towards us, or a triangular fin break the surface, but everything was different here…. there was definitely a moment where I felt like we were “not in Kansas anymore”.
Being able to see a great white shark up close, but from within the safety of a secure cage, let us explore the fascination, awe, and respect, we have for these predators, without experiencing the fear and “fight or flight” response we would have in other circumstances.
Each day brought different sharks, different moods, personalities, behaviours, and different lessons about great white sharks. There were things we could never truly appreciate about these animals without seeing them in person, like how they are formidable hunters, but they can also be curious, cautious and even scared. The whole time, we really felt lucky to be in the company of greatness.
For anyone reading this who is scared of the ocean because of sharks, please bear in mind that, at the best of times, it can be very hard to find a shark! Even the mighty great white is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. We encourage you, once this lockdown is over, to put on a snorkel and mask, and get into the ocean with a friend, somewhere shallow and safe. You might soon realise that the only thing waiting for you is adventure!