REGION - Renowned film maker, conservationist, shark attack survivor and Great White Shark authority, Rodney Fox, spoke at the City of Victor Harbor Library on Tuesday, February 18.
He was in town to speak about his new book, ‘Sharks, the sea, and me’, and took some time to speak to The Times about his views on the Western Australian shark cull and his lifelong ambition to educate people about the underwater predator.
Mr Fox was defending his title in a spearfishing competition at Aldinga Beach in December 1963 when he was almost fatally attacked by a Great White Shark. Following the attack, he was pulled into the world of sharks, and has consequently worked on more than 70 shark documentaries, several movies involving sharks - including Jaws - and hundreds of photography and research expeditions worldwide.
Along the way, Mr Fox met legendary game fisherman Alf Dean, who he made the first underwater film on sharks with, and also developed the first underwater shark viewing cage, to assist in teaching people about sharks.
“Fifty years ago, when I was attacked, no one knew anything about sharks,” he said.
“Over those 50 years, 90 per cent of people have hated sharks. It’s been a mission to educate people.
“Now, most people realise we need sharks in the ocean; the oceans would be in a real mess without them.”
Mr Fox labelled the current controversial shark cull in Western Australia as a backwards step, and only a temporary solution.
“Built inside of us is this incredible fear of being eaten alive,” he said.
“I believe this has been passed down to us from our ancestors who lived out in jungles and had the fear that a lion, a jackal, would eat you.”
While predators such as lions’ numbers have diminished due to human interference and can now be viewed in zoos and sanctuaries, sharks are still free - and therefore feared.
“The sharks are the last major predator the humans don’t have under control,” he said.
“In WA, the government seems to have reacted to this fear. In a real knee-jerk reaction, they have brought in this culling.”
Mr Fox said he has not heard any marine scientists or conservationists endorsing the cull as a way of preventing shark attacks. He would prefer to see more money being put into research about the predators and the recent attacks.
“Is it because of the warmer currents? Is it because of the protected sea lions? Is the fish life in their normal areas decreasing?,” he asked.
He labelled the idea of culling sharks in one area “a fallacy”.
“As soon as you catch one, another will come, because they travel up to 2000, 3000 kilometres,” he said.
“If you do that all around Australia, there would be no sharks left.”
He said “when you take it over a whole five, 10-year period, shark attacks have not increased at all”, but the number of people going into the water - particularly for recreational activities - has increased 300 per cent.
“I know if we have a shark attack off the beach in Victor Harbor, it would be a horrific thing,” he said.
“People would stop coming to Victor Harbor; people would stop swimming in the water.
“But if there was a car accident, it would be forgotten about in a couple of weeks.
“When a shark attacks someone, we go ‘the shark needs to be punished’.
“They don’t live under our laws. It’s a different world down there and it should be treated differently.”
Mr Fox heard that prior to at least two recent attacks, people had reported shark sightings in the areas, but the surfers still went in the water.
He said sharks can’t see very well, and surfers’ bare feet look like fish to the predators.
“The sharks love to come in amongst the waves to catch the fish eating along the bottom,” he said.
“If you can see a school of fish, that’s the shark’s restaurant.
“So don’t go in water there, or swim somewhere else. It’s your choice.”
During his visit on Tuesday, Mr Fox shared some of his most memorable experiences - included in Sharks, the sea and me - with a group of local school children and another group of about 50.
“I’ve had an incredible amount of experiences that most people don’t have,” he said.
“It (the book) contains a selection of stories and anecdotes.
“The message that I’ve tried to pass on is look out for and look after the sharks.
“The other thing is you have to do is learn to live with them, and not kill them from fear.”