The Sharkman meets Rodney Fox
Sharkman: I have read many reports about your incident and a lot differ on the actual date. Was it Dec. 8th. 10th or 12th. ?
Rodney: It was Dec 8th 1963. I was defending my title in the South Australian Spear Fishing Championships. Spearfishing was a big sport with divers back in those days and it was probably due to the struggling fish and their blood in the water that further motivated the Great White Shark to Attack
Sharkman: 3 months after having survived the incident, you returned to the sea. How did it feel?
Rodney: : My wife Kay paddled me out from the shore on a long wave ski, helped me to load my spear gun and I remember the joy and exhilaration at being able to dive down, spear a fish and feel the freedom of the water around me again. I did still feel the chill of fear in the back of my mind though, which was exaggerated with my weak struggling efforts to get back on top of the ski to get paddled back to the shore.
Sharkman: The first expedition in 1965 resulted in the first film "Great White Death" which was followed by "Attacked by a Killer Shark". Where you looking out for vengeance on the Sharks at this stage?
Rodney: In the beginning I guess there was in some way a sense of vengeance in those early expeditions. The first expedition I organized was with Alf Dean, the world record holder for the largest fish caught on rod and reel. Alf first showed me the Great White, and taught me the first things about where to find them and how to go about it. This was also when the first shark cage for great white sharks was used, and where Ron Taylor filmed the first ever underwater footage of this creature.
Most people then had little sense of ecology and the vulnerability of many species in the ocean, so catching them seemed to be of little harm. In "Attacked by a Killer Shark", Ron Taylor again filmed me power-heading some Bronze whaler sharks. These shark killings from the 1960's have been shown over and over again, however instead of really wanting to "even up the score" I was more interested in proving to myself, that people could protect themselves against danger in this new and mostly unexplored world and that fear should not hold us back from enjoying its wonders.
Sharkman: Was "Jaws" the reason that motivated you to start fighting for Shark Protection ?
Rodney: I always felt a little guilty about being involved with the movie "Jaws". However I also believe that the movie really just tapped into a pre-existing primal fear we all have deep within us. I also find now that a lot of people who come on our diving expeditions list "Jaws" as their absolute favourite movie , and it is this type of love, that has actually evolved into appreciating and then wanting to experience and eventually learn about, respect, and even protect this species.
However before "Jaws", even back before we worked on "Blue Water White Death", I was seeing first hand that Great Whites were not the monsters of nightmares that we were lead to believe, that they were not generally interested in humans as food targets, and I began to really appreciate the role they played in our ocean ecosystem. Most of all though was the appreciation every time still to this day, that I see the beauty and such power and perfection of this animal in its natural element! The more I learn about them the less I fear them and the more I can see the need to protect them!
Sharkman: In what way is your work related to Sharks now?
Rodney: When I am not out diving on our Filming and Research Expeditions with Great White Sharks off South Australia, or other shark species in other countries I spend much of my time now running and speaking to groups of people in my Shark Museum here in my home town of Adelaide.
Sharkman: How many trips do you organize every year?
Rodney: My son Andrew Organizes 4 to 12 day live aboard cage diving tours throughout January to October every year. We work with several vessels, and concentrate our major expeditions in the recognized high season during the cooler months in the middle of the year. I join Andrew on our major expedition ship "Falie" for 5-10 major trips every year during this "prime time"!
Sharkman: When is the best time of year, for seeing the Great Whites?
Rodney: Great White Shark Activity peaks in our cooler months of May through to September, a time we mistakenly avoided for much of our early history. Since then, we have seen multiple sharks on nearly every single day during this time at our favorite viewing locations. It is possible at this time to get a few days of cool winter weather, but are always very comfortable on our large stable vessel "Falie"!.
It is during these months that the thousands of Fur Seal pups are learning how to swim, and begin to venture further from the safety of the shallow rock pools. At this time we see much more active sharks around our boat, often including huge mature females and spectacular natural predatory behaviour. We are also surprised to see that the water temperature maintains above a nice 16 Celsius throughout this time and remains often stunningly clear, which is so important for underwater filming and photography. To cap it all off, the prevailing winds at this time are from an ideal direction for our anchorage's! It seems such a shame that we have missed out operating in this optimal time for so much of our history!
Sharkman: After your near fatal incident, you spent around 18 years diving for Abalone. Did you ever encounter any more Whites on these dives?
Rodney: I found it remarkable that in my whole abalone diving career, I only saw Great Whites on a few occasions, often at the very same or nearby locations that we had worked with great white sharks on our filming expeditions. It seemed that on average abalone divers would only have close encounters every 3-7 years. This usually led to us hiding in an underwater cave for a while or scrambling up over the side of the boat. Being on a hooker air hose system instead of scuba gear we felt especially vulnerable with our air hoses exposed and the sharks swimming past them.
Some abalone divers these days have special protective mobile shark cages to work from, just like we tested in the film "Caged in Fear". This lack of encounters showed me that generally these sharks, which were no doubt often around us unseen, tended to avoid us on all but the rarest occasions! In most cases we would pack up for the day, go home early and have a stiff drink. At other times after warning other divers in the area, we would feel comfortable traveling some 10 mile away or so and starting again.
Sharkman: Another terrifying moment in your life was in 1991, when you were diving with Dr. Eugenie Clark, off Catalina Island, in California. During the filming of the IMAX special "In Search of the Great Sharks". What happened?
Rodney: That was another very close call. I was being filmed diving with Blue Sharks, and wearing a special protective chain mail suit of the type made famous by Ron and Valerie Taylor. The trouble with the particular suit I was wearing, was that it didn't fit me very well, actually being custom made for prominent U/W film maker Howard Hall. It bunched up at my joints, and greatly restricted my movement. I was also wearing a full face mask with a special voice intercom speaking function. This made it very hard to equalize my ears to the pressure when diving, unlike normal face masks where you can pinch your nose and just blow to equalize.
The incident happened on one dive when I entered the water and accidentally lost a fin which drifted down below me. I swam down to retrieve it, but with my restricted movement I found I could not get it back on my foot. Then with the compression of my wetsuit and the heavy weight of the chain mail suit, I found I had lost buoyancy and was sinking in water over 3000 ft deep and I was quickly tiring swimming with only one fin on.
As I was sinking, the pressure was building up in my ears to an excruciating level of pain. In the struggle the inflator hose of my BCD had drifted up above my head out of the reach of my restricted arms. With the weight of the suit replacing the need for a weight belt, I had nothing to drop, but I finally managed to remove a few 3 LB weights from my BCD pockets with the difficulty of working with a taped on chain mail glove and the pain throbbing in my ears.
Still I continued to sink and with pain and exhaustion I still had an awareness that if I dislodged my full face mask it would flood and drown me immediately! I looked down into the dark depths of 3000 ft seeming to come up and swallow me like a set of giant doors. It was then I became terrified. I reluctantly screamed out "help me... help me........I'm drowning" on my full face communications mask, knowing that the surface crew would likely have little or no idea even of where I was, and that my wife Kay was on board listening at the surface.
A state of rage dwelled up in me and I shook the scuba tank from side to side on my back in anguish until I felt it shift slightly. From this hint of encouragement I shook further desperately from side to side until I could remove my Tank and BCD, and then I was able to reach the inflator button. Pressing that button down hard, I started to wonder if such a small flotation device could take me up from such a depth? Gradually I felt my arms go up and I started to rise, faster and faster bubbles releasing all around me.
On hitting the surface like a Polaris Missile, I had no hesitation on tearing off my expensive coms. face mask. I ended up a few hundred metres away from the boat and we were both more than relieved to see each other. With blood running from my nose, the doctor said to take a long rest from diving to heal the damaged tissues... So the film crew gave me a couple days off, some aspirin and we went on to finish that part of the film!
Sharkman: Wow, that was a close call. Rodney, you and Carl Roessler have shared many adventures together. Tell us about the time when Carl Dropped his Camera please?
Rodney: Carl and I have been diving together since he brought out the very first group of non professional cage divers here in 1976, the year after "Jaws" was released in the cinemas. He was a pioneer in our taking some of the first cage dives down to the very bottom of the ocean floor, a place where Great Whites seem more at home and often bolder in their approach, and a spectacular place to experience the unique view of a great white shark swimming over your head.
One of the first times we went down was encouraged by a mission to retrieve Carl's camera which he had unfortunately dropped from a surface cage. In those days we didn't use a sturdy winch to steadily lower and raise the cages to the bottom in a controlled way like today, but simply dumped the valves on the buoyancy tanks and they dropped down to the bottom like stones. Coming to the surface was equally dramatic with the cages rocketing uncontrollably to the surface.
When we dropped the cage this time to retrieve Carl's camera, the cage tilted sideways and we ended up crashing into the bottom with all Doors swinging open on the sides and on the top of the cage, and two of three present Great Whites following us closely down. One shark tried to come right down inside the cage and I had to bump it on the nose which distracted it away. I managed to take a picture of it just before this moment!
After we secured all the open doors and the coast looked clear Carl scurried a distance out of the cage without the fins we discard for cage diving, and managed to retrieve his dearly beloved camera before they came back. Needless to guess the ascent continued the drama with us smashing up under a floating surface cage.
Another time we found ourselves wedged up stuck under the boat and we had to push our feet up and walk ourselves off! Through necessity we had had such fun we decided to work out how to do this safely and make it a feature of our expeditions.
Sharkman: Which is The Most Memorable moment in your Career?
Rodney: It is so difficult to pick out a single outstanding memorable moment when working with creatures as exciting as sharks and the wonderful types of people who spend their life also with them. I remember my first time down in my shark cage, the success of the very first whale shark filming expeditions where I first used spotter planes to co-ordinate the boats and the sharks together!
What I find fascinating is that something very unique and special seems to happen on nearly every expedition I have been on. It is sometimes funny, sometimes dangerous, sometimes breathtaking. But that same thing never happens exactly the same way ever again!
Sharkman: This is what makes every trip special. Rodney, you have just published a new book Called "Shark Man ". I know it is not about my life-story, but can you please give us a little info on it?
Rodney: "Sharkman" is a selection of stories and pictures about my life with sharks, since and including my attack. It covers my first thoughts of returning to the water after the attack, catching and killing some sharks in the early days and onto developing shark repellants. I talk about the first ever filming and research cage diving expeditions with great white sharks and up to the current day, and how this experience allowed me to admire and understand their important place in our oceans.
I wrote this book with the hope that these stories and pictures of my close encounters with several species of dangerous sharks, will inspire all readers to develop a more protective attitude towards these magnificent creatures. It is primarily targeted towards school age readers, however is fascinating reading for all ages!
Sharkman: It is a fascinating book and I recommend it to everybody. Thanks for the copy you gave me. Anything else you would like to add ?
Rodney: I like to think that through further learning and understanding, that many peoples fear of the Great White Shark will give way to a fascination about this magnificent creature. I urge accepting and protecting them, not only for the vital role they play in our world, but also for the beauty and power they show!
Sharkman: I totally agree with you. Thank you for your time Rodney.
Rodney Fox, his Expeditions, his Book
and of course, Sharks
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