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Sharing Waves With Sharks

Merlyn deep in the pit at a south coast beachie.  (Cody Bates)

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Part and parcel of the surfing experience on the south coast is the ever-present man in the grey suit.

That lurking menace just out of sight below the surface of the water, constantly in the back of your mind.

But what is the reality?

A fin circling a lone swimmer

We all know the horror stories of five-metre monsters rocketing out of the depths.

Of ominous pianos playing the Jaws theme as a fin circles a lone swimmer.

Personally, I’ve pulled in a few fishing up north and seen a massive hammer head being dragged up a boat ramp, which was as heartbreaking as it was exhilarating.

But I’ve never actually come face-to-face with this apex predator in its natural environment.

I spoke to local charger, bodyboarder and filmmaker Merlyn Moon who has grown up surfing the many isolated breaks around Albany and Denmark.

Share the water and the risk: A respectful attitude and making it a bit of a coin toss

“It’s their territory but I’m still scared of them”

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“It’s their territory but I’m still scared of them” he said.

“It’s a base primal instinct, there is not many things that can actually eat you.”

“But is more likely I’m going to die in a car crash on the way to the beach than be eaten.”

Merlyn Shares has the same respectful attitude I have found in all the surfers I have met in my time in the Great Southern.

“It’s their world, I definitely don’t support culling,” he said.

“There are definitely places I won’t surf on my own that other guys will though, at least having another person out there makes it a bit of a coin toss,” he laughs.

Not to mention having other around to help if something were to go wrong which significantly improves your chances of surviving.

More about the waves than aquatic company

So just how common are sharks around here?

Merlyn Moon dropping in at “The Right”. (Rex Nink-Mowday)

“You don’t see them often,” Merls said.

“I’ve seen a few, mostly Bronzies and they don’t really attack people.”

“The only great white I’ve seen was out at The Right.”

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“The only great white I’ve seen was out at The Right.”

“I’m not quite sure it was a great white, but it was about four metes long so there’s not much else it could have been.”

“The Right”, for those who are unfamiliar, is a remote deep water “Slab”, a huge wave that breaks below sea level, sucking water off a shallow reef as it rushes out of deep water and slams into solid rock.

So, it figures you’d be more worried about the waves than any aquatic company.

A curious meeting of man and predator

Overall, it’s unlikely you’d be attacked by a shark. Most encounters are a curious meeting of man and predator, not a vicious incident.

However caution is not a bad policy, speak to local surfers and fisherman about sightings and where the schools of fish that the sharks hunt are.

A diver and a shark share the ocean. (Andre Rerekura)

You can also use the WA Shark Smart app which will show the location of tagged sharks and public sightings.

At the end of the day, it’s their world that we share, the risks are slim and the reward of a good surf far out weigh the slim chance of a freak encounter.

- Jacob Morgan-de Laine 

Anouska Freedman dives with Bronze Whalers. (Andre Rerekura)

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