“On the 19th of September 2010, a great white shark, approximately 2.5m long visited the expedition vessel Princess II at North Neptune Islands, South Australia.
This male shark had a distinct white band over his grey back, he was very shy and it was soon rather obvious something was very wrong with him.
On closer inspection, we could see that this line was a deep white cut that showed so vividly against his grey skin and this wound encircled his entire torso. Much time was spent trying to establish what could have caused this!
Also aboard was Frenchman Patrice Heraud, professional photographer and founder of SOS Grand Blanc. Using his photos taken during our dives, we eventually discovered that this was not a rope or fishing line, but plastic packaging strapping, the type used for flat- pack furniture or discarded from cardboard cartons. This strapping was slowly embedding its way deeper and deeper into his flesh. It was quite apparent that this shark would die a very slow, painful death if we could not remove it.
We fondly nicknamed this shark “Strappy,” confirmed him as a male shark, and based on his overall length we calculated that he is most likely around 4 or 5 years old.
Surprisingly, he was still able to swim quite well, albeit a little slower than most sharks, however the use of his left pectoral fin was extremely limited due to the plastic strapping, and to turn, he had adapted very strange struggling movements with the use of his head.
Our next step was to work out how we were going to remove the plastic strapping!
Strappy was not very visible topside or even from the surface cages, so the crew from Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions took our cage down repeatedly to 20m. Armed with an assortment of knives, we were hoping that he would swim close enough to allow the strapping to be removed.
On the first couple of dives, Strappy would not come close enough to our cage to allow this to happen. Eventually, he started swimming as close as a couple of metres away, still too far to relieve him from his predicament, but it did allow a closer view of just how much damage this strap had created.
The strap had embedded itself at least 2 inches into his back, deeper into his gills, with his 3rd gill plate completely destroyed. Underneath, on Strappy’s right side showed a gaping wound at least 2 inches across: This was not going to be easy!
Several dives later, the darkness demanded that we surface for the last time, and to our disappointment, we had not seen Strappy on this final dive at all. We ended our 3 day expedition, leaving for port feeling unhappy and extremely uneasy, not knowing Strappy’s fate or if we would see him again.
Mid morning on the 28th we arrived back at the North Neptune Islands, and anchoring in our favourite spot in the bay, we started our berley trail. After a fist attempt failed that made Strappy understandable suspicious of us and coming nowhere near the boat,…
If Strappy wouldn’t come near us,... then we’d have to go down to him. In our unique ocean floor cage.
Bring on Plan B.
Andrew, along with 3 other passengers descended beneath the gentle waves in the bay while the rest of us left onboard were very doubtful that they would even get a glimpse of Strappy. It was a long wait.
As we paced the deck, 22m below, Matthias Dorsch, Director MARES Australia and Mark Mooney, MARES Sales Manager SA/WA, were eagerly on the look out for the distinctive shark with the white band. Luck! After only a couple of minutes Strappy appeared!
10 minutes later, he was circling the cage more closely: could this be our chance? Andrew waited, knowing that sudden movements could scare him away. Strappy continued to circle anti-clockwise with his left side to the cage and eventually drew close enough for an attempt. At full reach out of the cage, Andrew Fox, with one thrust of the knife in a downwards slicing motion managed to hook the strap and cut through, just as Strappy glided past. Andrew’s years of experience with great white sharks had paid off.
Although the strap was cut, Andrew could clearly see the strap still flapping from his body, as it was still wrapped around him, deeply embedded into his flesh and gills. Perhaps this shark knew that this was the best chance to have his life saved; and amazingly, Strappy circled close again once more enabling Andrew to lean out, grab one end of the strapping and as the shark quickly swam off, the entire strap came free of his body.
As if to say thank you, Strappy then hung around the cage for the remainder of the dive. On the top deck, the rest of us onboard were in blissful ignorance of the activity 20+m below but soon heard the ecstatic cries of the divers as they broke the surface on their return. “
Keep up to date with Strappy’s progress at http://www.rodneyfox.com.au and on facebook at Rodney Fox Great White Shark Expeditions.
Mares provided the knife that Andrew used to cut the strap and have purchased an elite/acoustic tag adoption for Strappy. This adoption gives naming rights to the shark and Mares have kindly kept Strappy as Strappy! If you’d like to sponsor Strappy and receive a picture and bio of him, then please go to http://www.sharkfoundation.com . All proceeds will be going to the work of the Fox Shark Research Foundation.
A special thank-you to Matthias and Mark from Mares for all their support!