50 years of diving pictures by an Australian expert
The reefs off Townsville (Northern Great Barrier Reef) had spectacular formations until a very strong cyclone went through and smashed formations in deep water. These large corals are hundreds of years old and can be likened to giant forest tree’s. The above picture was November 1983 near Cape Bowling Green.
Part of perhaps one million starfish, near Mystery Cay
We were dumbstruck at the sight. Coralita had dropped anchor on the last day of our 10-day ‘Sea Safari’ to The Coral Sea. The charter boat, with 12 experienced divers aboard was returning to the Queensland port of Yeppoon, home base for this (at that time) world class 79 foot dive boat.
The scene we discovered underwater was worse than anything reported elsewhere. Far worse than the Guam coral reefs of 1969 (which instigated Project Stelaroid to investigate Micronesian corals and Crown of Thorns intensity).
The late Theo Brown had found hundreds of starfish at Slashers Reef, Townsville and obtained black and white pictures for his book, co written with journalist Keith Willey on the subject.
Here we were much further south in the vast reef area of The Swains with possibly the largest concentration of starfish yet seen anywhere, including the Great Barrier Reef.
The starfish we guessed, numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The diving deckhands (Richard Weir and Roy Muller) then collected 1000 starfish using spears and long lines to thread the starfish on, like a needle and thread.
This way we thought an estimate of the population might be obtained. The further we swam from the charter boat showed no decrease in the numbers. Starfish may have been in the million and covered a huge area of lush living coral.
Reef fish hovered above, unable to occupy usual hiding space under coral ledges.
Some months later we returned to what our captain believed was the same location – but it wasn’t. This was the era pre GPS.
We had been on an unnamed reef, “Two reefs east of Mystery Cay” said Capt. Wally Muller.
Today the this reef would have a name or a number.
What became of the Crown of Thorns controversy? At the time it was a marine equivalent of climate change. People seemed to ignore the problem and it just ‘went away’, but not without cost to the reefs.
How did Mystery Cay obtain it’s unofficial name by the late Captain Wally Muller? Wally explained that he’d sailed past this reef many times without knowing it was there. It was therefore ‘a mystery’ to him.
The name would not have been adopted by authorities years later which makes tracking previous starfish damage impossible.
Years before the \\JAWS\\ books and movies before \\Blue Water White Death\\ the supreme ocean predator was a subject spoken only between ocean professionals and experienced skin divers.
In this era the media published no information relating to the differences in sharks. The difference between grey nurse sharks and bronze whalers was still ‘high tech’ and a bit complicated for average readers to grasp.
A better understanding began when the first quality film frames showing a young and snapping white pointer were printed into still pictures.
These shots later inspired a better promotion between shark species when one of the frames became a movie poster for \\Blue Water White Death\\ (1971).
This in turn was to inspire the \\JAWS\\ books and movies – which were to do more harm than good (for many years) by presenting the great white shark as some super species with powers and ferocity to a silly excess. This worried many when entering the ocean.
In short, a powerful negative effect.
It also began a killing spree with high demand for shark teeth and cleaned jaws. Prices sky rocketed and threatened to wipe out many species from 1975.
A major question today. How did all the big budget \\Time-Life\\ type popular books, encyclopaedia’s, \\National Geographic\\ and all marine fishing publications miss reporting the ‘leaping white pointer shark’ phenomenon we see so often today?
It’s well documented with amazing video and pictures but why was this being overlooked for all those decades? Has it recently started? Are sharks being somehow trained?
I’ve tried unsuccessfully to find any old information that existed in the 20th century.
Big game fishermen knew blue pointer sharks (aka mako) jumped high but failed to pass along anything that suggested bulkier whites could do this too, when hooked.
We knew nothing of the now common air borne attacks on seals. How could fishermen have missed seeing and reporting this over hundreds of years?
Ron Taylor’s famous underwater movie sequence showing the snapping white pointer shark was recorded at Dangerous Reef, South Australia, March 1966. It was during a fishing shark hunt promotion for our film shows \\Shark Fighters\\.
Simultaneously the same sequence was recorded by a different underwater movie camera being run by Henri Bource, \\(above).\\ The frames have never been copied to still picture form. The distance from the shark was difficult to show detail.
It does show Ron Taylor’s camera being held underwater by hands only. Henri was filming from a shark cage and was underwater but too far away.
This was the beginning of a much better understanding of this species. My text which accompanied \\Trail of the White Pointer\\ was re-written by a reporter and became rubbish. However, it was a first start to a better understanding that this was the supreme shark.