© 2004 M. Edmondson
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One of the best things about sea kayaking is observing the wildlife, and the more unexpected, the more rewarding.
I've paddled the full stretch of Perth's metropolitan beaches over the years and regularly try and put in 10 to 15km every Sunday morning with my mate Colin Miller. Together we've seen our fair share of marine life, including seals, sharks, rays and lots of dolphins.
Last Monday we did a leisurely trip from Port Beach to Cottesloe and back and enjoyed watching a couple of dolphins surfing the wind-driven swell as we paddled back into a stiffening sea breeze.
Col wasn't able to paddle on Tuesday morning, so I went out on my own for workout from Port beach to Floreat and back. About 800 metres directly south of the Cottesloe groyne, paddling into a stiff southerley and a half to three quarter metre swell, I noticed a large area of white in the water, about two metres below the surface and 40 metres off the starboard bow. My first reaction was that it may be a ray, but very quickly it became apparent it was too long and broad. It was two-toned, grey on top and vivid white on the flanks and belly.
As it rose to the surface seconds later it became apparent it was a shark, but not like any shark I had encountered before. It also became apparent it was big, about two metres from the nose to the dorsal fin. It was travelling very slowly and had a good look at me with it's large black eyes.
Now I'm no shark expert, so I can't say what it was, but I can say what it looked like .... a "great white". When the large dorsal fin broke the surface the animal was only about twenty feet away.
I'm not sure if both the shark and I changed course and whether one of us put on a burst of speed (I suspect I did), but within what seemed like a few seconds the fin cruised past the stern and continued directly towards the shore, about 450 metres away.
I wasn't comfortable being on my own with a shark of that size, but the animal was not at all threatening, just curious, and while I could see it I felt no panic. When it was about 40 metres off the port stern the dorsal fin disappeared and for a few seconds the tip of the tail fin cut the water.
As it was last seen still heading directly towards the inshore reef, I still did not feel panicked, but nevertheless made good time in my 350 sprint to warn a wave ski paddler just off the Beach Street groyne.
Such a sighting is no big deal. The ocean is, after all, where sharks live. I work as a TV news reporter for the ABC and didn't even bother reporting the matter to the newsroom, although I did paddle back to Cottesloe and alert a surf life guard, who radioed warnings to his colleagues north and south. I warned people in the vicinity of the Beach Street groyne to exercise care if entering the water, and I'm sure most would have erred on the side of caution and not done so.
I went back to near where I last saw the animal and there was no further sign of it, nor along the edge of the south Cottesloe reef.
I'd like to think such sightings are more common than we realise, a sign perhaps that there is a healthy population of big sharks. But it's also worth being mindful that this was only a few hundred metres from where Brian Seirakowski and his paddling partner had their surf ski chomped almost in half by a bigger shark (also believed to be a white pointer) in October 1997.
I feel privileged having seen what I believed was a white pointer in the wild, and I would enjoy seeing one again, as long as it was as non-threatening as that. But I guess as Brian Seirakowski pointed out to the ABC back in 1997, it's the ones you don't see that are a bigger threat.
Cheers, Mike Edmondson (Plastic P&H Capella)