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A Shark Story

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New Member
Aug 19, 2002
Yesterday, July 14th, I had my first real encounter with a shark. We tied up to an oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico. My first trip from the boat to the oilrig and back was un-eventual. I shot a dog snapper and brought it back. The guy I was diving with said he had seen some sharks around the boat and was a little concern. On my second trip to rig, I had a leaky mask, because the strap became loose. After taking it off twice and trying to adjust it and put it back on, it still leaked so I started going back to the boat. I hate making the swim to the boat without bringing a fish.

As I neared the boat I saw a small 3.5-foot black tip shark and thought to myself, “is that all my partner is concerned about?” I dove down to take a better look at it. Suddenly this 7-foot bull shark came bursting onto the scene. I surfaced and immediately did what I had heard to do when a shark is acting aggressive or interested in you. That is, extend yourself and gun to make yourself look as large as possible. I did this, but it did not phase the shark. He was still interested in playing even though I was not a willing participant! I started swimming backwards toward the boat with my eyes and gun on him.

I had a self-inflating float instead of a float-line setup because this was a rig that had some species that liked to stay inside of it and it is easier to move through it without a float-line. I really didn’t want to pull the trigger on this 200 lbs plus shark with the self-inflating float, because I was sure I would never see my gear again. The shark took a nip at one of my fins so I pulled my legs up so I could jab him with my shaft tip before he could reach my fins if needed. It was real slow swimming backwards in that position and for the first time I felt a healthy dose of fear. Slowly I inched toward the boat with the shark doing a little dance just past the reach of my spear tip.

When I got to within 10’ from the boat he backed off which was a real relief and I was able to pull myself up onto the dive platform without additional fear. My dive partner was still in the water so I hurried to put the float line on and add another float to it encase a shot was necessary. Right before I slipped in I heard my dive partner yell that the shark was harassing him.

I swam toward the dive partner and the shark, and saw the partner give the shark a good jab with his tip. He had a long gun, probably 60” with stainless cable line and 3 bands. I had my Riffe MT2, with three 9/16 bands and a 5/16 Hawaiian shaft with single flopper. Not the best tool for shooting a 7’ shark, but at least it wasn’t a single band gun.:confused: The jab did not deter the shark and it came right back to play more with him.

At this point I started getting angry! :vangry I figured someone here was going to get hurt and if that was the case then I wanted to be the one to give out the hurt first! I was about 30 feet away from my dive partner and the shark was another 10 feet past him. I dove down to 10-feet.

When the shark saw me dive he immediately shifted his focus to me and came at me quiet fast. I had been told that if you ever needed to shoot a big shark aim for the gills, because you have the best chance of the spear penetrating there. Didn’t know how true that was but it seemed logical. Since the gill slits are on the bottom half of the shark, by diving down I had hoped to get a little lower than he was for a shot. Unfortunately he didn’t want me lower than he and descended on his route to me.

At about 10-feet away and still swimming straight for me it occurred to me that unless he turned my only shot was going to be at his front sloped head which because of the angle of the tip coming in contact with the skin, might not be a good shot to penetrate it with; so I thrust the gun toward him (he was probably only 8-feet away at this time). He seemed surprise and started to angle to one side. At 5-feet away I pulled the trigger. It was a high shot but the shaft penetrated his skin and the flopper opened on the other side. :ko

If you ask me how I managed to nearly miss that big of an object only 5-feet away, I would have to say nerves and adrenaline!:head The shark just froze for about 5 seconds. He seemed confused like, “this isn’t supposed to happen! I’m the one who puts the hurt on others!”:waterwork Then he turned and bolted. I had 2 mm Dyneema line, which is 570 lbs strength and has a protective woven sleeve around it. It is supposed to be very abrasive resistant. I also like to tie the float line directly to the gun and not use a breakaway.

I fully expected the shark to rip the gun out of my hand when the shooting line came tight, but just as I started to feel the pressure; the shark’s body came into contact with the Dyneema line and cut it in two. There went the shark and my shaft! As far as we know he never turned around and is probably somewhere over on the East side of the Atlantic by now!

The good news is that particular shark never harassed us again. It was a very unusually day in that we probably saw 30 sharks at the three rigs we dove. The pole fishermen managed to catch a little one and hook on to two 8-footers, which broke off. The most and the biggest sharks we encountered were when we were drifting back from the second rig after I had untied us. Fortunately I was in the boat when those boys came to visit!

I have been freediving the Gulf for three years and never seen sharks like yesterday. To tell you the truth I never could actually say I for sure saw a shark until yesterday. Several people I have dove with claimed to see them, but all I ever saw were some dark figures in the distance. Now I can, for sure, I have seen sharks! Even have a story about one! :)
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Wow -

next time keep a underwater camera with you - and take picture-- oH But don't forget to keep you spearfishing gun in the other hand-


Hey nice story! Now if that was a seal, I would have been like, "Oh neat, he was biting my fin! Look at the curious little fella!" Yet, in this case I think a healthy amount of, "I have a knife!", is a little wiser! ;)

Any insights into this behaviour? Are they just testing whether they should proceed to eat you?

Well thanks for sharing this!
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Wow! Nice story. I have never been that close to something like that before. And I don't plan to either... :D
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I'm really glad we don't have Bull sharks in Hawaii, those guys are just too nasty. I think you handled the situation really well. First off you didn't panic, second you didn't wimp out and cower on the boat while your partner was fending for himself, and third you did what you had to do in shooting the shark. I mean if a prod from the spear doesn't deter it, it's time to get nasty. I assume that you don't carry powerheads with you. I'm thinking I really should carry one just in case. Anyway, good story and glad you're still around.

Great recounting Don, a goood story and you did great!!

Many sharks are migratory, including bulls, I think. Maybe you ran into a group moving through.

Most of my experiance is caribbean reef sharks, but the few bulls I've run into acted much the same. Even when they are crazy excited and rush you like they are going to run right through you, they will turn away if they can't get past the spear tip pointed right them. Sometimes they don't turn until they are nearly touching distance from the spear. There is no way my sling shaft would stop'em if they kept coming, but they don't seem to know that. At least , that is my experiance.

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Wow! Now that was quite something! After the adrenaline rush, did your knees shake? :D AS Daniel says, mount a camera on your gun!


Adrian I dind't think about that one

"AS Daniel says, mount a camera on your gun

my idea was him to keep a camera in one hand and with the other his spearfishing gun-- but your a a great idea is great sabes

Thanks guys for the comments. Tyler, on Discovery's Shark Week last year (the best week of television!) I believe they called it exploratory biting. Some sharks like to bit and check out the taste before deciding if it’s worth eating or not. Most of the times they don’t think we humans taste good, but the first bit and ripping it away is enough to kill or severely hurt us.:crutch Actually I was amazed at how in control of myself I was in the situation. I think watching every program on shark week last year (including all of Manning’s swimming with the sharks) made me feel familiar with what the shark was going to do and how I needed to position myself. I think every freediver should watch shark week!

Brad, Those Great Whites and Makos you have in Hawaii are probably worst than our bull sharks! Are you going to participate in the Spearfishing Nationals this year? :)

Connor, thanks for the insight. I’m a firm believer now that the more you know about sharks the better. You seem to have more direct experience than most of us. I think you are right about the migratory thing. One thing I have heard about Oilrig diving is that the bad kind of sharks don’t like to get up next to or in the rig. Some people speculate that this is because of the Cathodic Protection, which has a small electrical current running through the rig, but I understand nobody really knows why. With all the sharks we saw that day, they all were well off the rig so the theory seems to be working. When my children and other snorkels want to get in the water, I am going to make sure the boat is tied up close and they stay close to rig.

Adrian, I calmed down pretty fast after it bolted – other then being upset that I couldn’t use that gun, which was the perfect one for the diving we were doing, for the rest of the trip. The more apnea I do the quicker I am able to slow my heart rate down after it gets up there. I use your mental control yoga tips you gave me at the PFD clinic all the time now. ;)

Neshamah, I’m looking for a cameraman right now. You interested? :D

Cingene, that shark in your picture looks very similar:hmm. He had the same “want to play?" - grin!; just not quite as exaggerated. The dyneema is white and I got it from Mathew at www.spearfishinggear.com. I only was able to shoot it twice, but it seemed pretty good. It’s stiff enough that it doesn’t tangle like some fabric lines.
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I have always wondered how some of you guys keep spearfishing with all those sharks around you!!! It would really be frustrating for me to know that one of these "fellas" is even near the area I am fishing.
Maybe I sound like a "chicken" but here in the Med and especially in Greece is VERY, VERY rare to encounter a shark, even more a dangerous one!! Even guys who are spearfishing for decades haven't seen one.
I hope it stays that way (even though here in DB there is a well discussed trip to Sunny SA that I would like to join and there are rumors about bite-curious "fish" appearing over there!!)!
i'm pretty new to dyneema lines and have read about fake dyneemas and knots making it weaker. i'm just trying to think why so easily it failed.

Very interesting idea on the cathodic protection. I don't have much rig experiance, maybe 10 trips, mostly off Mississippi, but I've never seen a shark on a rig. A buddy with lots of experiance has only seen one. We were always tank diving under or very close to the rig. With as much fish as we were shooting and using stringers, you would think they would show. They are surely in the area. On the other hand, sharks in the Gulf seem much less aggressive all the time (almost) compared to Caribbean sharks.

You are very right about watching as much footage of sharks as possible. It gives you a knowledge base that otherwise would take many years to develop.

there is a very good book out there called "Sharks of the Caribbean"
it is a great book and includes a wealth of details regarding each species, how to identify them and species behavior. i highly suggest that anyone planning to encounter any sharks read it.

also there is a website www.fishbase.org very thorough..check it out, you will not be disappointed
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Originally posted by Cingene
i'm pretty new to dyneema lines and have read about fake dyneemas and knots making it weaker. i'm just trying to think why so easily it failed.

ever felt a sharks skin? its literally like 80 grit sandpaper.ive had sharks do similar things i once had a 7-8 foot whaler come at and turned away at last second apparently its common behaviour but it still got me outa the water escpicially when your by yourself

ive never seen a bull shark but aparently there aggresive

Guide1 is right. Dyneema is very abrasive resistant and probably holds up to coral better than any cloth line, but its no match for sharkskin. If you were going to target shark, which would be very crazy health wise for a spearo, not with standing the scorn from the politically correct environmentalist crowd, stainless cable would be the only way to go.

After using several types of shooting lines, I am convinced that you pay a price in accuracy and speed with cable. The price is larger for a small gun with a light shaft than a larger gun with a heaver shaft. The gun I was using was a MT2 with a 44” 5/16 shaft and it shoots better without cable. I am using cable on a larger gun.

Guide1 – welcome to deeper blue!
Helluva story, Don. Even better because you are the one telling it. They say that intelligence is no substitute for experience, but in this case, it seems that it was the information that saved your butts. Kudos to you for studying up on potential dangers, and for remaining so calm, and for being a team player.

Those are the kind of moments that show us our true colors. Nicely done. I'd dive with you any day.

I am glad you made it! We run into bulls pretty frequently here in S. Florida from December through June. They have taken plenty of our fish and we had some close calls. I have never had to shoot one of them before but sounds like this guy was asking for it!

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