|It was in Diver that the story of Jean-Michel Cousteau's ride on the back of a great white shark was reported. For Monty Halls, the process of transforming a supreme predator from Jaws into Cuddles has gone too far
I AM GOING TO USE THIS PAGE to make a confident prediction. Before I do,a story.
In the mid-'80s, I was diving in South Australia. The area we loved above all others was a vast kelp bed off Hobart in Tasmania, the original marine rainforest, impossibly dense and bustling with life.
Such was the thickness of the canopy that it almost entirely blotted out the sunlight, creating a wonderful cathedral-like chamber beneath, with pillars of swaying brown fronds.
Exploring these forests was wonderful and yet slightly eerie, knowing as we did that we certainly did not top the food chain in this particular system.
We were not the only large mammals in this forest, and would sometimes catch a glimpse of a doe-eyed, bewhiskered face peering at us through the kelp. Where you find kelp, cold water, fish and handy haul-out points, there are seals. And where there are seals in southern Australia, there are sharks. Very large, very efficient sharks.
The incident I want to recount might seem nothing more than a gentle eyebrow-raiser, but it does illustrate my prediction. Recalling that cold day in Tasmania cements a conviction I have sneakily harboured for many years.
As I surfaced after yet another splendid dive, I saw our boat bobbing in clear water at the edge of the kelp bed. Pushing aside the glutinous fronds, I finned towards it and, once there, struggled out of my weightbelt and BC, grunting, twisting and splashing.
Finally freeing myself, I prepared to hoist myself on board.
My buddy turned back from stowing my kit to help me out, and I saw his expression change. Smiling indifference was replaced by a look of uncertainty and then (unmistakably) fear, as he focused on a point behind and beyond me.
"Mont," he said, emotionless and unflappable, " get out of the water. Now."
Glancing behind me as my backside hit the floor of the boat, I saw the water surface gently bulge and swirl before settling to its normal oily calm.
That was it, really. On questioning him later, he said he had seen a movement in the water, a darkening, something large appearing that hadn't been there seconds before. Indefinable, yet certainly interested in my lazily floating form. It could have been a turtle, a seal, a dolphin - anything.
Just for a moment, I'll allow my fertile imagination to imagine that it wasn't some cerebral, warm-blooded near-relative come to nibble my fins. I'll imagine it was a shark - a great white, of course, stalkers of kelp forests the world over. Without my buddy's extra pair of eyes, things might have become slightly emotional for the young Monty Halls.
And I wouldn't have had the first idea - that glorious, sleek, extraordinary animal has been honing its silent ambush technique for 500 million years. One less mammal would have been exploring the kelp, and the circle of life would go on.
Now here is the prediction. If we keep doing what we're doing, someone, soon, will be killed by a great white. Probably a "celebrity diver", probably on camera, with other divers around. Here's why.
In our desperate, guilt-laden quest to demystify the great white, we seem to have taken leave of our senses. We ignore the boundaries established by Mother Nature in order to show that this mythical monster is no mindless killer, but a fellow intelligent animal sharing the marine environment in gentle harmony.
No, it isn't. It's a beautiful, magnificent ambush predator. We are warm-blooded, clumsy potential prey. Thankfully (for both us and the shark) we don't come into contact enough for this to be a major issue, but the fact remains. Let's not be arrogant enough to claim some mystical connection between two supreme predators - there isn't.
We seem hell-bent on ensuring that all the splendid work done by thoughtful, measured organisations to save the great white is undone in a single, testosterone-fuelled moment. Was it my imagination, or did I see one of the most prominent divers on Earth recently pictured hitching a ride on the back of a great white?
Do I see "specialists" swimming in chum-soaked open water with great whites they have lured towards the boat?
Do I read accounts saying: "When I looked into the black eye I saw deep intelligence"? No you didn't, you looked into the eye of a big fish and saw it thinking: "Aha, dinner!"
These people have done something remarkable, and I salute their courage. They have shown that the great white is not a mindless killer, and its positive profile is now higher than ever.
Now, please, stop. All the good work will be undone, all the hysteria unleashed, and the persecution will begin again, the moment a diver is taken on film by a great white. As we take diabolical liberties with this apex predator, we should remember that Mother Nature doesn't care who you are or what you think.
The natural order will be maintained, and clumsy mammals will be eaten by great white sharks. Afford them the respect they deserve, and we might just save this wonderful animal after all.