VIDEO: Curious great white shark circles diver off WA coast

By Jared Richards 16 December 2016
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When aspiring filmmaker Ashley Gibb wandered into the waters off Lucky Bay, a great white shark demanded screen-time by bumping him from behind.

WHAT A SHOT – an aspiring documentarian’s career is off to a remarkable start after capturing a nerve-rattling moment with an up-close great white shark off Lucky Bay on the remote Western Australian coast.

In the video above, Ashley Gibb is free diving close to shore when he and his GoPro are bumped in the back – in the next second, a juvenile great white shark swims into view. The shark repeatedly circles Ashley for minutes, twice swimming straight towards him before swerving at the last second.

“It was very intense,” said Ashley.

While Ashley admits he was scared during the surreal moment, he kept calm by reminding himself the shark was most likely just curious. Professor Colin Simpfendorfer, Director of James Cook University’s Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture in Queensland, said he agrees the bump wasn’t necessarily aggressive.

“It’s not odd there’s contact so early into the encounter. We know from great white shark studies that they bump – or sometimes bite – as an exploratory thing to see what something is,” he said. “Obviously they don’t have hands, so they touch something by bumping it.”

“We can never really know for sure its motivations, but we can speculate. It’s likely seeing how [Ashley] reacts – it probably isn’t used to dealing with people. Then when it sees how he’s just sitting there and watching it, it loses interest and swims away.”

Ashley said he felt compelled to share the video due to the enduring image of sharks as bloodthirsty predators. The Australian Shark Attack File states that over the past 50 years, there have been 47 deaths from shark attack fatalities – on average, less than one per year.

If you do ever find yourself accidentally swimming with sharks, Colin said your best bet is to act exactly like Ashley.

“I half expected him to poke at the shark – a lot of people think to act aggressively so the shark leaves you alone,” he said.

 “Act exactly like [Ashley] did. Keep your eyes always on the shark. That’s one thing they pay attention to – if they see that you’re watching them, they’re much more vigilant. One thing not to do is frantically swim away or splash around – it sends a very different signal. Of course, if they become come aggressive, being aggressive back is appropriate.”

But, if a bump, circling and swimming head-on to Ashley isn’t aggressive, what does aggression look like? According to Colin, if the shark is swimming faster than in this video, that’s a warning signal – as is an open mouth.

Either way, try to remain calm. And, if you’re a filmmaker like Ashley, pray your camera caught it all.