Marine Life / Sydney Diving

Sharks – Fear of the Unknown


When I ask a non diver why they have not learn to dive it surprises me how many are scared of sharks. It is certainly not something I think of while I am diving in Sydney. So I guess it is an uneducated fear, but certainly understandable after watching JAWS and even the news in some cases.

We do see a few sharks in Sydney while diving. It is very exciting to see them as it does not happen often. One of these sharks is the Grey Nurse shark, another is the Port Jackson shark and Crested Horn shark and very occasionally we see the Wobbygong shark.

There is more of a chance of you getting killed by a bee sting then eaten by a shark!!

Sharks really are given an unfair image by the media

Until recently, the Grey Nurse shark had an undeserved reputation in Australia as a man-eater. These sharks look like big and bitey ones but are actually quite timid and scared of divers. They can grow up to 3 meters in length with long bodies that are bronze on top and pale underneath they have reddish brown spots on our upper body and tail fin.

The grey nurse sharks live in subtropical and temperate waters off the NSW coast. If you want to see these shark then South West Rocks is the place to head. There are lots of them that call Fish Rock Cave home. To do this dive you need to be advanced certified. We have trip up there every few months.

A picture of a Grey Nurse taken on our last trip to South West Rocks

They are graceful as they can stay almost motionless at the bottom of the sea. They do this by swallowing air at the surface and hold it in their stomachs to give themselves just enough buoyancy to hang almost motionless above the sea bottom in their feeding site. So they are great to get photos of “please pose for the camera, show us your teeth !” where divers often come and watch us.

Very few types of sharks are protected, but in New South Wales the Grey Nurse Shark was protected in 1985. They were actually the first sharks to be protected in Australia.

When most people think of sharks they think of big teeth and slick fast swimming animals, I guess the film ‘Jaws’ is in Mind. The Port Jackson shark certainly does not fit this stereo type. They look shy and cute, not your typical heart stopping scary shark. Its no wonder divers look forward to their return every winter.

A baby Port Jackson shark

The Port Jackson Shark has a blunt head and harness-like markings which cross the eyes, run along the back to the first dorsal fin, then across the side of the body. This pattern makes it very easy to identify the species. PKs can grow to a length of 1.65m. But more commonly the males are about 75cm and the females are usually 80-95cm.

The PJ has 5-gill slits and it is able to do a pretty nifty thing with its gills. A PJ can pump water into its first enlarged gill slit and out through the other four-gill slits. This enables it to lie on the bottom for long periods of time without moving. Most other sharks have to swim with their mouths open to forces water over the gills. The PJ has no need to do this. It is the perfect couch potato of the shark world.

As these cute sharks are only found around the colder months you must be sure to come for a dive around May to August. On our trips to Jervis Bay you can see heaps of these sharks.

Another strange looking shark you might see while diving in Sydney is the Wobbygong shark. This bottom dwelling shark is what you eat when you are having flake at the fish and chip shop. They are a docile shark that once again does not really look like a shark, it actually looks a bit like carpet on the sea floor. I guess it is this camouflage that causes the problem. It is when these sharks are stood on that they will bite.

A spotted Wobbygong resting on the sea floor

Their bite is similar to a dog bite, so they will certainly not eat you alive but will leave you with a nasty bite if you harass them. I guess you can not blame them, if you stood on me I might bite as well…

So if you have been holding off diving because of sharks I hope the above put your mind at rest. If you are still a little scared remember all our learn to dive courses are taught with sharks shields. Although we have never had issues with sharks in the thousands of dives we have done we do not want you to worry so we find that the shark shields puts your mind at rest!

Hope to see you in the water soon. Maybe for a shark dive..

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