If you want to see sharks underwater, you have to fly to Fiji or cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef, right? Wrong, there is great shark diving in Sydney! If you get in the water between Kurnell and Manly, chances are that you will encounter some of these amazing fishes, and not just one kind of sharks! None of the species you will regularly encounter in Sydney are dangerous to humans, so put the regulator in your mouth, exhale, and dive with me into the world of Sydney sharks!
One of the most spectacular sharks seen in the warm-temperate waters of the Australian east coast are the grey nurse sharks. These sharks grow up to three metres in length, and their bodies are shaped in the classic streamlined shark-figure. Their mouths are full of sharp, pointy teeth, meant to stab their fish prey during their nocturnal hunting expeditions. There is evidence that grey nurse sharks hunt in groups – an incredibly advanced type of behavior for a fish, normally only known from mammals like wolves or orcas.
In Sydney, we can observe these fantastic animals in front of an underwater cave close to the beach suburb of Maroubra. The mecca of Sydney shark diving, this dive site is aptly called ‘Magic Point’. It would be a spectacular dive site even without the sharks! Giant cuttlefish, eastern blue devils, lion fish, and whirling balls of catfish make this spot a real treat for the underwater naturalist. But it’s the grey nurse sharks which are Magic Point’s main attraction. Resting before their next nightly fishing excursion, the sharks calmly cruise back and forth in front of their home cave. On a typical Sydney shark dive in Maroubra, we get to observe between 5 and 15 grey nurse sharks. Interestingly, just as in humans, the young sharks are more curious, and will often swim up to divers at arm’s length, and peek at them with obvious interest.
Sydney habor is also called ‘Port Jackson’ – and the type of small, bottom living horn shark restricted to the waters to the north and south of Sydney is hence called the ‘Port Jackson shark’, or ‘PJ’ in Sydney diver slang. The PJs only visit us in the winter, when the water is colder. They breed in the Sydney region, and leave behind lots of egg casings when the water warms up again and they return to their southerly winter range. The Port Jackson sharks often cuddle in groups in the crevices between rocks, and can easily be approached. Look at the mouths of the PJs in the image below: teeth are entirely lacking, instead they have solid crusing plates to take care of their shellfish diet. A shark which likes to cuddle, without teeth … maybe the PJs should become the poster boys for the efforts to convince the public not to see sharks as mindless monsters!
A close relative of the Port Jackson shark is the crested horn shark. The crested horn sharks are lacking the distinctive harness-like pattern on their side, and they don’t like to hang out in groups as much as the PJ’s. I found this crested horn shark munching on an egg-casing of a Port Jackson shark in Kurnell in Botany Bay. What kind of nasty relatives these crested horn sharks are: Eating the PJ’s babies! They won’t be invited to the next horn shark family reunion.
The most chilled out among the sharks of Sydney are the wobbegongs. These bottom-living sharks grow to impressive sizes. At Oak Park, divers can often find a resident wobbegong the size of an ogre on steroids, close to three metres with a head about half a metre wide. Just as the grey nurse sharks, the wobbegongs hunt smaller fish at night. But instead of elegantly cruising during their resting hours like the grey nurses, the wobbegongs lazily lay under rock ledges or in the sand. The barbs around their mouths surely make the wobbegongs one of the more unusual species of sharks! The spotty patterns on their bodies camouflage these large animals surprisingly well – several times I have almost collided with wobbies when shark diving in Sydney!
Abyss is regularly offering diving excursions to the grey nurse sharks in Maroubra. Don’t miss that spectacular dive! The Port Jackson sharks, crested horn sharks and wobbegongs you can frequently encounter during Abyss’ guided shore dives every weekend.
if you would like to find out more about the Shark around Sydney and the threats they face then why not the the AWARE Shark Conservation Course.