Shark!: Killer Tales from the Dangerous Depths

Shark!: Killer Tales from the Dangerous Depths

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by Robert Reid

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Personal accounts of encounters with sharks from shark hunters, divers, biologists, and everyday swimmers who meet up with sharks either deliberately or by accident Famous shark hunters and other adventurers speak for the first time about their dangerous encounters with these fearsome predators in this book chronicling shark attacks both on Australia's


Personal accounts of encounters with sharks from shark hunters, divers, biologists, and everyday swimmers who meet up with sharks either deliberately or by accident Famous shark hunters and other adventurers speak for the first time about their dangerous encounters with these fearsome predators in this book chronicling shark attacks both on Australia's fatal shores and around the world. It records miraculous escapes as well—some so bizarre they defy belief, and some that display extraordinary courage in the face of extreme peril. The phenomenon of so-called "rogue" sharks that stalk and kill humans in numbers, in the same place, at the same time, is also investigated. With all viewpoints covered from shark hunters to conservationists, these gripping stories will both fascinate and frighten, taking the reader into the realm of creatures that have ruled the oceans with ruthless efficiency for more than 400 million years.

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"An ideal science book for shark-loving teens."  —Library Journal's Xpress Reviews

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Killer Tales from the Dangerous Depths

By Robert Reid

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2010 Robert Reid
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74269-208-1



From shark killer to shark saviour

In my shark-hunting days in the early 1960s, the accepted attitude was 'the only good shark is a dead shark' due to a spate of fatal attacks on humans. Never once did I receive unfavourable comment about my shark hunting from the press or the public. It was accepted. But in 1964, when I sat on the back of a 36-foot whale shark, the largest of the species, my attitude changed. I stopped killing sharks. I saw no sense in it anymore. While I regret to a point the killing, I see it now as a learning process from hunter to conservationist, and there is no doubt my films helped change the public attitude towards sharks. As a result, most shark hunters became conservationists. I don't apologise for killing sharks. I'm not sorry. It's just the way it was. I changed from being a hunter to being a conservationist and therefore a protector of sharks. We, the former hunters, know the shark best.

With these words, renowned underwater cinematographer Ben Cropp admits freely that he once slaughtered sharks for a living. He did it for profit, killing and filming these great predators of the oceans for the entertainment of television audiences around the world.

In 1961, working with experienced cameraman Ron Taylor, Cropp made a documentary called Shark Hunters, which established them both as aquatic superstars, attracting a surge of television heavyweight executives competing for this new type of adventure film:

The field was wide open. Hans Hass had retired and Jacques Costeau hadn't started his television series, so we went out and made the Shark Hunters film. It was killing sharks all the way through, and it was a big hit, an unbelievable hit. There was a gap in the television market, and we filled that gap very successfully. That started me off as a shark hunter.

While filming Shark Hunters, Cropp and Taylor experimented with different ways of killing their prey, progressing from the traditional barbed spear to a syringe filled with doses of strychnine-nitrate in place of the barb. Officially, the hunters were despatching sharks in the name of science, ostensibly searching for a shark repellent that would save lives. This was a widely applauded pursuit, cashing in on the public hysteria that followed several shark attacks in the Sydney area, culminating in the horrific attack that claimed the life of actress Martha Hathaway in shallow water at Sugarloaf Bay on the North Shore on Australia Day in 1963.

The poison syringe was soon replaced by a 12-gauge shotgun cartridge that was activated on a handheld spear. That in turn led to an explosive spearhead using a .303 bullet that could be fired from a longer range. These innovative methods made shark killing safer and more efficient for the hunters, but there was a downside.

The advent of the 'shotgun head' and the popularity of Shark Hunters and the films that followed sparked a surge of interest among underwater enthusiasts worldwide. Suddenly, shark killing became the new sport — far more thrilling and adventurous than spearfishing.

In his 1964 book, Shark Hunters, Cropp describes the killing mood of the day:

Our desire for the spectacular on film later matured into a love for our new sport — shark hunting — and we made more and more trips searching for more spectacular footage. If the water was clear we filmed the kills; if dirty and overcast, we still hunted sharks for the mere pleasure of hunting. With the advent of the shotgun head and the screening of our numerous shark films, shark hunting gained many more enthusiasts among spearfishermen. The grey nurse was on the way to becoming a rare species along the New South Wales coastline after only a few years of concentrated slaughter by the shark hunters.

Cropp takes the 'slaughter' theme further in his 1969 book, Whale of a Shark. In a chapter entitled 'Slaughter at Saumarez', he documents an expedition to Saumarez Reef, 150 miles off the Queensland coast in the Coral Sea, to film a shark hunt for a television documentary, and to fulfil a photo assignment for National Geographic magazine.

Cropp filmed his team of six divers as they encountered a large school of whaler sharks and the killing spree that followed — perfect footage. It was the most sharks Cropp had ever seen at any one time on the Great Barrier Reef. By midday 'eight sharks lay dead on the bottom, and the few remaining were too wary to come close enough and be killed'. But after an hour the school was back to investigate a struggling fish on the end of a spear and the killing continued:

The shark hunters were now stepping up their kills, for the sharks were no longer timid, and presented perfect targets.

Ten more dead sharks lay on the bottom when we called it a day, yet there were still another wary dozen circling below, but refusing to now come close enough for us to use our spearguns.

It was truly a shark slaughter, with 18 shark kills for the day, and another example of the deadliness of the .303 explosive head on Australia's most dangerous shark.

The following day another seven kills were added to our score, the largest shark being 11 feet in length.'

This was the man who was later to become the sharks' greatest friend!

I never denied I was a shark hunter. Some shark hunters later denied they did it, but that's all bullshit. In those days it wasn't wrong, but it's wrong today. A lot of young guys wanted to emulate me, so it did continue for maybe another five years, before they changed too.

I remember my own sons, Dean and Adam, even saying 'Dad, we want to kill a shark!' I asked them why and they said, 'Well, you were doing it, so why can't we have a chance?' My sons wanted to emulate me, and other people did also, and it went on until it became not the right thing to bop a shark off!

The turning point for Cropp was his incredible 'ride' on the mammoth whale shark near Montague Island, off the coast of New South Wales. He had been killing sharks for three years, but the gentle 11-metre giant completely reversed his philosophy:

I filmed the shark in colour and the photos went around the world, the biggest scoop of my life. The Sydney Sun ran the story over the first three pages and the London Sun a full front page.

I came across this monster with George Myer, a diving colleague, and it made me rethink about what I was doing as a shark hunter and realise the whole thing was pointless. I decided then to continue making films on sharks, but not killing them.

It took a long time to shake the shark killer tag, but it's gone now. Ron Taylor and I changed first, and then we had a lot to do with changing the public.

But it wasn't that easy for the shark hunter to leave his killing past behind. The lure of big money dogged him, culminating in an offer from the United States that threatened to weaken his stand against the slaughter of sharks. After the success of the movie Jaws, a big-name producer offered Cropp a cool one million dollars to fight and kill a great white shark live on television. At first, he resisted the offer without hesitation:

I wasn't interested, I was past that, but my friends were saying, 'Ben, this is a million dollars!' In those days a million dollars was like ten now. Finally I said yes but regretted it as soon as I said it.

Things just went crazy after that. There was an enormous amount of publicity. The Wall Street Journal did an editorial, saying what a terrible concept it was, the RSPCA got on my back, and even my mother told me I was wrong to do it. I realised I had to get out of it, so I faked a burst eardrum and my offsider took over the deal. He had no qualms about knocking the shark off, but as fate would have it, the producer died and the whole thing fell apart. The shark lived.

It was a stunt, and I suppose any publicity is good publicity to a point. Evel Knievel and Muhammad Ali were going to be judges and I was expected to put myself in danger for the cameras. What bothered me was that it was an hour show and I would have had to kill that shark very quickly — in five minutes — for my own safety. Longer than that could put me in serious danger — the longer you stretch it out the more likely you could get bitten. Anyway, I used a poor excuse to get out of it. The whole thing was against my change of heart. I was no longer a shark killer.

Ben Cropp was born on Buka Island, just off the Bougainville coast, then part of the Solomon Islands, on 7 January 1936. His father was a Methodist missionary and the family lived by the sea in what Cropp describes as 'a beautiful tropical place'. It was there, as a small child, that he fell in love with the ocean and the creatures that lived in it. In fact, he nearly drowned when curiosity drew him to inspect a coral pool as he toddled along the beach. He was saved by the swift action of his older sister, Joan, who pulled him out of the pool. But, as he says, 'I've been diving headfirst into water ever since'.

The missionary life meant the Cropps moved regularly, but it was at the family property on the beachfront at Lennox Head in New South Wales where young Ben developed a passion for diving. When he was 14 he saw something that 'changed my life forever'. He watched in awe as a group of Torres Strait Islanders dived into the water with handheld spears and came to the surface, triumphantly, with their catches of fish.

That was enough for the teenager. He and his mate, Barry Stewart, wasted no time fashioning goggles out of bits of rubber, copper wire and glass. The local blacksmith made them barbed spearheads, and — with strips of inner tube to launch the missiles — the boys were on their way.

In 1950, there were no dive shops with flippers and snorkels on display, so the two friends had a lot of improvising to do before they were able to catch more fish with the spear than the traditional rod and reel from a riverbank. But this was the real beginning of the Ben Cropp story. And what a story it continues to be. Cropp went on to follow in the footsteps (or wake!) of his hero, underwater adventurer Hans Hass, and his wife, Lotte, both of whom the youngster idolised as seafaring versions of Hollywood's Tarzan and Jane of the jungle.

But he had to earn a living and after studying at a Brisbane teachers college in the mid-1950s he found himself in a small country town where he was head teacher in a one-teacher school! 'I started out earning ten pounds a week and to pick up an extra quid I would go spearfishing on my days off and sell my catch to fish and chip shops,' he said. 'I thought there's no future in this, so I resigned and left all that behind.'

Cropp subsequently won six Australian spearfishing titles and represented the nation as a one-man 'team' at the 1959 World Spearfishing Championships, held in Malta, where he finished a credible ninth out of 40 three-man teams. By 1961 it was time for him to enter the underwater film business:

It was a gamble, but if you want to get ahead, you've got to gamble. Get off your bum and go and do it

I started off with nothing, absolutely nothing! I had to borrow money to get my first camera. I went to the Commonwealth Bank and asked for £250 to buy a camera and start filming, but they thought I was a risk and wouldn't give me the money! I changed banks and got the money.

Three years later Cropp was named World Underwater Photographer of the Year at the 7th International Underwater Film Festival in Santa Monica, California, and his future as a successful documentary filmmaker was assured. Shark Hunters was the first of more than 150 marine and wildlife adventure documentaries that he produced.

During almost six decades of exploring the world's oceans and filming its most dangerous predators, Cropp has faced the hazards that go with his trade with remarkable poise and a laissez faire attitude to the unavoidable risks: 'Well, you learn to become more wary as you grow older, and to understand the environment you work in. There's an old motto that fits me very well and it goes like this: "There are old divers and there are bold divers, but there are no old, bold divers!" I'm probably still here because of a certain cautious instinct.'

Even so, Cropp concedes there have been times when he's feared he'd pushed the barriers too far and his luck had ran out. One such time, he was filming in the Coral Sea with team member Bob Dixon when it almost happened:

To get sharks in close you've got to attract them and the best way to do that is to spear a fish and have the fish struggling on the spear, then the sharks come in very quickly. So we did that and several whaler sharks came in and ate the fish off the spear. That was fine — I got my footage, and they went away. But suddenly six more came in and there were no fish left. They were swimming around looking for the fish and then they saw us! All six came at me at the same time and I knew if one bit me the rest would get stuck into me and that would be it.

I started to panic and moved backwards, kicking at them with my flippers. I kept the camera rolling, and with Bob and myself furiously kicking, the sharks turned and went away.

When I later looked at the footage, the whole thing took only 15 seconds, but at the time it seemed like an eternity. Yeah, I was scared, and Bob was scared.

Cropp was sometimes challenged by younger divers in his team to push the barriers and live up to his reputation as the 'world-famous Shark Hunter who knew no fear'!

I'd sometimes say no, that seems a bit too dangerous, and they'd say 'Oh, come on Ben, you can do it, this shouldn't worry you!' They were trying to provoke me, you see.

I had a very macho guy at one time, he was my action man, always keen to push the odds. We were in the Cod Hole, filming feeding the giant cod. I came up [to the boat] and he took the camera and went back down, when a really big hammerhead, about four or five metres long, tried to bite him. It really wanted to have a go and bit the camera as he pushed it in the shark's face. Well, he got into a crevasse to hide, and still this hammerhead tried to get at him. Finally, it went away and he surfaced, yelling out. I jumped in the water and swam over and the hammerhead went past me as it took off.

It was a bad time for him. He was a really tough guy and nothing usually fazed him. But this experience did, and he quickly lost his macho image! When a shark repeatedly tries to bite you, it's not funny at all.

Cropp, almost alone among his contemporaries, rates the hammerhead shark as almost equal to the universally recognised 'big three' most dangerous sharks — the whaler, also known as the bull shark, the great white and the tiger shark:

It's not usually listed up there, but if you ask any old-time diver what's his worst experience with a shark, most will say a hammerhead. It doesn't have a big set of teeth like the white or the tiger, but he gets very agitated — like the whaler — and agitated sharks are the worst, the most dangerous, because they get excited, lose control, and run in at you.

With a tiger, he doesn't get excited, he's very methodical, he's not going to eat you straight away. He'll circle you for quite a while, making up his mind, and when he makes up his mind, you shouldn't be in the water, because he's a very big, bad shark!

I've probably filmed tiger sharks more than anyone else and it takes me quite a while to get them in close. They hang around out wide, they um and ah, but as soon as they take that first bite — and it might take them an hour to do so — then there's no stopping them. I don't know why they take so long, because they are big and they are kings of the sea.

The white seems to be much the same. He's a thinker and he sums it up ... will I or won't I, before he makes his move. I believe attacks on humans are mostly a mistake on his part. Scuba divers hardly ever get attacked, but if you're mucking around on the surface, the white can see you and thinks you're a wounded seal. He'll come in but doesn't take your leg straight away. He'll mouth you first to find out what you taste like, and that's enough to sometimes be fatal because his teeth are so sharp he's going to tear a lot out of you.

Sharks are not man-eaters in the real sense. They don't go around thinking about eating humans because they're fish eaters, and they don't usually tackle things our size unless they're dead, like a whale carcass, or something like that. A human is almost as big as a dolphin, so they won't attack unless they make a mistake or get agitated, and then they tend to grab at anything.


Excerpted from Shark! by Robert Reid. Copyright © 2010 Robert Reid. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Robert Reid is a journalist, a researcher, and the author of Croc!

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Shark!: Killer Tales from the Dangerous Depths 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought it was a good book i liked it alot but it wasnt my favorite shark book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I louf shanks thy doont kill peeple fer fod . Doont hert them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To start you guys are stupid creating reviews to chat, insult others and top each other. If that were how that world works I would win. I agree grammar should be encouraged but the person who posted it must work on spelling and punctuation. As for the two fighting for longest review that is stupid it doesnt matter. For gods sake people stop chatting I know your probably sitting there going "Bro you broke your own rule" but I am only doing it to stop you. As for my review I did not read it but based upon the topic you posted I believe sharks are misunderstood due to our fear and lack of knowledge sharks are attracted to people only when hungry and they still only do it due to how a human looks from beneath. From below a human looks like a seal a snack to most sharks. I believe if prople studied sharkd more we could prevent attacks. Finally sharks are normally kind and i would shun any member of society who harms such fascinating and endangered beasts. P.s. I win and stop chatting use facebook or something.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
People arent mean to sharks. By the way im probably the only one who has good grammar here .-.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So sckary
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so likely to happen.i didnt even read a word inside the book and it is described as well as the best book in the world.peple are *mean* becse we r scared.i a eleven and i have the longes review!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think that some peple are mean to sharks o purpos but others probably do it to have fun and get them mad if u want to know more about sharks then go togoogle and type in shrkinfo and if u dont hav a computrthen go to the liberry by the way i am7 and i have the longest revew
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its just so rude what you do to sharks. Im mean finning them is just so crude. How would you fell if it was a dalfine or dogs or cats. That person wouod be hated all over and be exacuted. Your all idiots!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Evereybody is mean to sharks! :(:( :(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To all the people who say most animals are are deadly and crazy, animals are like that because of the horrible way we treat them. They are fighting back and protecting themselves from human beings
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thay eat you
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sharks books is my favorite books. These are the only aniamal books willl read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dfgdffgdxsggddddhjdgsdzfffffgureszfergyhggdrsghhhfejhffffxxhjhgdfdeddddgggrfdcffrffffsddggggfxddfrrytrwertyygsaddfgghgsedffffdfgfsddwdffdxcvcccccftffddxxxxgghhtythtfgffyyytffbggyttggfttygggfgfgggffgggggtgffcxddfggtghgfgfgffftttfggdfgffffsddfgfdzffffdfggggfghjgdgfftfffgggfgfdrtssefhgghdeffggtwehrtgggfddetggcggrfsxathjmnnkkjttgfdfhgffghccfvgggfhgggcgygggggggfbbfcvccvccrftfxfggfffvvvgghgggggfggvgtfggfccbvffcvgfrtgvccvgttrfcvvttrfccvvggtrffccvvvgtrffccv vttfccvvg ghggy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
People are so mean to sharks why do people killthem aney way