If you got severely bitten by a great white shark, you would probably never dive again. But for Rodney Fox the attack had a totally different outcome. For him it was the beginning of a new era and he’s now working hard for their conservation and introduced modern cage diving to the world.
At the time he was bitten by a great white shark, he was only 23 years old. It was in 1964, during the South Australia Spear Fishing Championship where he had to defend his title. During the competition where he was trying to retain the title, he dived after a large grouper into the deep. At that moment he feld an immnese force smashing into his side.
In his book ‘Sharks, the sea and me’, he recalls the incident as follows; “I thought I’d been hit by a train, my chest was clamped, like in a vice. I was a bone in a dog’s mouth.”
Acting on adrenaline and not thinking, he jabbed his fingers in the sharks’ eyes while he was getting propelled sideways in a violent manner. The shark released his grip and Rodney finned hard to get to the surface, because he was to shocked about what happened, he had no fear. But when he looked down, he saw a gaping mouth of teeth coming towards him.
Rodney reacted by kicking with his foot and the shark swerved and dived. The shark, who had swallowed Rodney’s catch, found himself towed down by the line around his waist attached to the box containing his catch. He then thought he was going to drown, when the shark chewed, parting the line and releasing him. As Rodney recalls, he drifted to the surface “Like a leaf” as he was almost sliced in two on his left.
According to the genuinly shocking photos taken before his operation there was no doubt about the severeniss of his wounds. 462 stitches were needed to sew him back together, he had a collapsed lung, a ruptured spleen and several shattered ribs. In his wrist, a tooth!
However, what happened next is what makes this story extraordinair. To get over his fear, he wanted to understand the shark and why he attacked. But back then there was no way tot get that close to a shark safely. Untill one day he visited the Adelaide Zoo and noticed the lions being fed and it hit him. What if we reversed that and put humans in a cage?
That is how the survivor of the worst shark attack in Australian history invented cage diving. It’s also the reason why the then insurance salesman got visits from documentary makers and scientists and why in 1973 Steven Spielberg called him for “Jaws”. Rodney’s son, Andrew Fox remembers: “It was like having a lot of astronouts at your house. For years afterwards, more people had gone into space than had swum with great whites”.
He was only 7 years old when he started joining his father on his expeditions and he has been diving with sharks fo over 40 years now. Andrew is now in charge of Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions, the world’s only only great white ocean-floor dive trip organiser. And at the most sharky spot in Australia, the Neptune Islands in the Southern Ocean no less.
“I lean on those early days to give the atmosphere for the trips,” Andrew says. “These aren’t just tours like the dayboats. We’re on a multi-day expedition with a group of adventurers, where we can’t guarantee what will happen, to achieve something fantastic. We’re not about selling T-shirts.”
What is so facinating about great whites? Fear! We’ve allready caged up the land predators, but can’t tame great whites. They were there before the dinosours and confront us with what Jaws author Peter Benchley called “the visceral fear of being eaten”.
It’s what made Jaws a blockbuster, what is part of the mystique of shark diving and made galeophobea (the irrational fear of sharks) the norm. Even though an elephant kills more people, every shark attack – fatal or not – becomes world news.
No one thinks it’s OK to poke a lion with a stick through the bars. We have a responsibility not to make this a circus act. – Andrew Fox
Want to enjoy the ultimate goal of cage diving with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions on a regular basis? You might want to move to Southern Australia, here, every cage diving trip undertakes scientific research, and instead of meat, it uses waste tuna by-product to attract sharks to the dive boat while a seal colony keeps great whites at the Neptunes year-round. However, moving house is a great step, so I recommend using this moving checklist to get you going.
In my humble opinion, the best conservation message there is is seeing sharks first-hand in there natural habitat. Hanging 80 feet underwater in a small cage in the middle of a group of 16-foot great whites confronts you with suppressed fears. Struck by how curious they are, their huge black pupil and their brilliant hydrodynamics, it feels like a privilege to hang here and observe a perfectly evolved apex predator in its own environment.