Bait- sniffing sharks in Papua New Guinea.

DIVERS, PARTICULARLY BEGINNERS, are concerned about sharks. Im not surprised, considering the way the media always makes sharks the bad guys, and sensationalises everything to do with them. After Shark Week, Im afraid to take a bath.
Divers worry, usually while trying to sleep the night before their first ocean dive, about what it would feel like to have bits of their body bitten off.
They shouldnt worry. Everyone who describes a shark bite says it just feels like a bump, no pain.
Trouble is, after the bump, they foolishly look and notice that their leg is missing and that blood is spoiling the visibility (by the way, blood looks green under water). Then the pain starts and they succumb to shock.
My advice is - dont look. Just try gently kicking with your left leg and, if that doesnt work, use your right leg, or your arms. But dont thrash around too much, because that attracts sharks.
Sometimes this concern about sharks interferes with the enjoyment of diving. The only cure is to have lots of good shark experiences as soon as you can, particularly if you have already lost a leg or arm to a shark.
You will soon learn to love sharks and carry a big dive knife. I observe that todays divers just carry mini-knives, or even scissors, Ha! You try fending off a tiger shark with a pair of scissors! Garden shears might do it.
Scubapro had the right idea. I remember it as The Knife, although The Sword might have been a more appropriate description. Way to go, but I doubt whether it makes it any more.
One couple regularly came diving with me armed with long white poles with a sharp nail embedded in their ends (of the poles, silly). They had never seen a shark, but were fond of fantasising about them. One day they turned up late, and, in the rush, forgot their shark sticks.
They debated whether to dive or not but finally decided that they would - but not down the drop-off where, as we all know, lots of sharks hang out ready to ambush divers.
Inevitably, a big hammerhead came up on top of the reef and started circling them. It eventually swam away, and they never even had a chance to poke it in the Ampullae of Lorenzini. The scare was enough to make them give up diving. I never saw them again, nor the shark. Pity about the shark.
When I went to live, and dive, in Papua New Guinea in 1973, I was concerned about sharks too. We used to see lots of them on nearly every dive.
I carried a shark stick for a while, but I soon learned that the greatest risk I faced under water was not from sharks but from my fellow-divers.
This was serious, so I bought a bang stick with a power-head that could penetrate a divers wetsuit and body on contact, then explode inside.
Coincidentally, I discovered that this was quite a good way to attract sharks, though all the body parts in the water did make it difficult to take good photos.
I gained a bit of a reputation, and people refused to dive with me. This is why I became good at solo diving and why, over the many years I have been diving, I have never experienced any personal distress in the water. Except, of course, when I have run out of film just as a big shark grabbed a fellow-diver.
Over the years we have seen fewer and fewer sharks. Initially this was because, at our favourite dive sites, the sharks got used to us and rarely bothered to investigate. I think they got scared.
Now its because the Chinese have eaten most of them. Well, their fins anyway. Our response to this, and to our growing number of educated clients who preferred to dive with sharks (rather than with me) was to bait the sharks.
We got some fish carcasses, tied them to a rope, swam them down and tied the rope off on a convenient rock. The sharks soon arrived and fed from the baits.
Sometimes there was a frenzy when the sharks, generally grey reef sharks, competed for the food. If this happened and I tried to back off a bit, I discovered that my escape route was often impeded by a mob of divers hiding behind me and prodding me with The Knife.
When I found the divers reluctant to get close to the baits, I sneakily wired them at the far end of a 3-4m length of rope tied to a rock. When a shark took off with the bait in its mouth, it soon found itself whizzing round in a circle near the divers, sometimes crashing into them or hitting them with its tail. Great fun!
We started feeding the bigger sharks, silvertips and hammerheads, and that was very interesting - hammerheads are dominant, and the other species stayed out of their way.
Then my wife Dinah decided that she would hand-feed them. Eventually the inevitable mistake occurred and she got bitten, luckily not too seriously - only 39 stitches - but good scars. You should have seen the shark!
Sharks do learn fast. Its one thing to jump in the water, swim down in a leisurely way to the reef, fasten the baits and wait for the action, and another to jump into the water to find oneself immediately surrounded by gaping jaws - and that was just the other divers!
I had to hand over the job of carrying the baits to the crew, until they got bitten and refused to do it. Then I had to devise cunning methods to set the baits, using the dinghy, ropes, weights and pulleys.
Sharks remember, too. At one regular feeding site we tested Valerie Taylors electronic shark repellent. It worked so well that we couldnt get the sharks back on the baits for two years. Even then the poor things were nervous.
Then controversy cascaded through the dive industry. It was argued that baiting sharks led to a change in shark behaviour, endangering those divers less keen on seeing sharks close up.
Well, it certainly changed those divers behaviour. They all started muck-diving!
Actually thats not true. I remember clearly that it was Dinah and I that started muck-diving. The others just thought it was a good idea and joined in.
These days, sharks can be attracted simply by rubbing a plastic bottle under water. Before you get too confident, however, a friend of mine was recently bitten when a silvertip he had not noticed snuck up behind him just as he started to rub the bottle. He is very disappointed, as his wound required only a handful of stitches. The scars are barely noticeable.
Another popular technique is to seal baits in a perforated container so that the scent wafts to the olfactory organs of the shark and stimulates gluttonous desire, but it cant actually get a feed.
This is extraordinarily mean. Imagine going to a restaurant where they only let you smell the food! I would be tempted to eat the waiters, but I daresay sniffing food will become the latest diet fad.
I am about to join Golden Dawn on an expedition to the distant Hermit and Ninigo atolls, with my same reef, meet you at the bar buddy Irvin Rockman.
We have this thing going to see who can get the best shark pic with the other in the frame, so before every dive I will need to check my BC pocket for the odd planted sardine.
Its an old trick but it works well. I have lost a lot of pockets that way.
I suggest that beginners include pocket search on any pre-shark dive checklist, especially if underwater photographers are on the dive.
We have to look after our sharks. They are getting harder to find and play with, even with baiting and bottle-rubbing.
Shark fishermen are destroying, in unsustainable numbers, one of the most wondrous inhabitants of our underwater world. I dont like them doing this. Feed them to the sharks, I say!

Bob Halstead was educated in England and learned to dive in the Bahamas in 1968, when he bought his first underwater camera. Qualified as a NAUI Instructor, he travelled to PNG as an education officer for the Australian government in 1973. He formed PNGs first full-time sport-diving business in 1977 and in 1986 he and his wife Dinah started the first liveaboard dive-boat operation with the 20m Telita. The couple have made more than 12,000 dives between them, discovered several marine species, won a number of underwater photography awards and been widely published.

Divers at the shark buffet.
A silvertip shark.