THE OCEANIC WHITETIP SHARK was until recently the most prolific large predator on Earth. You may recall that Jacques Cousteau movie in which the crew “avenged” the baby whale that they had run over in Calypso by slaughtering the scores of oceanic whitetips that came to feed on the carcass.
The shark-finning industry has hugely reduced those numbers. However, these shallow-water ocean-roving scavengers can still be seen from time to time, and offshore Red Sea sites are good places for encounters.
Oceanics tend to follow freighters making passage up to Port Suez, because the food waste from their galleys is typically tossed over the side.
These sharks are the seas’ trash collectors. They spend their time near the surface investigating anything that might provide an opportunistic meal.
Every time I get on a liveaboard to somewhere like the Brothers, Daedelus Reef or the Elphinstone, you’ll find me doing a 6m dive around the moored vessels, hoping that the sounds of their generators and the splashing of divers entering the water will ring the dinner bell for one or two of these magnificent creatures.
They are easy to identify, with their large oval dorsal fin, splashed with white, and extended white-tipped pectorals, which gave rise to their Latin name longimanus (long hands).
In September, I was at Daedelus Reef courtesy of Grand Sea Serpent and was soon in the water, waiting for such a shark to come and investigate me.
A close investigation results in a good close-up picture, and I was prepared to wait for up to two hours just for one glorious moment.
Other divers on our vessel opted to do a reef wall and then come back later to the boat in the hope of their own chance encounter. None of us would be disappointed, but I spent most of my two hours alone in the water.
Two youthful-looking creatures started circling, and because there were only two boats moored there at the Lighthouse jetty, their attention was not distracted and they returned to me again and again.

I WAS GETTING GOOD CLOSE-UP photographs, but I was disappointed to note that one of the animals had a large hook embedded in its mouth, and was trailing a length of line. I tended to hope for more interaction with the other.
The second vessel moored behind Grand Sea Serpent was Heaven Freedom. I was appalled that its crew chose to empty their sewage tanks over me and the dive site, and had to put up with the degraded quality of water, but the sharks seemed undeterred.
Suddenly, one of the sharks became highly agitated. At first I thought it was attacking some prey, as it writhed around and hurtled down to the depths. Then it returned to circle in the shallows, and the awful truth dawned on me.
The crew of Heaven Freedom were fishing from their vessel, and had hooked the shark.
Once it was back at 6m or less, frantically circling, I could see that it was trailing around 20m of monofilament fishing-line that tangled around and cut into its body, and was restrained by a lead weight at the end of one section, and a second hook.
One of my compatriots, returning to the boat and seeing me still trying to get more shots, observed that she thought I was going to be “taken out” by the lead weight, because at one point it bounced off my head. What a shameful state of affairs!
While I was back on Grand Sea Serpent complaining to our guide, Gabriel, that the crew of Heaven Freedom was fishing in the Marine Park, those same people set off in their RIB to fish some more, further up the reef.
Their return later was greeted by loud ironic applause from the passengers on our boat, and someone I assume to have been Heaven Freedom’s captain came aboard our vessel to complain about this behaviour to our own captain.
When it was pointed out that I had photographed the previous hooking of the shark, Heaven Freedom’s captain pleaded with ours to persuade me to delete the pictures.
Me If you’re going to break the no-fishing rules so blatantly, you’d best be sure there’s no contributor to DIVER with a camera loitering underneath your boat!