The ocean is an amazing place that is largely alien to us. In an effort to learn more about the animals I've been chasing for years, I've been taking the plunge more and more often, capturing game fish from the underwater perspective. Of course, anytime you go overboard in deep water, somebody always brings up the possibility of a shark encounter, but I've always shrugged it off - until recently.
During a recent television shoot in Port Stephens, Australia, we caught a striped marlin and brought it alongside for release. I jumped in without a second thought, hoping to get some good footage of the capture and follow the fish after it was let go. My adrenaline levels were already high after filming a free-swimming striped marlin earlier in the day that had been lit up like a neon light. I was ready to get some more. I planned to film the boat-side action from down below so we could document how marlin handle the stress of catch-and-release. After taking a series of close-up shots, I moved back and was preparing for the climactic moment of release when all hell broke loose!
Without warning, a massive 600-pound mako raced in and nailed the marlin - just a few yards in front of me. At first, the crew had no idea what was going on and couldn't figure out what all the commotion was about. As for me, I somehow managed to remain amazingly calm throughout the attack. I figured that since there was no chance of me getting anywhere near the boat, I may as well record the whole event. I still remember thinking, "Man, that is one massive shark!"
Since I'm fortunate enough to spend a lot of time on the water, I've seen some amazing things at sea - including a number of shark attacks - but I've never witnessed such a spectacle from outside the safety of the boat. As sad as it was to see the marlin eaten, seeing nature in the raw and capturing it all on both stills and in high-definition footage was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After I clamored back into the boat, we started talking about the fish and remembered that during the closing stages of the release, we had marked a second fish on the finder a couple of times and had assumed it was another marlin. In retrospect, it was most likely that that mark was the shark stalking the marlin as we fought it to the boat. It certainly explained why the marlin stayed right on the surface throughout the fight! It was an eerie feeling when I realized that the shark must have watched me the entire five minutes I was in the water before hitting the fish. It deliberately waited until I backed out of the way to get the wide shot before attacking. I suspect that it was unsure whether I was a threat or just some fat, weird-looking walrus. But it wanted that marlin and it needed me out of the way to take a bite. During an attack, the shark closes a special "nictitating membrane" over its eyes for protection - but this action makes it vulnerable for a split second as well.
After the event, an insane media storm ensued here in Australia, and the images hit the front page of nearly all the leading newspapers. There was even a full story on A Current Affair and some coverage in international media. What was most impressive was that there was very little negative feedback - and, as a whole, the experience showed anglers in a positive light.
Aussie anglers tag and release more than 2,500 striped marlin for science every year, and the chances of seeing a shark attack one are extraordinarily slim. Being there, and watching that incredible predatory encounter, is something I'll never forget. - Al McGlashan