Hello Ron & Valerie, welcome to Sharkman’s World
Sharkman: In 95% of all shark related material, your names can be found. How long have you been interested in sharks?
Ron: I have been interested in sharks ever since I can remember because I heard stories of people being attacked by sharks along our coastline and my parents used to take me swimming in the ocean when I was very young.
Sharkman: What prompted this interest at a time when sharks were considered more as killers?
Ron: My real interest in sharks started when I first went into the ocean with a facemask in 1952. I soon learned that not all sharks were dangerous. I was determined to find out which were the dangerous ones. My shark education increased when I started spearing fish. Potentially dangerous sharks were attracted to the struggling bleeding fish. I quickly learned that sharks could tell the difference between the fish and me and were not interested in attacking me.
Sharkman: Ron you were one of the very first (or the first) to photograph a Great White shark. Please describe a little your first encounter?
Ron: My first encounter with Great White sharks was when Rodney Fox organised a shark hunt in 1966 with Henri Bource, Brian Rodgers and myself as cameraman. Alf Dean, the big game world record holder for Great White sharks, went with us to Dangerous Reef and showed us how he could catch Great White sharks. Alf caught 5 Great White sharks, all about 4 metres in length. I got my first underwater shots by leaning over the stern of the Tuna boat with my head and shoulders in the water, with my toes gripping the steel framework. When the Great White shark came too close I pulled out.
Sharkman: One of the first major documentaries was “Blue Water White Death”. Valerie, you kept a very detailed diary of the daily events. What was your most memorable moment of that expedition?
Valerie: Leaving the cage with Peter Gimbel and swimming through hundreds of feeding Oceanic sharks into clouds of blood so Peter could get close shots of the sharks teeth tearing into the Whale carcass. We reached the whale and had to wait for the blood to clear. I had my back to the whale’s belly when an Oceanic White Tip bumped me away and shuddered into the bleeding flesh.
It was my worst and most memorable moment. I was too scared to move away, in case I became separated from Peter. and the whale in the bloody water. Although it felt horrible I stayed against the feeding shark. Drifting around blindly in blood red opaque water full of large feeding sharks is not my idea of having a good time.
I must add that the shark showed no interest in me, it only wanted to feed on the dead whale. I was treated as just another marine creature that happened to be in the way. The blood eventually cleared long enough for Peter to get his shots.
Sharkman: The blockbuster “Jaws” had you both working behind the scenes. What were your roles in the production?
Ron: The producers, Dick Zanuck and David Brown sent the storyline of “Jaws” to us in Australia and asked if we could film the real live sharks in the script. Mechanical sharks were to be used for any shots we could not get. I was flown to Hollywood to meet with Steven Speilberg and the production team; to design half sized cages, because our real Great White sharks were only half the size of the scripted sharks. A half-sized stunt man was sent to make our real sharks look big. We did the underwater filming in South Australia before the main unit started filming in the US.
Sharkman: I believe that over the years, “Jaws” also gave a new positive outlook towards shark conservation. Do you agree?
Ron: No! The film “Jaws” caused a lot of sharks to be killed, because the film convinced people that sharks were a real threat to swimmers. Even though “Jaws” was fiction, the brilliant editing made the story very believable. Valerie and I received a lot of criticism for our role in a film that caused the death of so many sharks.
Sharkman: I remember a scene shown in a few documentaries, where both of you successfully manage to free a Great White shark that was tangled in the cables from your cages. Have you encountered this situation more than once and were the sharks always set free?
Ron: We have had two Great White sharks tangled in steel wires attached to our cages. Both sharks were freed. Originally we used steel cables to connect the cages to the boat, so that the sharks could not bite through and set the cage adrift. After the second entanglement we switched to two separate rope lines.
Sharkman: Since the early sixties you were involved in several campaigns for protection. You have fought for turtles, clams, the Potato Cod, and sharks to name a few. You have crossed many swords. You also had many victories. Can you name a few?
Ron & Valerie: In 1970 Valerie was responsible for the ban on taking fish and crayfish while using breathing apparatus. This caused a huge uproar in the spearfishing community. We were both Australian breath holding spearfishing champions, and we knew from experience the damage professional scuba spear fishermen were causing to our reefs. This helped greatly in having this law passed by parliament.
We were responsible for the Potato Cod and its habitat, the Cod Hole, becoming totally protected.
Also for the total protection of Sea Lions in Australia. They were being killed for shark bait by the sports fishermen and as pests by the professional fishermen.
We stopped the bird breeding Coral Sea islands being mined for guano. They are now totally protected.
Valerie’s letters to NSW Fisheries were responsible for the protection of the Grey Nurse shark. Valerie is now fighting to have their habitat also protected.
We worked to have the Great White shark protected.
Our film “Nursery of the Giants” helped to have the main breeding ground for the Southern Right Whale made a reserve.
We are now helping campaigns for the protection of the rare Ridley turtle in Indonesia, which is under serious threat.
We are constantly helping different conservation organisations, both on land and under water. One picture is worth a thousand words. Having Ron’s film coverage and access to the media has been a tremendous help in our fight to protect marine life and marine habitat.
Sharkman: Congratulations!! That is a fine track record. Can you elaborate a little more on the issue and the results of your work involving the Grey Nurse shark?
Ron: Unfortunately, back in the late 50s and early 60s we killed a few Grey Nurse sharks with explosive spears because we thought the sharks could be dangerous. We produced several documentary films to show that Grey Nurse sharks were harmless and eventually were instrumental in having them protected. They were the first shark species in the world to be protected by law.
Sharkman: This work must have left you with many memorable moments, but is there a specific one that stands out above the rest?
Ron: Protection of the Grey Nurse shark is the most memorable. Valerie was the driving force while I supplied the footage for TV interviews etc. to show how docile the sharks were. Grey Nurse sharks are my favourite shark because they are magnificent and beautiful, are found in schools, easy to approach and display an impressive set of teeth.
Sharkman: Very true. I have experienced that in my trip to South Africa. They are very impressive. Ron, if I remember correctly, you were the first to freedive with Great White sharks during the filming of the “Blue Wilderness” episode “Shark Shocker” in South Africa.
Ron: As far as I know we were the first to dive with Great White sharks without a cage when shooting the Blue Wilderness series at Dyer Island in South Africa. Our cage had been lost during a storm, so we had no choice. Four of us went in with the Whites, Valerie, myself, George Askew and another South African whose name escapes me at the moment.
I had dived previously with Great White sharks outside the cage in South Australia, but not more than 5-10 metres from the cage.
Sharkman: I also spotted that during this dive, the “Shocker” Val had, was not working!!! No bubbles are visible, and even in the commentary, it does not say that it was working. Am I right?
Ron: The ‘Shocker’ that Valerie was wearing had the electronic circuit removed. The Great White sharks were inquisitive but not aggressive, as it turned out. We did not know that as we went in. It was very exciting.
Sharkman: What are your opinions about free diving and shark riding with Great White sharks that is being practiced in South Africa?
Ron: Free diving with Great White sharks is OK if you know what you are doing and are prepared to accept death or severe injury. I imagine it is a similar situation to lion or tiger taming. Perhaps racing cars or motor bikes, all of which have resulted in death. One-on-one with a Great White shark is probably the least dangerous, however a second shark could easily come from behind. The characteristic, which makes the Great White shark the most dangerous shark, is that it investigates by biting. Even a gentle testing bite can be fatal.
Sharkman: What last message would you both like to tell our readers?
Ron & Valerie: We have no particular message for the readers except the obvious request for them to develop an understanding and appreciation of the ocean and its inhabitants. We can only relate our own personal experience with nearly 50 years of adventure and exciting encounters with our fellow creatures in the sea. We feel very fortunate in having been able to turn a sport and hobby into a business and satisfying lifestyle.
Sharkman: Anything else you want to add?
Ron & Valerie: Cutting the fins off a shark and dumping the sometimes live body back into the sea is one of the most disgusting and wasteful commercial activities.
Sharkman: I totally agree. Thank you both for your time and your endless efforts to protect wildlife.
March 1934 – September 2012