When a drone operator noticed an enormous shark gliding silently toward a group of spearfishers swimming off the coast of Australia, she could do nothing but watch in horror and hope for the best, her distance from the outdoorsmen making it impossible to warn them.
The footage, captured by drone pilot Emily Howman and subsequently shared on her YouTube channel, shows the spearfishers exploring the shallow water, completely unaware of the approaching shark.
As swimmers splashed in the breaking waves nearby, lifeguards on duty caught sight of the lurking predator. Unsure of the species, they sounded the shark alarm, warning those in the water to return to shore in case of an attack.
The spearfishers, however, were unable to react before the shark was upon them, the massive sea creature drifting peacefully beneath them as they tread water near the edge of a fish-filled reef.
At long last, one of the spearfishers notices the predator below and the swimmers’ panicked return to shore begins. In their haste to escape the potential danger, one of them loses their fin. As their footwear sinks to the sea floor, they duck dive to snatch it back before paddling furiously toward the sand.
Using her drone’s camera to watch the scene unfold, Howman felt helpless against the approaching threat. “I can’t do anything from up with my drone. I couldn’t even warn them, there’s no audio,” she told 9 News. “It was abject fear that something bad would happen and all I’d be able to do was watch.”
The Spearfishers Likely Encountered a Harmless Sand Tiger Shark
The only shark sighting officially reported to NSW SharkSmart in that area over the weekend was a great white shark. The large animal was spotted not once but twice on Sunday morning. The one that approached the spearfishers, however, likely wasn’t a white shark.
Instead, it was more likely a grey nurse shark, or sand tiger shark. Stretching around 10-12 feet on average, the grey nurse shark is an intimidating sight to behold. Despite their appearance, however, the large, ragged-toothed fish isn’t at all dangerous.
Popular with divers and swimmers, grey nurse sharks are slow-moving with an extremely calm nature. Sadly, the placid species is categorized as critically endangered by the IUCN. Unlike other fish species, the sand tiger shark produces only 1-2 pups at a time, and only breeds every second or third year.
Additionally, they face many threats from humans. The species is not only a delicacy in some parts of the world but their fins, hides, and livers are popular trade items. In Eastern Australia, for instance, experts estimate the breeding population is fewer than 400 individuals, a number too small to sustain the species.
New management approaches and fishing regulations could give these gentle giants a chance at a healthier future. Only time will tell, however, how effective these are at reversing the severe damage that’s already been done.