Shark Quest
(National Geographic, 2004)

I love and respect sharks as much as the next guy; they are, after all, nature's perfect killing machines. To me, though, swimming with the sharks is something that happens to mobsters who let the boss down. I mean, I've had some crazy thoughts in my life, but never have I even imagined that anyone would be brave (foolish) enough to actually dive with deadly sharks in their own underwater environment.

Two Australian men, Rob Torelli and Mark Priest, have done just that, amazingly enough. I'm not talking about observing sharks from the confines of a metal cage suspended in the water; these guys actually dive down and swim with sharks. It's pure insanity, if you ask me, but they have managed to live to tell about it (despite the seemingly bad karma they have attracted through their prior years of spear fishing) -- and now we can enjoy the incredible video footage they were able to obtain. With a little help from National Geographic, they have been able to live their dream of filming some of the most deadly species of shark in their natural habitats.

Australia has made it illegal to swim with great white sharks off its coasts (which I find fascinating -- why would such a law even be necessary?), so Rob's and Mark's quest to cozy up with the most deadly killing machine on Earth takes them to the southern tip of Africa, where they get some extraordinarily close and personal filming done. Then it's back to Australia. In the cold, grassy, shallow water off the southern reefs, they get footage of a number of incredible animals (including an endangered sea dragon and an elephant fish) along with close looks at the snub-nosed Port Jackson shark (which can eat and breathe at the same time) and the sharpnose seven-gill shark. Things get more interesting in the Coral Sea off the eastern Australia coast. These waters belong to the deadly tiger shark, one of which displays her aggression against these human intruders early on. This is partly the guys' own fault, though, as they used chum and bait to attract sharks to them. A shark is dangerous enough without getting it all excited about feeding.

After removing the chum and waiting for awhile, the men plunge back in and are rewarded for their efforts by witnessing the rare sight of a tiger shark feeding on another shark, in this case a smaller gray reef shark. A night dive introduces the men to a nurse shark and a silver-tipped shark, while the following day brings them face to face with a mighty hammerhead and the oceanic white tip shark.

Off the Gold Coast of eastern Australia, the men encounter the strangest-looking shark I've ever seen, the wobegon. This bottom-feeding shark is camouflaged to resemble the coral of the reefs, making it very difficult to spot -- it's an ugly little critter that doesn't look like your typical shark at all. Shark Quest closes out on a high note beneath the waters of Turtle Bay. Rob and Mark are fortunate enough to get there at a most opportune time. Millions of anchovies are there feeding on the plankton, resulting in the largest "bait ball" of the past 10 years. With such an extraordinary number of anchovies swimming together, it's the ultimate oceanic buffet for all sorts of animals: mantas, mackerels, a Bryde's whale and, of course, sharks -- in this case, spinner sharks that ultimately assemble in the dozens if not the hundreds.

This is only a 50-minute program, but it does feature some of the most remarkable footage of sharks in their natural habitat you're likely to see. I still can't believe these guys are crazy enough to jump in the water unprotected in order to get intimately close to these awesome creatures, but I'm certainly glad I can enjoy the fruits of their labor from the comfort and security of my own home.

review by
Daniel Jolley

24 November 2007

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