Abalone Diver Encounters Bull Shark

Reported Story

About 40 years ago I was diving for abalone while breathing surface-supplied air from a hookah system. Among the nuisances often experienced by abalone divers are the leatherjacket fish that attempt to eat the abalone meat through the mesh of the collection bag. Warding off the leatherjacket fish with the abalone iron was usually a sufficient deterrent; however, on this occasion a particular leatherjacket fish was unusually persistent, so I pinned it to a rock with my abalone iron for a few seconds, which was successful in keeping the fish away from my catch.

Immediately something came hurtling toward me out of the open water from about 20 yards away; in the blink of an eye it did a 90-degree turn and disappeared before I could be certain of what it was. My body was thrown through the water, and the increased pressure in my ears was painful. I suspected a shark and backed up against a small cliff with my bag in front of me as a guard.

I saw a large shark making very tight turns as it swam straight for me. Fortunately, it turned away and swam off about 20 feet from me. It was a large bronze whaler (bull shark). Had I been closer to the open water and not along some rocks, I believe the shark would not have ignored me so quickly. I suspect the struggling fish triggered an attack response, but the sight of a diver with a hose and bag prevented a full attack by the shark. From my experience, I recommend if you are spearfishing to tie your catch to a buoyed line clear of yourself.


A diver being attacked or confronted by a shark is a rare occurrence; however, sharks can be attracted by vibrations emitted by wounded fish, which puts at risk divers who participate in fishing or hunting marine animals. Certain fishing practices such as attaching speared fish to a belt or any equipment worn directly on the body is considered extremely dangerous, because sharks may prey on the speared fish. For this reason, divers are advised not to tether fish or abalone near their bodies and not to fish in waters that are known for frequent shark activity.

If a shark is encountered while fishing, it is best to abandon any caught fish that may be attracting the shark and to calmly swim away from the area with controlled movements while continuously facing the shark. Swimming directly into open water is not advisable; try to seek protection in structures such as coral or rock.

— Brittany Trout, BS, DAN Research Associate

Additional Readings

"Myths and Truths About Sharks"
"Bites and Attacks"