Paradise with sharp teeth
Cid Harbour in The Whitsunday Islands is picture perfect. The water is that stunning shade of turquoise that has you questioning; blue? green? It is prime cruising season with dozens of yachts bobbing at anchor on the sparkling water. The weather is sunny and warm. Dinghies zip around the bay and the sounds of splashing and laughter carry across the water as people leap from their boats into the sparkling, warm turquoise.
We swam off Popeye, floating and splashing and practicing the backward roll method of getting into the dinghy. We took the dinghy ashore, wandered along the beach and hiked the track around the headland. We watched the turtles frolic, completely nonplussed by our presence. And then we jumped into that magical warm water to rid ourselves of the sweat of the tropical day.
We had just settled in for sundowners with a glass of wine in hand when a blood-curdling scream echoed across the water from the adjacent yacht. The cries for help were answered by several dinghies racing towards the screams. We stayed aboard Popeye and monitored the radio, not wanting to add to the confusion.
|Popeye in the media - this photo even|
made the German papers
A woman, a shark, a bite to the thigh, an arterial bleed, stage three shock. The news came through over the next few minutes. The transom of the yacht was red with blood. The rescue helicopter came flying in in a race against the fading light. The woman lowered into a dinghy and moved to an area away from the tall masts so the helicopter could drop a winch line. And as the day faded away, we watched the tiny blinking light against the dark of the land be winched up to the helicopter.
|Racing against the setting sun|
We live in a country filled with all kinds of bitey and poisonous creatures, we have a healthy respect for them yet rarely give them a second thought. We swim in the ocean despite the sharks, crocodiles and jellyfish, (except of course, in croc country or during stinger season, that would just be plain silly) we hike through the bush despite the snakes and even happily use the outdoor toilet with the red-backs that like to linger under the seat. But we never expect those critters to actually harm us. There, but for the grace of God, go I. That nauseating, stomach-churning reality, it may very well have been one of us. That poor, poor woman.
The weather forecast was for a windy weekend so after a crew change at Hamilton Island, we headed back to Cid, one of the best anchorages in the islands in a strong south easterly. Just as we were coming in, the radio crackled to life. The rescue helicopter was incoming and they were going to try for a beach landing. It’s got to be a heart attack or a broken bone, surely, surely not… but yes, less than 24-hour later, a second shark attack.
The victim, a 12-year old girl. The shock, another shark attack. The questions, what happened? who was attacked? And the judgments, who would allow their child to go swimming after a shark attack? didn’t they know a woman had been mauled? bad parenting, poor child. Shark attacks are so rare that, even after witnessing one at close hand, I would likely have gone swimming again. Lightening never strikes twice and all those adages.
Fisheries and the police did the rounds of the anchorage, advising against swimming. And the baying for blood commenced, with school holidays starting and two shark attacks, action must be taken. Three drum lines were placed in the bay, two in roughly the locations of the attacks. We watched as one, then two tiger sharks were trapped and shot in the space of a few minutes – 2m and 3.3m. And the following day, the drum line not far from us caught another two, 2.6m and 3.7m.
|Popeye's new artwork|
Tiger sharks are very scary and look just like we expect a shark to look like. There is obviously a decent population of them in and around Cid Harbour. I will likely never swim here again nor in Nara Inlet nor in murky water nor at sunset nor after dark. But I likely to continue to swim off a boat!