During a short swim in a river mouth on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, I confirmed that the shark in your head can chase you out of the water at least as effectively as an actual shark. Before explaining that statement, a few photos of things that interested me recently along the coast of Victoria and New South Wales.
Winter’s last hurrah at Apollo Bay even though summer had technically arrived. A cold front came through with high winds, low temperatures and rain. This photo was taken late at night on the pier, between rain showers. The keening of the cold night wind through the rigging on the yachts, as always, made me want to buy a yacht and sail to wild and lonely places. Then I recall that on my Laser dinghy a few years ago, I accidentally discovered such a place not too for from the harbour mouth at Apollo Bay in a good swell and a solid easterly.
Fishing boats away from their home ports taking shelter for a few days.
The common and beautiful silver sea gull skimming the shoreline at Apollo Bay
Remarkable wings in action
A moment of reflection
At the bottom of my street
The usual irresistible summer invitation to an early morning swim at my home beach Terrigal, NSW
On a xmas road trip up north, after driving 940kms in a day we stopped for a night at Terrigal on the NSW coast between Sydney and Newcastle. This sight greeted us next morning only 100 metres from our motel door.
As at Apollo Bay, the usual irresistible summer invitation to swim was waiting for me at Terrigal
I entered the water at the shortest distance from my motel door, and swam to the cove at the southern end of the beach and back – around 1200m in all. There was a gentle current from north to south. This beach in shape and general features is quite similar to Apollo Bay, and so quite easy for me to read (especially in these conditions!). I swam before 6am and the water was already well populated with SLSC squads, surfers, surf-boat rowers, surf ski paddlers, SUP paddlers, distance swimmers, and groups just treading water and chatting. There was no swell to speak of, but there were numerous and varied schools of fish. The water temp was probably in the low 20s (degrees C). As always, I sought local advice about sharks before swimming. The advice was all the same – there are sharks in the area, sometimes seen by boat operators, swimmers and surfers. The bull shark risk was said to be much lower than further north up the NSW coast (where we were headed). I swam relaxed with this advice, and washed away the tiredness of the previous day of driving. I left the water energised for the final 300km meander up the coast to our destination at North Haven (half an hour south of Port Macquarie) stopping all stations. Forster-Tuncurry, NSW
Pelicans in the river at Forster-Tuncurry, near the bridge. The pelican is one of my favourite birds because of its mastery of low and slow flight. That said, I once came across a small group of pelicans when I was flying a light aircraft at 8000 feet above sea level in the Coffs Harbour area. It seems they are also masters of longer distance efficient flight at altitude. The beak has obvious great utility for this bird, but managing it in flight, on the water and at rest seems quite a challenge.
The pelican’s enormous beak is rested in various ways. This is one of the more obvious. It can also turn its head and beak 180 degrees and rest its beak along the centre of its back between its wings as shown in the immediately following photo.
I guess that with this flexibility, not much sneaks up on a pelican.
Large freight capacity
Filling in time at the boat ramp waiting for fishermen to arrive and clean their catch
Stylish pelican North Haven, NSW
I spent a few days at North Haven, a small settlement of old holiday shacks on the mouth of the Camden Haven River. A walk in the humid warm air before dawn presented this magnificent cumulonimbus cloud (complete with lightning show in that dark gray band beneath it) symmetrically straddling the beach and distant headland. The golden colour was the prize for being there as the sun rose.
As the sun climbed higher, the cloud took on its daytime colours, and somehow became even more majestic. The wet sand mirrored virtually the entire cloud at the moment this photo was taken. The next day, the moist warm unstable air having continued to fill the sky with such clouds, the costal region had just over 200mm of rain in a matter of hours. It was a privilege to be right in the middle of this powerful sub-tropical weather event. The Victorian premier recently pulled out his thesaurus and went public with dire warnings and a colourful array of synonyms for ‘armageddon’ when a solid but not atypical cold front was looming. The premier was encouraged in this over-reaction by an apparently nervous Bureau of Meteorology keen not to be caught out by failing to forecast what they thought might have been a ‘once in a generation’ weather event!!. In stark contrast, as 200mm of rain fell in hours around North Haven, the locals just pulled out towels to soak up leaking roofs and gutters, exchanging broad smiles as they bumped into friends or strangers wading through the rain and standing water on some mission related to the downpour. The sun shone the next day, the sky was blue and the water had all drained away.
Favourite shot. Camden Haven River, NSW
Little Pied Cormorant drying its wings on the banks of the Camden Haven River
The masked lapwing, also known as the masked plover. Close examination of this photo revealed a yellow beak protruding from under the front of this bird’s left wing. My first thought was that it was the beak of a baby bird, being protected under the wing. I was wrong.
A closer look at other photos of the same bird, and a bit of research, revealed that the masked lapwing has a spur on the first joint in each wing – weapons on the leading edge. They are clearly shown in this photo. They use them mainly for show, especially in breeding season when they swoop and dive on intruders in their nesting territory. The spurs carry no venom. The evolutionary history of these spurs would be most interesting to know.
The masked lapwing/masked plover is also known as the spur-winged plover. Quite an arsenal for this seemingly unassuming bird which masquerades for most of the year as a quiet wader and water bird. I did not know anything about the weaponry on the leading edges of both wings of this bird until I examined these photos on the computer. Be honest now, who knew that this bird with spurs on its wings even existed?
The Shark in my Head Pilot Beach, Camden Haven River mouth, NSW
That stretch of sand is Pilot Beach, facing the mouth of the Camden Haven River which flows out to sea through a narrow entrance between two large breakwaters. The river is strongly tidal. More than one local told me that grey nurse sharks are regularly sighted swimming near these walls. The virtually unanimous advice of locals was that bull sharks were everywhere in the river, around the entrance, and in the sea. A local surfer told me that he and others left the surf a few days ago (on the break just the other side of the breakwater on the left in the next picture) when a great white arrived in the lineup. Apparently priority rules in the lineup (locals have first right of refusal to every wave), are suspended for this particular category of visitor. The bull shark is a particularly aggressive shark found in the sea, in river mouths, and many kilometres inland in ocean fed rivers and lakes such as around North Haven. They grow to 8-9 feet or so in length, and take their name from their substantial girth. They are quite territorial and favour shallow water. They apparently have no tolerance whatsoever for anything they perceive as provocation, such as a person in the water. There have been many attacks on swimmers and surfers in recent years on the NSW coast attributed to bull sharks. Fortunately they prefer warmer water and so are not found in Victorian waters.
The entrance to the sea from the Camden Haven River. Photo taken from Pilot Beach. I was advised not to swim far offshore. Liz took this photo (iPhone) of me swimming one of my 7 laps of the 300m long beach. The water was murky, but I had shallow water between me and the shore, and a small amount of shallow water seaward of me before a steep dropoff to deeper water. Liz walked up and down the beach keeping an eye out for swirls, fins and fish/birds behaving unusually. I swam two kilometres this day. There was no current, but the occasional wave would reach the beach with a very small beach break. It was a reasonably relaxing swim as I focused on the dolphins which at times swam quite close to me, but while no bull sharks surfaced, thoughts of them did.
Me leaving the water after my uneventful 2km swim at Pilot Beach. We saw a lot of dolphins before I entered the water and during my swim. They were obviously feeding. I took some comfort from their presence as there is a school of thought that suggests that where there are dolphins there is less chance of there being a shark. There was also the occasional swimmer or kayak paddler at the beach. Safety in numbers….
I was pleased with my average speed of 3.2kph (18:51/km or 1:53/100m) over 2004 metres at 62 strokes per minute. I was also pleased that a bull shark did not give me the famous introductory bump even if not followed by the more famous nibble. But this fish chart at Pilot Beach gives some indication of the quantity and variety of sea life in the area. No wonder the seals were dining so effortlessly for so long. Surely sharks must also be aware of this smorgasbord of food there for the taking.
The following morning, I returned to Pilot Beach for a second swim. The same routine was planned. This time however the tide was out further, there was a bigger swell coming through the entrance, I only saw one dolphin in the distance (Liz said later she saw quite a few), the water was colder, and the beach was deserted. I started swimming my laps, but unlike the previous day, at the minimum swimming depth the sharp dropoff to dark deep water was immediately on my seaward side and I had shallow water only on my shore side. I could not get all these changes out of my head, especially the fact that I was forced to swim with part of my body over the deep murky water of the dropoff. Things were different. I couldn’t get the thought of bull sharks out of my head.
I was continually conscious of my body position from head to toe in relation to the deeper water, and every stroke and breath in that 400m was accompanied by thoughts of bull sharks.
I have said in a previous post on this blog that the shark risk in your head can be scarier than actually seeing a shark in the water. The shark in the water is limited to its actual observed size and behaviour. The shark in your head has no such constraints. It is limited only by the imagination as to its size, propensity for evil and the imminence of the threat it poses. And so it was. After 400m I got the willies about bull sharks and left the water. There was probably nothing more threatening than dolphins in close proximity to me. But that thought didn’t surface at all during this second swim.
I’m not aware of the science underpinning the willies, but I’m sure it’s peer reviewed, evidence based and rock solid. So I stand by my decision that 400m was a long enough swim for me yesterday morning.
After my 400m swim, Liz and I had a relaxing coffee seated on a small jetty with this entirely tolerable view from our table. Bream and blackfish were teeming in the water around the jetty, and people were mucking about in boats all over the place. Locals and tourists in need of coffee were in abundance, as were dogs and good humour, ready smiles and happy chatter in this popular little coffee/fishing tackle shop. It was humid, with giant rain drops from time to time, and very warm air. I had clearly grown braver since getting out of my wetsuit, as I scarcely gave the bull sharks a thought while sitting on the rickety jetty above what could well have been bull shark central, enjoying a steaming hot double espresso that I fully intended to drink at my leisure, undaunted by the sharks milling hungrily mere metres beneath my feet. Unlike my earlier foray beyond shore, this time I would return to shore only when I was good and ready. I had conquered the shark in my head, sort of.