OUR LIVEABOARD TRIP to the southern Red Sea had been booked for months, and although it was a matter of much excitement to those going, it was of little interest to friends and work colleagues. That was, of course, until early December, and a matter of a week or so before we were due to depart came the series of shark attacks on swimmers in Sharm el Sheikh.
Five people were attacked within a week, the first four over two days. Those four sustained serious injuries but survived. Beaches were closed briefly while the offending animals were hunted down. After an oceanic whitetip and a mako had been caught and killed, the beaches were declared safe by the authorities and reopened.
Unfortunately, that action turned out be somewhat premature, and was quickly followed by the fifth attack, in which a German tourist was killed by an oceanic whitetip. This happened
on 5 December, and we were due to fly out five days later.
The jokes started about us being “shark bait” and our holiday costing us “an arm and a leg”, but I think this black humour masked genuine concerns. I have no doubt that my family were far more worried than I was.
Like most divers, my view of sharks was not based on common misconceptions bred by Jaws, and I was aware of how rare and uncharacteristic these attacks were. I had recently read that more people are killed in the USA each year by vending machines than are killed by sharks worldwide!
Far from being concerned about the likelihood of encountering sharks, that was the whole purpose of our trip, and I was looking forward to the possibility, but my friends and family proved hard to convince.

SAILING FROM HURGHADA, we were to visit Elphinstone and the Brothers.
I had never been to the Brothers but had dived at Elphinstone before, and experienced the thrill of a dive with oceanic whitetips, so I was optimistic.
I was diving with my old overseas buddy and photographer Tim Ingmire. He works abroad, so we were making our way to Egypt separately. By the time the main part of our group had boarded blue Melody of the blue o two fleet, Tim was already waiting for us.
I found him in the saloon, assembling and checking his camera. We had a few photography enthusiasts on board, including professional Kirk Mottershead, so he was in good company.
We set off south next morning, stopping for a brief check-dive on the way. Water temperatures were unseasonably warm. The average for December is around 20°C, but we found the water very comfortable at 26°C.
After a couple of dives to acclimatise ourselves, we started on the long overnight sail to Elphinstone.
We were delighted to wake and find that we had the reef to ourselves. Our first dive was a drift along the reef, being dropped off by Zodiac with the plan to allow the current to carry us back to our boat.
It was a little tricky at first, getting settled into the mildly turbulent water, but we soon found our depth.
The wall at Elphinstone is as good as any other and better than many, but it wasn’t what we’d come to see. However, as the current finally carried us back to our mooring site, I diverted my attention from the corals to check out the blue beyond the hull of our boat, and there we got the first sight of what we had come for.
And it was some animal – certainly the biggest silky shark I have ever seen, at more than 2.5m long. A magnificent encounter!
The shark circled under our boat, giving us all a chance to get close and take pictures and video. Indeed, it was still there when depleted air forced us all out of the water in turn.
There was much excited chatter on deck as we recounted our experience, each diver claiming to have got closer to the shark than the last.
And the encounter didn’t stop there. The shark remained with us throughout the day, circling the boat close to the surface as we leant over the rails. We were delighted to find it still there
when it was time for our second dive.
The dive plan was to repeat our first dive, though knowing what awaited, few of us wasted much time making our way back along the reef to the boat. The silky was still there, waiting to thrill us once more.
The current had picked up, so it was hard work finning against it to get close to the shark before dropping back to rest while holding onto an anchor-line.
The shark was, of course, having no trouble in the fast-moving water, and it was a privilege to see this primaeval beast in command of its environment.

RELUCTANTLY WE MOVED ON, making our way towards the mainland and Marsa Shuna, where there was a change of theme. This is a lovely little reef in relatively shallow water, but the real attraction is the adjoining sandy seabed, covered in a field of sea grass.
Here we found a giant greenback turtle and, following that, a dugong; a first for us, and just as exciting as our earlier shark encounter. It had been quite a day!
Another overnight trip brought us to the Brothers, and again sunrise revealed that we were the only boat in sight. We were to spend three days at these small islands, and during this time we were joined by only one other boat.
If Elphinstone had been a thrill, the Brothers would surpass anything we had seen so far.
Our dive plan on Big Brother was to make our way to the reef, where we would drop to 30m in the hope of finding thresher sharks. It was perhaps a reflection of the quality of the previous day’s diving that we dropped off the dive deck and into the water to find an oceanic whitetip cruising under the boat – and yet we left it to head for the reef and carry out our original plan.
We didn’t regret it. Reaching a shoulder on the reef at 30m, we did indeed find a thresher shark, its disproportionately long tail trailing out behind. Again this was a first sighting
for me, but it was a brief one, as this characteristically shy animal soon disappeared into the blue.
We then made our way back up and along the reef, and were soon treated to the sight of two grey-tipped reef sharks passing a few metres below – three species of shark on a single dive!
Finally, as we returned to the boat we found the oceanic whitetip still patrolling under the hull.
This was the species believed responsible for the attacks at Sharm, although of course as we were much further south this couldn’t possibly be the same animal.
Having dived with these sharks before, this encounter held no fear for me. That said, as you come close there
is an instinctive, almost reflexive thrill that passes through you. But these meetings rarely hold any true danger.
Divers are not a natural food source for sharks and most “attacks” on humans are either due to the sharks mistaking swimmers near the surface for seals or simply the shark investigating something unusual within its habitat.
It is very rare for sharks to be aggressive on encountering divers and even then, only if they feel threatened.
Like most other animals in the wild, they will avoid violent encounters whenever possible. As a result, sharks will exhibit very clear warning signs if they feel threatened, signalling a potential attack long before it comes.

THE MOST COMMON and easily read threat display among most species of sharks is when they point their pectoral fins downwards. Other signs include a gaping jaw, or exaggerated lateral swinging of the body and tail.
This oceanic whitetip displayed none of these signs, so we felt comfortable spending time in the water with it.
Throughout our stay at the Brothers, oceanic whitetips were ever-present. They always seemed perfectly comfortable with our presence and displayed no sign of threat at all.
We did some dives on the gorgeous wreck of the Numidia and the adjoining reef before moving on to Little Brother, where a patrol of three or four whitetips were an almost permanent feature around the boat. Here we also saw threshers and reef sharks – the most remarkable dive was perhaps the one on which we didn’t see a single shark.
The reef was beautiful, but our final dive here was to simply drop off the dive deck and hover in the first 10m of water and admire the sharks as they swam around us; three oceanic whitetips and a grey reef shark.
I clearly remember the excitement of my first shark encounter some years ago, but here at the Brothers we had been spoilt. We had spent several hours in the water in the company of sharks, and couldn’t have hoped for more.
As we headed north again, our final day’s diving was almost anti-climatic, but we were carried along on the wave of our experience at the Brothers.
We returned home to all the hustle and bustle of the run-up to Christmas, and it was only when I telephoned my parents to make plans for a visit over the festive period that my mother confessed how worried she had been while I’d been away – worried that I too might fall victim to a shark attack and not return.
Jaws and the media hype that surrounds those rare attacks that do occur still have a huge influence on the public’s perception of sharks. As divers we know different. We know that sharks are to be admired – and while they must be respected, there is no reason for them to be feared.
We are not “shark bait”, and in time I hope we can spread that message.

blue Melody is part of the blue o two fleet, www.blueotwo.com/diver