Off The Bucket List: Diving With Grey Nurse Sharks (Byron Bay)

Julian Rocks 05 Grey Nurse SharkIt’s shark week, and I finally ticked off “diving with grey nurse sharks” off my travel bucket list a few days ago!

 

We went back to Julian Rocks last weekend, as the dive we did last month was too early in the season to spot grey nurse sharks. We had a blast!

 

At Julian Rocks in Byron Bay, the warm tropical currents mix with cooler temperate waters.  Julian Rocks is rated as one of the top five scuba diving locations in Australia.

 

Grey Nurse Sharks: Why Meeting Them was on my Bucket List

There are many different species of sharks. I have dived with sharks since my first dive, and I am always excited to spot them. I often had the opportunity to see the common sharks from the Eastern Australian Coast: reef sharks (grey, white or black tip), wobbegongs, guitar sharks…

 

None of these sharks are known to be dangerous. They are not as impressive as the images and terror we have in mind when we think about sharks. I always enjoy seeing them, but I was ready for the next step.

 

Julian Rocks 06 Grey Nurse SharkGrey Nurse Sharks are harmless too, but these are scary. Their shape, their size (3.5m), their exposed teeth and their proximity with divers create all together a very impressive experience. Shivers guaranteed: the first time they look at you while coming closer and finally swim only 10cm above your head creates a unique feeling.

 

Sadly, the Grey Nurse Sharks are facing extinction. They used to be in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, Indian and western Pacific oceans. Today, they can only be found in North Carolina and off Natal, and in Australia (south-west of Western Australia and on the East Coast in the north of New South Wales / South of Queensland).
Although they are now protected, their population take a long time to recover from the extensive commercial fishing in the past, and they still are in real danger of disappearing. A significant threat to the recovery of the species is the accidental capture during recreational or commercial fishing in areas of habitat, in addition to the more obvious illegal fishing.

 

For those travelling the South East Coast of Australia, these are actions we can do to help they Grey Nurse Sharks a bit (from the Department of the Environment – Government of Australia):

  • Remove any rubbish or fishing gear that you see in the water or on the beach (note: I did try this one as per my new commitment… but the spot where we watched the sunset from the beach was very clean! :)
  • Refrain from fishing in Grey Nurse Shark areas
  • If diving, report any tagged Grey Nurse Sharks to New South Wales Fisheries or the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency
  • If fishing, report any Grey Nurse Sharks accidentally caught to New South Wales Fisheries or the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency
  • Contact the Threatened Species Network in your state and participate in volunteer work
  • Learn more about threatened species and their habitats.

 

Diving with Grey Nurse Sharks at Julian Rocks

As we were driving down to Byron Bay, the news on the radio were about two shark attacks in 24 hours in the area. Although the Grey Nurse Sharks are placid, it was reminding us how vulnerable we are in the water. Most of all it was setting the “Jaws” atmosphere perfectly.

 

We started our dive at the Nursery and navigated to the Cod Hole.
Julian Rocks 03 Grey Nurse SharkThe visibility was not very good, less than 10m. So when you spot a shark, it is already quite close to you. Although I was not scared, the first close encounter gave me shivers. The shark looked at me with its tiny eyes, and as it was swimming towards me, I could see very clearly its enormous exposed teeth. I was low on the sand, and it finally swam just a few centimetres above my head, as if I did not exist. We saw several of them during the dive, all of them calm and aloof.

 

Cod Hole was a beautiful arch with an incredible number of small fish, and we were lucky to meet the big Cod himself as we were leaving the place.

 

byron bay australia dive grey nurse sharksSome of the marine life we saw:

  • Grey Nurse Sharks
  • Porcupine Fish
  • Lionfish
  • Eastern Pomfrets
  • Stripeys
  • Yellow Box Fish
  • Toadfish
  • Old Wives
  • Turtles
  • Wobbegongs
  • Goatfish
  • Snapper
  • Anemonefish
  • Damselfish
  • Morwongs (Crested & Red)

 

What about you? Would you swim with grey nurse sharks? What’s  the most impressive wild animal you’ve encountered?

 

Where is Julian Rocks?

Julian Rocks is 2.5 kilometres from Byron Bay shore, in New South Wales. It takes approximately 2 hours to drive from Brisbane to Byron Bay.

Julian Rocks is accessible by boat from Byron Bay’s main beach. It only takes 10min to reach the dive sites.

 

 

 

I am a part-time traveler: I combine a full-time job with a passion for traveling. I love to share my trips and tips to inspire others to explore what’s around them. Before moving to Australia, I lived in France, England and Turkey. I’ve finally found my balance in Brisbane.

16 thoughts on “Off The Bucket List: Diving With Grey Nurse Sharks (Byron Bay)

  1. So cool!! I just did a couple of shark dives in Fiji and saw tawny nurse sharks (not grey), bull sharks, lemon sharks, grey reef, silvertips, white and black tips. It was truly mindblowing to see that many sharks in such close proximity. some people are against feeding sharks (let them find their own food) but the dive centre i went with (Beqa Adventure Divers) uses the shark feeding to monitor the sharks and do research on them, so i think in this case the pros outweigh the cons. it’s a complex topic for sure.

    i would like to see grey nurse sharks someday!

    1. Michelle, I am happy that my article reminded you great times in Fiji. I haven’t been there yet but I’ve heard about it. It is indeed very impressive the number of species you saw in only two dives!

      As you say, mixing conservation with tourism is a complex topic indeed. I am amongst those who believe feeding sharks for tourist attraction isn’t a good idea. How could that help the shark? In this situation, I believe the aim is to make tourists happy, not the sharks. Still, it is, of course, a better idea to exploit sharks for tourism than to kill them for their fins, so I don’t want to blame the tourism industry too much! I had a quick look at what Beqa Adventure Divers does for shark conservation (http://fijisharkdive.com/conservation/fiji-shark-project/): they share some profits with local fishermen and also state on their website they financially support research. Doesn’t sound too bad to me!

  2. What an adventurous diver you are! I have never even heard of half those things you listed in the marine life list. Looks like so much fun and danger, all at the same time. Have a great time diving and thanks for sharing the underwater life with the rest of us chickens.

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment Melody. It’s often that I don’t know the things I discover underwater until I go back on the boat and ask the guide what we saw! I love how much I have to learn about the underwater life and system, it’s very exciting. It’s really good fun and – for the dives I pick – danger is limited! :)

    1. The visibility wasn’t too good for the photos but the sharks were coming very close, so it really helped ;)

      Thank you for your comments and sharing the link. I hope your son will enjoy his trip to the reef. I advise going to the Outer Reef for a better experience. The sharks we saw over there were reef sharks – smaller and less impressive but still great to meet. If he has time to come a bit further down for the Grey Nurse, it’s an amazing shark experience. Byron Bay is great for the Open Water Diver. If he goes to the Advanced Certification, Rainbow Beach (Queensland) or Fish Rock Cave (New South Wales) can be great options too!

  3. Its really another world underneath the sea. I like the pointers you gave to help save these sharks. Its very important that we do take care of the marine life thats left before everything disappears completely.
    I think i would be worried if one suddenly came swimming out of the murky waters towards me. Love the close up images with their teeth showing…………..
    Dave (Silverbackpacker) recently posted…Tommy – The Hopeful VagabondMy Profile

    1. Thanks for your comments Dave, and for reading how to save them. I really hope we’ll manage to reverse this. It’s so sad to loose our marine life.
      And you’re right, if it comes to you suddenly, that’s a good idea to be worried. I’m glad I was doing the dive knowing a bit what to expect! :D

    1. I’m not that brave: I only go when danger is low and controlled ;)

      I did some research about the name, and it’s quite obscure. I’ve put what I’ve found below as I think it’s interesting to look at how confusing it is ;) But sorry, I don’t have an answer for you. I’ll try to ask the staff next time I have the opportunity.

      This is what I’ve found about nurse sharks, that are a lot different from the grey nurse sharks according to the photo:
      “The origin of the name “nurse shark” is unclear. It may come from the sucking sound they make when hunting for prey in the sand, which vaguely resembles that of a nursing baby. Or it may derive from an archaic word, nusse, meaning cat shark. The most likely theory though is that the name comes from the Old English word for sea-floor shark: hurse.” – from the National Geographic (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/nurse-shark/)

      To make it easier, the Grey Nurse Shark has several names. It is called “Sand Tiger Shark” by Wikipedia (not to be confused with the tiger sharks, though), that mentions:
      “The grey nurse shark, the name used in Australia and the United Kingdom, is the second-most-used name for the shark, and in India it is known as blue-nurse sand tiger.” – from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_tiger_shark)

What do you think?