Down Under: The Great White Way

“Shark on!” I drop my forkful of eggs and bolt out of the lounge, pinballing off the carved wooden pillars of the Princess II as the boat rolls gently in the open swells of the southern Indian Ocean. I am desperate for any sighting of the creature that has obsessed me since childhood and lured me to the remote and rugged Neptune Islands, 20 miles off the coast of South Australia: the great white shark.

“Jumbo’s back!” yells Tom Pagano, an American expat living in Melbourne and one of eight passengers on a four-day journey with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions. When I reach the upper deck, Pagano is grinning. On this ship, the shout of “Shark!” ignites thrill, not panic.

Jumbo, a female more than 17 feet in length and named for the number on her tracking tag, 747, is circling our ship. From where I stand on the upper deck she looks like a bronze airplane, her pectoral fins the wings. Pagano leans over the railing, cup of tea in hand.

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

It’s the line all on board have been waiting to say, from the 1975 movie everyone knows: Jaws. And this ship has a special connection to Jaws. The leader of our expedition, Andrew Fox, had told us how his father, Rodney, worked as a shark adviser on the film’s second unit. Andrew himself saw his first shark at age seven.

“The movie frightened a lot of people out of the water,” Fox told our group when we gathered the first night. “But it also created a large number of people who wanted to see sharks up close. They’re like the last dragons.”