Galapagos Sharks

Ian takes us to the balmy isolation of the tropical Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean to test the temperament of the little known Galapagos shark. He sets out to test his theory that, in spite of their aggressive reputation, these sharks are unlikely to attack unless provoked. Plus he takes some shark biology students along for the ride.

Produced by NHNZ

Ian Gordon takes us along for the ride as he helps launch a shark research programme on the Pacific Ocean’s Midway Atoll, which has been pretty much off limits to all but government and military personnel since World War II.

Midway was a strategic outpost for the military, but as Ian explains it is now a national wildlife refuge where over three quarters of a million laysan albatross —known as gooneys —nest each year.

But Ian’s here to see something with a bit more bite. With public access restricted since the war, Midway’s reefs have grown a healthy population of Galapagos sharks. Because of their isolation little is known about Galapagos sharks, but they do have an aggressive reputation and are known to have killed at least one diver in the Virgin Islands.

Ian plans to see for himself just how dangerous these toothy fish are. He takes a few shark biology students from the University of Hawaii along for the ride. They will help him catch and tag some Galapagos sharks for future investigation.

The course’s first lesson is the hardest: learning to enter shark-infested water. Ian warns the students not to take their eyes off these animals. He is assisted in his quest by friend and Galapagos expert, Gerry Crow.

With more people entering the water the mathematical odds of a close shark encounter go up, but Ian’s experience tells him these sharks are unlikely to attack unless provoked. Their close cousin, the Grey Reef shark, will display a threat posture warning divers if it feels threatened.

Ian takes to the water, electric shark stick in hand, to encounter a few Galapagos and find out. But with no reaction from the sharks, he prepares next for a night dive to see if these sharks are more active when they begin hunting after dusk.

After checking out the wreck of a Corsair bomber plane on the sea bed Ian makes friends with a moray eel. He explains that the rule for reef diving is “look, but don’t touch”.

Ian, Gerry and university course instructor Mark Heckman then take the students through a spot of dry land tagging practise before hauling some feisty young Galapagos onto the boat to be sexed, measured and tagged. The students’ study will eventually shed some light on how much these sharks move between the fishing and dive sites in the area.

Donning a 25 pound (11.3 kg), steel mesh suit for protection Ian is dressed for dinner, hoping to provoke some aggression from these sharks at feeding time. If the sharks are more aggressive after dark Ian won’t know until after he’s attacked. Their erratic swimming patterns make them look agitated, but they still don’t act aggressively.

Ian concludes that Galapagos sharks don’t seem inclined to make unprovoked attacks, but warns that like all wild animals sharks can be unpredictable.

Episodes From This Series

White Tips of Osprey

30 mins / 2001

A Whale of a Shark

30 mins / 2001

Mako—Friend or Foe?

30 mins / 2001

Great White—The Ultimate Predator

30 mins / 2001

Thresher Shark

30 mins / 2001

Hammerheads

30 mins / 2001

Galapagos Sharks

30 mins / 2001

Grey Nurse — A Visit to the Nurse

30 mins / 2001

Prickly Sharks

30 mins / 2001

Hawaiian Tigers

1 hour / 2001

Port Jackson – A Family Secret

30 mins / 2001

The Sailor’s Nightmare

1 hour / 2001

Shark Attack

30 mins / 2001

Great White Bite

2 Minutes / 2007

Great White – The Ultimate Predator

2 Minutes / 2007

Feeding Frenzy

3 Minutes / 2007

Bull Sharks

3 Minutes / 2007

A Whale of a Shark

2 Minutes / 2007

Mako

3 Minutes / 2007