Great White—The Ultimate Predator

Great whites have a nasty reputation for unprovoked attacks on humans, but Ian believes they are thinking, social animals–not just cold killing machines. He takes us to Spencer Gulf, off the South Australian coast, where the sharks were filmed for the movie, Jaws, and he explains his theories on their hunting and social behaviour

Produced by NHNZ

From a specially-designed shark cage Ian Gordon introduces us to the ultimate predator, a 16-foot (4.9metre), 2200lb (1000kg) great white shark, one of the most feared animals on earth. He explains that these sharks have a nasty reputation for unprovoked attacks on humans, but Ian is out to show us that there is more to them than the image of a mindless killer.

Great whites have been one of his greatest loves in 20 years of shark research, but in two to three decades of study about these animals researchers have only managed to scratch the surface when it comes to their behaviour. Apart from the danger involved in approaching them, their mobility and the fact that they live in deep, often rough, water makes them even harder to study.

Ian sets off from South Australia’s Spencer Gulf, where they filmed the great white sharks for the movie Jaws. He plans to attach a special data tag to a great white for Australia’s scientific research organisation, CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). This will record the depth and temperature of the water the shark moves through. Further up the coast Ian tosses the berley (bait) bag off the boat to create a scent trail that lures the white sharks away from their popular Neptune Island hunting ground, home to a massive colony of New Zealand fur seals.

Most of the great whites attracted to the boat are instantly recognisable to Ian, as the 16 foot (4.9 metre), 2,200lb (1000kg) to 2,300lb (1045kg) “D8” and her gang. They have been tagged by Ian during the last few years and still wear his visual ID tags.

Ian dons his dry-suit, hops in the shark cage and takes us down to meet D8, who gets a little aggressive with the cage as she goes for the bait. In 1996 he climbed out of the cage to test a shark pod on one of the whites. Fortunately a close call then had a happy ending. But he warns their massive jaws have a deadly reputation and swimming outside a cage with them is taking a big risk.

As more of D8’s gang circulate Ian is more convinced of his theory that they probably hunt ambush style in packs. He believes they are thinking, social animals—not just cold killing machines.

Ian misses his first chance to tag “Jackie”, the 12-foot (3.6 metre) target for the CSIRO’s tag.  Then the mission is temporarily halted as a huge storm blows through.  Surprisingly, though, D8 and the gang are still around at the end of it, and once a few “strangers” arrive Ian goes underwater to show us the unmistakable body language evident among the pack and the ‘outsiders’. Jackie lunges for the bait at the rear of the boat giving Ian the perfect opportunity to secure her new tag.  Her movements over the next five years will now be closely monitored.

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