Words: Gra Murdoch

Sharks are great fodder for the interwebs. Nothing gets the clicks and the polarised opinions going quite like a shark incident.

For some reason I found myself affected by Surfing Life unquestioning share of the shark story that broke first on ABC online. Maybe this whole ‘post-truth’ ‘alternative facts’ thing is getting to me more than I thought.

I’m sure you’ve seen the photo. It’s done the rounds – lil grom charging out to the shoulder, alleged lil whitey evading.

It LOOKS like a shark, the people involved SAID it was a shark, experts had allegedly ‘confirmed’ it as a shark, but looking at it with a surfer’s critical eye, there’s room for doubt. (Apparently a sequence exists that evidences ol’ bitey, but this hasn’t surfaced, which makes you wonder).

Now, it wouldn’t be surprising if it WAS lil whitey: sharks do tend to live in the ocean and swim around in it, and I bet they’re often closer than we think etc, but there’s something about the pic that makes you want to find out more.

So I found myself preaching all the hoary old chestnuts to Surfing Life about our journalistic responsibility to ask questions etc, especially in this era of fake news and alternative facts. Blah Blah Blah. (Easy to say, hard to do when you’re a one man web team doing three person’s jobs all at once etc.)

Anyway, countless news outlets – far more seasoned and wise than I and better resourced than Surfing Life – have picked up on this story as fact. Photographer father and surfing son have done media interviews and appear 100 percent genuine about the moment, and so I feel like a COMPLETE PRICK for having doubts about the photo, and an even BIGGER ARSEHOLE for wondering aloud about what kind of bloke would implicate his 10 year old lad in a tawdry lie. And I’m not prepared to accuse anyone of lying without hard evidence.

Not that my opinion counts for shit, but I’m gonna give dad, grom, Surfing Life and myself the benefit of the doubt and say, yep, cool, shark.

But I’ll share why I found it hard to swallow.

OK, referring to the photo:

Check out ‘A’. The super-sharky mouth line, and what really defines it as a shark.

Now check out what’s indicated by ‘B” … see that concentric ‘ring’ of ripple disturbance in the water? It’s created by the submerging of the surfer/shark no doubt.

Now look at ‘A’ again, and see how it COULD VERY WELL be part of that ‘B’ concentric ripple. It could well be on the surface of the water, and darkening the section of the board that we see.

In fact, that whole concentric ripple looks like it’d be coming from something that’s moving at paddling speed (i.e. quite slow) and has been on the surface. Consistent with a duckdive. Of course it’s feasible that lil whitey was cruising near the surface and going super slow.

‘C’ and ‘D’ are lesser points of conjecture but interesting. The disturbance in point ‘C’ looks more consistent with something other than a pectoral fin, and ‘D’ well, it’s probably my imagination but it kinda looks like a foot showing through there.

Anyway, should take my own advice. In the time I spent banging away on this ludicrous conspiracy theory of mine and yelling “ENHANCE!” at photoshop, I might have tracked Chris Hasson or Danny Bucher down and – without malice or cynicism – sought the truth.


Editor’s note:

– To further add to the speculation. Surfing Life did in fact catch up the marine biologist, Danny Bucher who made the positive identification of a White shark. He was not presented with a sequence, but just the one photo that we’ve all seen. As far as he’s aware there is no seqence of photos.

He made his opinion it was a shark based on; there were eyewitness accounts from the area who also saw the shark. The water around the shark is consistent with a shark moving towards the surface through the wave, not a surfer penetrating it, as you would with a duckdive.

He also feels very few surfers would duckdive the shoulder of an unbroken wave, and even fewer surfers would attempt to line up that surfer and rip a big hack off right on top of them, as Eden the young surfer appears to doing.

So as of right now, in the absence of a sequence, there is no firm proof of a shark or a duckdiving surfer.  Let the debate rage on!