Rodney Fox and Carl Roessler interview each other.
Rodney later became a prolific arranger of great white shark expeditions (well over two hundred) over a span of 35 years. He is also an ardent advocate for understanding and protecting these awesome predators. During the 1963 South Australian spear fishing championships he was taken by a relatively small (nine foot) great white shark. Rather than immediately take a bite out of Rodney, the shark for reasons we don't understand merely took him in its mouth and swam away with him. Rodney's description is magnetic. Though I have heard him tell it many times in the thirty-two years of great white shark expeditions we have shared, it never fails to awe me.
It is a testament to human courage that in the very jaws of every diver's nightmare, he would not give, would not be beaten; as a result the Rodney Fox legend has shone like a beacon for more than forty years.
If in the course of the conversation I sometimes seem irreverent to this genuine icon, please understand that Rodney and I banter a lot in the same way that those who have shared combat will joke together. We have shared a hundred close calls with a primeval force that very few other people have ever seen in real life.
Carl: We are standing here in the Great White Shark Museum, created by Rodney Fox and his wife Kay. The museum is among the tourist attractions of the seaside resort town of Glenelg, a suburb of Adelaide. The museum is open to the public, and houses Rodney's incredible collection of shark artifacts. In two large bays that once housed the fire engines Rodney has assembled an amazing collection of shark memorabilia -- the miniature cage used for the midget in the movie "Jaws" to make the sharks look bigger, books, photographs, shark teeth and jaws, two huge fiberglass replicas of great white shark and hundreds more artifacts of his career.
Carl: I'll bet that some amazing stories have been told over good food and wine in these hallowed rooms.
Rodney: That's true, especially the good wine part. However, let's not mislead the readers. I never embellish a story.
Carl: Yes, and may your soul be rescued after such a bald-faced statement. Remember, I've heard these stories a hundred times. They sure have gotten better over the years!
Rodney: It's just that I remember more of the details each year.
Carl: Hey, you don't remember your own name on Tuesdays. I think the wine helps.
Rodney: When you are telling the same story for the five thousandth time you need the wine to oil your epiglottis.
Carl: Your epiglottis is oiled, all right.
Rodney: Let's show some respect here!
Carl: OK, it must be time for business. At that legendary moment in 1963 you were forty-feet below the surface, holding your breath, stalking a fish.
Rodney: That's right, I never saw it coming.
Carl: And because spear fishing competitions were traditionally snorkel-only, you didn't have a scuba tank that might have protected your body.
Rodney: Yes, but if I'd been wearing a tank it might have taken me by the leg, and that could have been worse!
Carl: You had the presence of mind to stick your thumb in its eye to force it to let you go.
Rodney: Yes, I was getting desperate for air because its teeth had perforated my lung.
Carl: So, it let go, and you found yourself for an awful moment floating helplessly in a cloud of your own blood, and then...
Rodney: The worst part of it his head coming through the cloud of blood to take me again. I tried to fend it off by pushing away its nose, but I missed and my right hand went right into its mouth. I tried to quickly pull it out, but the shark's teeth inflicted damage to my arm which it took 94 stitches to repair. The bite to my midsection took 364.
Carl: By a series of miraculous coincidences you were quickly transported to the operating room of the Hospital. I have sat with clients many times when all were spell bound by your description of that.
Rodney: While they were operating, I was fixated on that light as if it were my link to life, because I was very weak from the wounds and shock. There was one point where the light seemed to get smaller and farther away. I found myself having to fight to keep that light from going out, somehow if it went out I knew I'd be gone. I willed that light to get larger.
Carl: We only have time for those brief highlights now, but I would hope for every diver that they could hear in person the full version of the attack. Even more amazing than the attack, most people don't realize that you subsequently made your living for eighteen years diving commercially for abalone in those same waters.
Rodney: That's right. All up and down the coast of South Australia I searched for beds of abs. Day after day, seven or eight hours each day in this 60 degree water.
Carl: When you first told me about that many years ago, I realized that you had more sheer gall than I have.
Rodney: The money was really good and I really enjoyed the first two or three hours diving each day...
Carl: The Big Question: How many times did sharks buzz you during those eighteen years?
Rodney: Really only three. That tells you how few there really are, and how they are really not attracted to abalone divers.
Carl: I've heard you describe one of those incidents when you sensed that there was one around and wedged yourself into the rocky crevice?
Rodney: I got in there as far as I could, so all I saw was a vertical opening out into the water. When the shark passed the opening it was like watching a train go by. It never seemed to end!
Carl: I think I'd still be out there in that crevice today.
Rodney: My turn to ask you one!
Rodney: How did you, back in 1975, convince the members of your first group to pay a lot of money to come out here and put their bodies in those cages where the white sharks would try to get them?
Carl: Well, I'll tell you. I really wanted to do it so much myself that I must have been very convincing. They were a great group, and did they get stories to tell! They were on TV and in a movie, so they got a lot out of that adventure! My turn again; what was the most exciting event in all these years of putting divers in the cages?
Rodney: If anyone should know, you should. You were out here for a lot of them! Remember the time when you jumped into the cage, then came to the surface reaching for your camera? I think I yelled "Watch out!"
Carl: Oh, that one! I ducked for my life, and the shark came right up over the cage, slammed the top and ended with his belly on top of the cage. What fun! Hey, how about the time we went down with the beer company sign?
Rodney: That was really exciting. They paid me to get some photos of the sharks swimming over their big, heavy sign. I think that was the first time you and I sank a cage to the bottom.
Carl: All I remember is that it was cold and dark, and that the two of us had to lug that impossibly heavy sign out of the cage and set it up out on the grassy bottom with a couple of big sharks all over us.
Rodney: Well, they were paying a pretty penny for the photos, which they used in trade shows in Europe and Japan. The good part of the story that you've never heard until now is that they were a huge success. Other beer companies used well-endowed young beauties seated on motorbikes, but the shark photos got a lot more attention!
Carl: I'll carve these sentiments on our headstones when the sharks get us. Yours will be "I needed the money!" while mine will be "I needed the pictures!"
Rodney: It was never only for the money. A lot of it was the sheer thrill of working with these amazing animals. And besides, at least I've never dropped my camera out of the cage!
Carl: A low blow. A definite low blow. I didn't drop the camera! I was hanging out of the cage door filming one shark, and a second one slammed into the cage behind me. The rotten cage crunched my elbow and paralyzed my funny bone.
Rodney: and you dropped your camera!
Carl: OK, OK, I "dropped" the camera rather than fall out of the cage myself trying to catch it. So, I had to take a cage by myself, sink the cage, and go get the camera.
Rodney: You looked pretty funny walking across the bottom to where the camera was with a cage on your back! Like a cage-shaped turtle!
Carl: With four big sharks very interested in what I was doing, I was glad to have that cage! By the way, you could have lowered the cage closer to the camera!
Rodney: That wouldn't have been as funny. And we wanted to test your diving ingenuity.
Carl: Yeah, right. You sure get to know who your friends are out here.
Rodney: Or whether you have any. But I'd share a cage with you any time.
Carl: And I'd share with you. Remember the time we rocketed a sunken cage to the surface and came up right under the boat and tangled on the propeller?
Rodney: Like a train wreck! That was our first test dive. We survived it, but it wasn't pretty at all.
Carl: Well, before we bore the folks with more of our million shark stories, perhaps we should give the public an update on the current status of the white shark population in South Australia.
Rodney: Right. There has been an amazing change in how most people in South Australia think of the great white shark. The result has been that the governments of not only South Australia but also Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland have announced their intention to pass legislation which would almost completely protect the great white sharks. This has been building for the past two years. Fishermen don't go out of their way now to kill the sharks. As a result my last four expeditions have had really good shark action.
Carl: I know that my cruise in February of 1997 was a classic. Those three big Boomer-class sharks 14 or 15 feet long each! Plus three or four smaller ones. We sank a cage one day and all three big ones were making close passes one after the other.
Rodney: Even my son Andrew was hyper over the action you had on that cruise. Remember the time you had the cage door open and the shark almost got in with you
Carl: Actually, there were two times. Once in the sliding-door cage I had to slam the door on the shark's nose because he was poking it through the open doorway!
Rodney: And the other time?
Carl: That was in the big cage with the swinging door. I was outside the cage holding the door extended 90 degrees with my leg. The shark's nose hit the end of the open door right next to my camera!
Rodney: Scare you much?
Carl: Only after I got the door shut and had a chance to think about it. You never have time to think when it's happening. Our instinct for self preservation is astonishingly strong. Before we finish, I have to comment on the abundance of sharks the past four years. We have had eight to eleven of these magnificent creatures with each of the past four cruises I’ve made with you.
Rodney: Not only that. They have stayed with us for several months each season lately, and some have disappeared for a season and then reappeared. It means the protections are working. I’m very gratified. Shall we tell them some stories about the midget?
Carl: You mean the midget and the miniature cage used for the "Jaws" film? I'd love to, but we've imposed on the folks long enough. Who knows? Maybe we'll do this again. However, anyone who would like to hear more of this kind of abuse between longtime friends is welcome to join one of Carl's annual great white shark adventures. They run every year in July. Rodney does the dishes and serves the drinks. Well, not really—but he does tell terrific stories.
Rodney: One of these times your sunken cage is going to stay sunk or perhaps I'll spike your Bacardi!
Carl: I didn't know you cared!
For further information on Great White Shark Adventures
contact Carl Roessler:
Sea Images, Inc.
Telephone (702) 241-7233
Web site divexprt.com
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