CLOSE CALLS: Evans Head spearfisherman Jeffery Carpenter has encountered big great whites twice.
CLOSE CALLS: Evans Head spearfisherman Jeffery Carpenter has encountered big great whites twice. Marc Stapelberg

Fisher says great whites sightings are on the rise

TWO close encounters with large great white sharks and a handful of other juvenile sightings have convinced Evans Head spearfisherman Jeffery Carpenter their numbers are on the rise.

Just before Christmas, Mr Carpenter had an "up close and personal" experience with a 3.5 metre great white while spearfishing with two mates at a shallow inshore reef just off Evans Head.

"I swam underwater into a bit of a fishy area… and a large white pointer swum across in between me and a school of fish… it was just eyeballing me," he recalled.

Water visibility was about 10-12 metres and he estimated the shark at "larger than 3.5 metres".

"I just kept my cool, I went to the surface to have a breath. It went off into the distance and then swam back towards me.

"It was perfectly settled, not aggressive; it swam past me again just looking at me.

"I swam down directly on top of it, and it just kept its course, (so) I swam alongside it within about two metres.

"It really did nothing with its body language; it didn't really change its behaviour or swimming pattern."

Eventually, the shark left, but not before it had cruised past the US-born adventurer at least four or five times.

About three winters ago an even more frightening encounter happened while Mr Carpenter was kneeling on the ocean floor and suddenly felt a weight on his feet behind him: another large great white.

"It swam up beside me and parked on my fin tips," he said.

Immediately moving away toward the surface, Mr Carpenter also "made a defensive jab at it… the end of my spear never touched it… the shark reacted very quickly and swam away.

"I think it realised that I was a threat to it. I'll never forget that one. It was way too close for comfort."

Mr Carpenter said he had also regularly seen small great whites during last spring while diving for crayfish.

Great whites have been protected by the Federal Government since 2002 and were listed as vulnerable in NSW in 2005.

But Mr Carpenter said he would support a "sustainable" return of the shark fishing industry to the region and include great whites.

"Everybody's carrying on about save the white pointer; well they're well and truly saved.

"Every couple of years we're seeing more and more juveniles.

"This isn't about increased numbers of people in the water, it's about more sharks.

"That's directly the result of the protection afforded to them by the Federal Government."