The West

Eye to eye with great white giants
Close encounter. Picture: Blair Ranford

"The black eyes that everyone's so afraid of are actually the deepest blue when you look at them up close."

These are the words of a man who has fallen for one of the planet's most poorly understood and feared creatures - the great white shark.

Blair Ranford confesses to being "shark mad" since he was a child and has travelled from Perth to South Africa every year since 2008 to research great whites.

He returned from his latest six-week stint about two weeks ago.

"We had one shark go round the boat for 45 minutes," he said.

"It would come right to the side, super slow, put its head out of the water and look at you.

"I could be a metre from its face . . . just eyeballing each other and then it would just slowly fall back into the water."

As a research intern with a local conservation trust, Mr Ranford spent most of his time in South Africa tagging sharks and using fin identification techniques to help work out shark numbers.

He also volunteered on a cage-diving boat talking to frightened tourists.

"Once they're in the cage and they've seen that this shark isn't trying to tear the cage apart and get to them, that it's just curious, they see how graceful they are in the water, you can't get them out," he said.

"They go away converted, believing this is an animal worth protecting."

Mr Ranford said he understood people's fear of sharks after five fatal attacks in WA in the past year.

But he believed Australia could learn from South Africa's shark awareness and public education campaigns.

"They're a bit more proactive in saying 'this is a wild ecosystem and you need to be aware of it and we're getting involved in it when we go in the water'," Mr Ranford said.

He said great whites were curious creatures.

"But by the same token, you'll have a shark that will turn up, have a look at the boat and disappear," he said.

"Other ones, maybe they've had a seal for breakfast and they've got nothing better to do, they're just cruising a particular patch."

The West Australian

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