‘Tug of war with a shark’: Diver’s hammerhead survival

A CAIRNS spear fisherman has issued a warning to divers after miraculously surviving a hammerhead shark attack on the Great Barrier Reef.

Father-of-two Reece Pla was diving with friends around Otter Reef near Mission Beach on Sunday when they stumbled upon a sweet spot teeming with fish.

Two of his mates hopped in while their friend and designated "boatie" for the day, Darren Negro, ferried Mr Pla to another spot about 50m away.

Cairns spear fisherman Reece Pla shows off his day’s catch after surviving a hammerhead shark attack while diving off Otter Reef near Mission Beach. PICTURE: SUPPLIED
Cairns spear fisherman Reece Pla shows off his day’s catch after surviving a hammerhead shark attack while diving off Otter Reef near Mission Beach. PICTURE: SUPPLIED


 

He jumped in and thought he had hit the mother lode with big, beautiful fish all over the place.

Mr Pla climbed into the boat after shooting a red emperor - his first after years of diving - before telling Mr Negro to go check on their mates and jumping back in.

That's when things turned hairy.

"Without even looking or placing the spear back into the gun, I jumped back in, not realising a large hammerhead must have followed me back to the boat," he said.

"Instantly I was face-to-face with it, and it just came straight for me.

"I jammed my unloaded speargun down its throat because that's the only barrier of defence I had and thought, better the gun than my arm or body."

Mr Pla copped a hammering to the chest from the fish's misshapen head while the shark thrashed with the gun wedged down its throat.

Mr Pla estimated the hammerhead to be about three metres in length. PICTURE: TERRY GOSS
Mr Pla estimated the hammerhead to be about three metres in length. PICTURE: TERRY GOSS

It eventually ripped the alloy gun from his grip, and so his last line of defence sank to the ocean floor.

"Now I had nothing between me and it," Mr Pla recalled.

"I had no choice but to try get into the boat."

Fortunately, Mr Negro had not left the area and was watching the whole terrifying ordeal unfold below the surface.

Mr Pla managed to grab his mate's outstretched arm, but the hammerhead had other ideas and latched onto the diving fins on his feet.

A mad grapple ensued, with Mr Negro frantically stabbing at the shark with a loaded speargun with one arm while holding on to Mr Pla for dear life with the other.

The diving fin eventually shook loose and the shark was distracted for long enough for Mr Negro to hoist his friend to safety.

Otter Reef is a good spot for fishing – as seen by these crayfish speared by another fisherman back in 2019.
Otter Reef is a good spot for fishing – as seen by these crayfish speared by another fisherman back in 2019.

"I have no idea how I got into the boat unscathed, but my speargun and diving fin were lost to the ocean - a pretty good outcome," Mr Pla explained.

"We raced over and picked the other two up because this shark was still hanging around our boat and was clearly p***ed off and gliding around erratically.

"After we picked them up we came back to the bommie where it all happened in some small hope of finding the gun and fin, with no luck.

"At that stage the shark came straight back to the boat, a metre from the outboard, where we all conservatively estimated it to be three metres long."

Hammerheads are known as aggressive hunters but do not generally seek out conflict with humans.
Hammerheads are known as aggressive hunters but do not generally seek out conflict with humans.

Mr Pla said he felt it important to his story in light of recent shark attacks across Australia.

He said one of his fishing mates was bailed up by a bull shark at the same reef last year, while a workmate had a run-in with three or four bull sharks at the same reef at the start of the year.

"I've never seen a hammerhead act like that before and while he probably got excited from the blood from the emperor I shot five minutes before, that fish was already in the boat," Mr Pla added.

"It was just me in the water - it wasn't trying to get at any fish I had."

Mr Pla believed he would not have survived without a designated boatie close at hand.

He learned an important lesson on that day.

Sharks aren’t the only big inhabitants of Otter Reef. Migaloo the white humpback whale was photographed swimming there in 2013.
Sharks aren’t the only big inhabitants of Otter Reef. Migaloo the white humpback whale was photographed swimming there in 2013.

"Just a good reminder to always check the surroundings before jumping in, and whilst in, always have a boatie and always hunt in pairs," he said.

"On the bright side, we still got a good feed.

"While I look calm in the photo, I'm pretty sure there were a few good skid marks in the suit!"

Mr Negro said the attack was one of the scariest moments he had experienced.

"Being in a tug of war with a shark, with your mate in the middle … that pretty much sums it up," he said.

"He wasn't letting go and I wasn't letting go.

"It's just lucky his fin popped off when it did, and the shark didn't have a hold of his foot."

Mr Negro added that his mate owed him a carton of beer.

"I'll get him a carton of Hammer 'n' Tongs," Mr Pla replied.

Hammer ‘n’ Tongs beer – a fitting shout for a shark attack saviour.
Hammer ‘n’ Tongs beer – a fitting shout for a shark attack saviour.

James Cook University researcher and filmmaker Richard Fitzpatrick said the shark would have been a great hammerhead, a species know for getting "excited" around spearfishing activities.

"It's not a rare thing to happen, but it is a rare shark," he said.

"The best thing for a spearo to do if something like that shows up is to make your way out of the water, which most of them know."

Mr Fitzpatrick said there had been no recorded fatalities caused by hammerhead attacks.

"Spearos know that's one of the risks when they go in the water," he said.

 

 

Originally published as 'Tug of war with a shark': Diver's miraculous hammerhead survival



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