When Australian Rodney Fox was bitten by a great white shark and almost died 55 years ago, he never imagined he would one day be honoured for protecting the predator that nearly killed him.
Last week, Mr Fox was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Conservation Council for his endless campaigning for the protection of sharks and helping change the world’s perception* of the ocean animals from fear to fascination.
As a young man, Mr Fox was trying to regain his title as South Australia’s Spearfishing Champion when he was attacked by a great white shark off Aldinga Beach, about 50km south of Adelaide, in 1963.
To this day, the attack is regarded as one of the most severe* ever to be survived. Mr Fox had 462 stitches in his chest, and 92 in his right hand and arm.
Mr Fox started rehabilitation* to repair his badly damaged lung and chest, which were pierced by the shark’s teeth. But his rehab* also centred on overcoming his fear, getting fit and, eventually, to return to the sea.
Exactly one year after his attack, he entered the Australian Spearfishing Championships in Victoria where he top scored in three of four events. He also built a lasting friendship with the winner of the open event, Ron Taylor and his wife, Valerie.
But Mr Fox was still fearful of another shark attack.
A visit to Adelaide Zoo changed this fear — and his life.
While watching caged lions behind a moat* at the zoo, Mr Fox had an idea.
“The water and the cage and the man-eating lions prompted me to think, what if I reverse the role and I get in a cage and I have a look at the sharks — I can make up my own mind if I want to go diving again,” he said.
“So that was the inspiration to make a cage to go and look at the sharks without being harmed.”
Mr Fox drew up plans and had the two-man cage built.
He invited Ron Taylor to film the expedition in partnership with him. This was the irst time great white sharks had been filmed underwater. It was a turning point in Mr Fox’s life. He discovered great whites were not crazy man-eaters, but fascinating, cautious creatures.
More than 80 films and documentaries about sharks followed, including filming sharks in the wild for Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood blockbuster movie Jaws.
That film and the footage put South Australia on the world shark map. Today, South Australia remains the global home of great white shark cage diving.
Mr Fox, now 78, of Glenelg East, said he was “very pleased” to accept the honour as a “reward for all the terrible times I have had trying to protect sharks since my attack in 1963”.
His motto is “look out for and look after the sharks”.
In 2001, with son Andrew, he founded the not-for-profit* Fox Shark Research Foundation with a mission “to inspire the appreciation and understanding of great white sharks through research and education”.
GREAT WHITE SHARK FACTS
- Scientific name: Carcharodon carcharias
- Common name: Great white shark
- Weight: about 2.5 tonnes (that’s about as heavy as 2.5 cars)
- Length: From 4.5m up to more than 6m
- Speed: Can swim up to 60km per hour
- Teeth: 300 serrated*, triangular* teeth arranged in several rows
- What they eat: sea lions, seals, small toothed whales, and even sea turtles. Sharks don’t eat humans. They usually take a sample bite out of curiosity.
- How they find food: Two small sensors in the skull allow the shark to zero in on the splashing sounds of an injured seal or fish.
- Skeleton: is not made from bone, but cartilage*
- Blood: Sharks are warm blooded unlike most other fish.
- Smell: They have a terrific sense of smell. If there was only one drop of blood in 100 litres of water, a great white would smell it.
- What are baby sharks called? Pups.
- perception: the way something is thought about
- severe: very bad
- rehabilitation: making someone healthy again through therapy or exercise
- rehab: short for rehabilitation
- moat: a deep wide ditch around something
- not for profit: a business or charity that doesn’t make money but instead gives it back to those in need.
- serrated: jagged edge
- triangular: shaped like a triangle
- cartilage: firm, flexible connective tissue
LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY
- How many stitches did Robert Fox have in his chest?
- What sport was he a champion at?
- Which Hollywood movie did he film wild sharks for?
- The first cage he built could hold how many people?
- Who helps Mr Fox run his not-for-profit foundation?
1. Conquering fears
Rodney Fox conquered his fear of sharks by making himself confront them in a shark cage. By doing this he learnt more about the creature that he was scared of and managed to overcome his fear despite being attacked by a great white shark.
If this worked for a fear of sharks, name three other fears and possible inventions that may help people overcome their fear.
Why do you believe great white sharks need protection like Mr. Fox aims to do?
Time: Allow 25 minutes
Curriculum links: English, Science, Design & Technology
The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s. Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?
HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you dive in a cage to get up close to great white sharks?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking.