Fisherman’s risky ‘once in a lifetime’ encounter in Aussie waters

While most would swim to safety, Sam Clothier hung around for a 'terrifying but incredible' swim with a great white shark.

Sam Clothier swimming in the ocean with a Great White shark
Sam Clothier had an incredibly rare encounter with a great white shark off the coast of Australia. Source: Wet Mammal/YouTube

A fisherman has documented his “once in a lifetime” encounter with a great white shark after coming dangerously close to the apex predator while swimming in the water off the East coast of Australia.

Sydney-based Sam Clothier, who documents his spearfishing and travels on his YouTube channel Wet Mammal, risked his life to swim with the four-metre-long female shark while spearfishing for mahi mahi off the coast of Newcastle last month.

While most people would be rushing for safety in such circumstances, Clothier told Yahoo that he felt “completely safe” during the encounter with the curious creature — and insists it was a "calculated" roll of the dice.

“From the shark's posture, the speed at which it moved and even just a feeling of a connection made with the shark, I felt completely safe but was always conscious that this could change at any moment which is terrifying but incredible at the same time,” he explained.

Sam Clothier holding a fish (left) and a close up of a Great White Shark with a spear gun in the foreground (right).
Sam Clothier risked his life to swim with the deadliest shark in the ocean. Source: Wet Mammal/YouTube

The 31-year-old, who works in events, described the fishing conditions as “incredible” on the day of the rare encounter. “Perfectly flat waters, crystal clear deep blue coloured water and plenty of fish,” he told Yahoo.

Clothier was swimming off a boat with his mate Tommy when he heard his name being called just as he was about to shoot at a fish with his speargun.

“The shark was only a few metres away from Tommy and heading towards myself,” he said. “Immediately my heart rate did the opposite to what you would think and slowed down further. In spearfishing, like freediving, we slow our heart rate by relaxing. This is an important method of breath hold it's also a great way to stay calm and collected in a situation like this.”

While Clothier has encountered other shark species such as bronze whalers, bull sharks, wobbegongs and grey nurse sharks, it’s his first time swimming with a great white.

“This encounter was unique in that the shark was not aggressive, this could have been because it was in very clear water and there were two of us in the water at the time and the shark couldn't find a way to ambush us.

“But also, it could have been that the shark was just curious as to what these silly aquatic apes were doing in its waters.”

Clothier even shared an experiment he performed with the shark to see what would draw its curiosity. Using himself as a "test subject", Clothier puts his "life on the line" by diving deep into the water before putting his speargun above his head and slowly rising to the surface. As he does so the shark changes its course and swims directly towards him.

"A bit stupid but a once in a lifetime opportunity," he says in the video, which he warns others not to attempt.

After sharing footage of the moment to social media, many Aussies reacted with shock — and warning him to "be careful". "Casually swimming with something that'll bite ya in half," said one.

"I didn't need the PSA at the end to convince me not to try this," said another.

"Just a little shark, nothing to be afraid of," added a third.

While many would not wish to swim with a great white as Clothier did, he says he consulted marine biologists and oceanographers who said "we did everything right" during the encounter.

"Of course, there is always a small minority who are keen to criticise but that typically comes from people who are not involved in the ocean and only know of the film Jaws," he said. "Like it or not every time you enter Australian waters you have to be prepared to accept the risk that there are sharks and things could get hairy. I accept this risk every time."

Clothier says his main message to others is to "be responsible" if they find themselves in the same situation.

"Don't try and touch the shark and if you are inexperienced in the water get out as soon as you can without causing distress and having the shark getting excited as if you are a prey fleeing,” he said.

“I say all these things as a guy who rolled what he thought was a calculated dice. This could have resulted in my death or serious injury I'm just fortunate enough that it felt right and it was right.”

The population of great whites along Australia’s east coast and across to New Zealand is thought to number just 750 adults, according to the CSIRO. Much is still to be learned about the species. Larger numbers of great whites do not equate to more attacks on humans.

In Florida, Australia and South Africa attacks occur on beaches where numbers are lower. But in California, surfers often swim alongside them without getting bitten, and that’s something he’s seen repeated on the NSW South Coast.

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