Do you want to catch better fish? Be a safer Spearo? Then SPEAR SAFE!

Australian Spearfishing Safety Initiative

Marine Creatures

The ocean has a diversity of marine life that may harm humans. Sharks, crocodiles and fish may bite; stingrays and jellyfish may sting (esp irukandji jellyfish, box jelly fish); some fish, seasnakes, blue ring octopus and cone shells are venomous. Sharks and other fish can be aggressive if speared such as bill fish and barracouta. If large species are being speared there is also a risk of entanglement. Remember that sharks and other marine creatures are a natural part of the marine environment. If in doubt do not touch and get out of the water.

- Marine Creatures Generally

- Shooting Large/Aggressive Fish

- Sharks

- Advice for Divers Encountering a Shark

Marine Creatures Generally

Full length wetsuits provide protection from stingers and sun;

Assess shark situation eg coral sea is worse than Sydney;

Know species of sharks and behaviour like territorial display by grey reef shark and relative danger of different species;

Don’t touch wobbegongs;

Familiarise yourself with other poisonous marine creatures, in particular stingrays, jellyfish, some fish, seasnakes, blue ring octopus and cone shells. Watch out for sea urchins, moray eels, red rock cod, stingrays, numb rays, rabbitfish, lionfish, bullrout , seasnakes etc. Avoid these creatures and do not touch.

Watch for sharks when holding struggling fish and bleeding them, kill fish quickly to minimise vibration by Iki Jimi;

Check lobster holes carefully for wobbegongs and eels before sticking your hand in;

Ciguatera poisoning – be aware of areas and species prone to this poison.

Shooting Large/Aggressive Fish

Always wear a knife that is sharp to cut line should you become entangled;

Swim along your line when retrieving a speared fish to avoid getting loops of shooting or float line around you;

Don’t bring in a really green fish, play them out;

Watch out for teeth on Spanish macks and Wahoo even when dead keep your hand behind the head when landing and grasp in the gills firmly keeping your fingers away from the teeth from the inside;

Barracuda, sharks and sailfish may attack you if you spear them;

Take care not to stab yourself when killing large fish that are struggling, some fish like tuna and Spanish macks have soft heads and it is easy to knife right through into your hand;

Watch for sharks when holding struggling fish and bleeding them, kill fish quickly to minimise vibration by Iki Jimi;

 Look at Darren Shields’s entanglement footage on “Beyond the reef” that includes a scene where a big dogtooth that tangles everyone’s rig and one diver).


The chances of a shark attack are very low and a fatality are about one in a million. However there are some simple tips for safe swimming to help reduce the risk of incidents involving sharks and humans. The following aims to put shark attacks on spearfishers in perspective. Recent facts are included and information on how to minimise risk. Shark attack is probably the most feared natural danger to spearfisher’s.

The general worldwide trend towards more intense utilization of marine waters for recreational activities and the increasing numbers of some protected sharks such as great whites has also increased the chances of shark-human interactions with a resulting increase in the total number of attacks.

Shark attack is a potential danger that must be acknowledged by anyone that frequents marine waters, but it should be kept in perspective. Shallow water blackout of divers is responsible for far more fatalities each year.

Nevertheless, shark attack is a hazard that must be considered by anyone entering the marine domain. As in any recreational activity, a participant must acknowledge that certain risks are part of the sport. Spearfishing has its inherent risks and shark attack is simply one of many that must be considered before entering the water. Most people agree, however, that the extremely slim chance of even encountering a shark - much less being bitten - does not weigh heavy in their decision-making. For details on attacks world wide see the International Shark Attack file:-

Aim to kill your fish quickly with a kill shot and if unsuccessful slowly bring your catch to the surface and dispatch with a knife and remove fish out of the water quickly.

Do not have fish near your body and tow your fish in a float (such as a boogey board) at least 20-25 metres behind you.

Wear a shark shield.

Leave the water immediately if a large shark is sighted.  Call the safety boat and get out of the water.

Do not swim near seal colonies.

Swim in pairs or groups. Never swim alone,  dawn or dusk or at night or in murky waters.

Advice to Divers Encountering a Shark

The following advice for divers who encounter a shark is from:-

If a shark is sighted, stay calm and maintain your position in as quiet a manner as possible. Most sharks merely are curious and will leave on their own accord. Enjoy your opportunity to see one of nature’s most magnificent predators. If you have been spearfishing or abalone gathering and are holding your catch, release the catch and quietly exit the area. It is likely that the shark has been attracted to the sound and smells associated with your activity and it is aroused and interested in consuming your catch. Let it have it - no catch is worth the risk of personal injury.

 If a shark begins to get too interested in you by coming closer and closer, the best strategy is to leave the water - swim quickly but smoothly, watching the shark all the time, with your dive partner close at hand. Sharks are less likely to attack a ‘school’ of divers than a solitary individual. If a shark is acting overtly aggressive - making rushes at you, hunching its back, lowering its pectoral (paired side) fins, swimming in a rapid zigzag course, or swimming with rapid up and down movements (sometimes rubbing its belly on the bottom) - look to back up against whatever structure (reef, rock outcropping, piling) is available, thereby reducing the angles with which the shark can approach you. If you are in open water, orient back-to-back with your dive partner and gradually rise to the surface and the safety of your boat. If you are shore diving, gradually descend to the bottom so you can find cover.

Use whatever inanimate equipment (speargun, pole-spear, camera) you have with you to fend off the shark (when diving in known shark-inhabited waters, it is always good to carry a pole or spear for this purpose). If a shark attacks, the best strategy is to hit it on the tip of its nose. This usually results in the shark retreating. If the retreat is far enough away, then human retreat is in order - again, swim quickly but smoothly, watching the shark all the time, with your dive partner close at hand. An aggressive shark often will return, however, and each subsequent hit to the snout will be less effective, so take advantage of any escape opportunities. If you do not have anything to poke with, use your hand, but remember that the mouth is close to the nose, so be accurate!

If a shark actually gets you in its mouth, I advise to be as aggressively defensive as you are able. ‘Playing dead’ does not work. Pound the shark in any way possible. Try to claw at the eyes and gill openings, two very sensitive areas. Once released, do all you can to exit the water as quickly as possible because with your blood in the water, the shark very well could return for a repeat attack.


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