Vlassoff Cay Shark Lesson

24th August 2012   |   Jackie Hutchings

The opportunity of a lifetime came my way. A chance to fly by helicopter to a remote coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef with award winning photographer and shark expert, Richard Fitzpatrick.

A coral cay is a small sandy island which forms on the reef.  Some are large enough to support inhabitants but many are, like Vlassoff, tiny and very special.  The ultimate tropical deserted island and landing there brought a sense of wonderment and disbelief that I was actually there.

Richard Fitzpatrick is an expert in the reef. He was producer and cameraman for the BBC/Discover Channel/Channel 9’s documentary, Great Barrier Reef.  He’s a shark expert and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. He has also pioneered unique techniques for catching sharks by the tail . . . little did I know that I’d been seeing him in action . . .

As I was walking with him, chatting about the challenges the reef is facing, he suddenly ran towards the shallows and came back, wrestling with a very angry epaulette shark. He’d spotted a pair mating, the female made a hasty exit as he managed to capture the male. (Don’t worry, as you’ll see in the video below, these sharks can exist out of water for short times and can even ‘walk’ from rock pool to rock pool).

What followed was a short lesson on the mating habits and behaviour of the epaulette shark.  Amongst all the excitement, I set my video camera running and this is what happened (PS be kind, I’m no award winning videographer and my editing skills are still very basic!)

It’s a day I’ll never forget!

Epaulette Shark Facts:

  • Are part of the longtailed carpet shark family
  • Are found in shallow, tropical waters
  • Can survive in water with no oxygen for up to an hour
  • Can move from rock pool to rock pool by ‘walking’
  • Are largely nocturnal
  • Are harmless to humans

I travelled to Queensland courtesy of Tourism Queensland and flew to Vlassoff Cay with GBR Helicopters

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