In 2014, a great white measuring nearly 18 feet and quickly nicknamed Joan of Shark, made headlines in Australia with her repeat appearances close to shore. Then… nothing. In the new Shark Week special Bride of Jaws (premiering July 7 at 9 p.m. on Discovery), shark expert/cameraman Andy Casagrande leads a team in an attempt to find Joan of Shark with the hope that she can be re-tagged so her whereabouts will always be known.
With Casagrande are two shark attack survivors: Paul de Gelder, an ex-special forces diver who lost part of an arm and a leg to a bull shark during a counterterrorism exercise in Sydney Harbor in 2009, and Elyse Frankcom, who was leading a snorkeling tour in 2010 when a great white grabbed her by the thighs. Their attempts to locate Joan of Shark produce some of Shark Week 2015’s most suspenseful sequences. Casagrande and de Gelder phoned Yahoo TV separately to break down three must-see moments.
1. As seen in the clip above, Casagrande leans off the boat wearing a harness in an effort to place a fin cam on a great white on the off-chance it could give them a sighting of Joan of Shark on its travels.
de Gelder: We were going to great lengths to try to get this thing on. So I thought it might be a good idea to get in a big red kayak and get a little closer to the water. Turns out that sharks like to bite big red kayaks and sink them. So that was a very short-lived experience, and I’m glad I didn’t get eaten again.
I thought this was even crazier: Like, let’s dangle Andy over the shark-infested water like a little piece of bait. We were there for hours. It was getting so frustrating. We were out of other ideas. So if that’s what it took, that’s what we were willing to do.
Casagrande: I’ve deployed a number of shark fin cams on great white sharks around the world — New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico. I had never done one in Australia, and the boat we were working on had a very big swim step but not much support or a railing or something to hold on to. It was just this open back deck. So the producer was actually telling me, “Hey man, I’m a little worried you might fall in. What if we hook you up to this harness system?” I’m like, “That sounds like I’m a human bait line. I don’t know if I like being strung up on a harness.” He’s like, “Well, it will help you not fall in.” I’m like, “I think you just want to dangle me over sharks to make this a little crazier.”
I eventually agreed with him and thought if the harness can prevent me from falling in and get me closer to the sharks — and closer to their dorsal fins so that I can get the camera on — then maybe it will work out. In the end, it did. I was able to lean out far enough — because sharks can often be very cautious around big boats, they don’t want to damage their fins — and pull this Tom Cruise-Mission: Impossible move on this human bait line, or this harness system.
But of course, with the boat moving up and down with the swell and the chop of the ocean, sometimes I’d be hanging on this thing and I’d be at perfect level with the water, but then the boat would tip or the swell would come up, and the next thing I know, I’m pretty much in the water. At one point, I slipped trying to put the camera on the fin. Luckily I had the harness that helped me bounce back.
de Gelder: I think all of us peed our pants a little bit. Did you see how fast he got back out of that water? It was like a duck running on the surface. I was manning one of the safety ropes. Sharks are quite well known to be able to jump and leap far out of the water, so I was being extremely vigilant that if I even saw a shadow rushing at him, I was going to yank him back in. But luckily, we didn’t have to go to that length, and you know, it paid off.
2. Together, de Gelder and Casagrande venture down into a large shipwreck — and a great white arrives outside.
de Gelder: When I got there and they said that we were going to be diving on HMAS Perth, which is an old Australian warship, I was pumped. And then they dropped the knowledge on me that this is where Joan was initially tagged way down in Albany, off the coast of Western Australia. So I got a little more hesitant then because she’s so enormous, and if she’s there, then obviously other sharks are going to be there looking for food.
But you know I love diving, and I’m very hesitant to pass up on one of these exciting things, and I was with Andy. So I had my backup plan of, Get behind Andy. I’m sure I’m going to be a faster swimmer than him with that camera. So it was crazy, and murky, and spooky, and just diving down through that dark hole into the belly of the ship was incredible. I kept half expecting Bruce from Finding Nemo to pop out of the side and say, “G'day, mate.”
Casagrande: Any structure provides shelter for smaller fish, which then bring in bigger fish, which then bring in big sharks. It’s essentially a fish aggregation device. So I wasn’t totally surprised. Once we got in and cruised around the wreck, I felt pretty safe because we were inside the steel rusted haul of this shipwreck. I actually hadn’t seen the shark until I noticed Paul was kinda freakin’ out and telling me, “Hey dude, I saw somethin’.”
I’m thinking, Ah, he’s probably just seeing shadows and thinking there’s a shark. But sure enough, I see this big shark, and then of course the last thing you want to do is panic and flee — if you swim away, you’re essentially acting like prey. So we had to plan our escape accordingly — watch the shark, see it swim slightly off into the murk, and then make our exodus to the surface. In the show, it seems like it’s pretty tense and we’re trying to get out of there, but in my mind, I’m thinking, We need to chill out and take this step by step, because if you panic and swim away from a great white shark, it can trigger the instinct in them to chase you, hunt you, and potentially eat you.
de Gelder: Exactly. You kick in their predatory instinct of chasing something down. It’s like running from a lion. We were swimming quickly, but we also were not really splashing around because we didn’t want to act like an injured animal. We were quick, but we were calm. As calm as you can be knowing that there’s a great white shark around. Once again, pee in the wetsuit. There’s a lot of peeing going on in the show.
Casagrande: I will say it was pretty intense. Paul knows firsthand what it’s like to be in the jaws of a shark. I’ve been doing this for 15-plus years, and luckily, I’ve got all my fingers and toes and arms and legs. I’ve had some close calls, but I’ve never been bit. When you’re most vulnerable is when you are ascending to the surface, because they’re ambush predators, so they’re looking at things from down below for things they can hunt from underneath. So we essentially had to break the rule and swim up and away, which wasn’t ideal. But luckily, we made it out alive, and we got a really cool scene out of it and cool footage.
3. Around the Neptune Islands, home of Australia’s largest seal colony (leading locals to call it “seals for meals” for great whites), Casagrande dives in a cage while de Gelder and Frankcom watch from the boat’s underwater Aqua Sub, a one-of-a-kind dry cage. The boat’s captain plays death metal through an underwater military speaker, because its dense tones simulate the low frequencies of struggling fish.
Casagrande: I definitely was skeptical when they told me we were going to be working on a boat where we were gonna attract sharks with music. I was like, “OK, wait a second. I’ve been working with sharks for over a decade, and almost all of these shoots, you show up at a seal colony or in an area where you know you’re gonna find sharks, but you generally have to bait them in or use some kind of attractant that they’re used to, like fish or blood or a seal decoy.” And they’re saying, “No, we’re gonna use death metal.” First of all, I’m more of a classical music type of guy. So I was like, “Oh man, this is gonna be hard to handle, just listening to death metal. And on top of that, I don’t think it’s gonna work.” But I get in there, and this one shark, no lie, it just came in and it seemed to be pretty amped up. I don’t know if it was the music or what. But it then just went crazy on the cage and attacked one of the floats.
de Gelder: He tore it to pieces, and he was hanging onto that thing for dear life. Andy’s trying to film at the same time. It was so powerful and amazing to watch it shake and push this whole cage back to the boat. It was a little bit nerve-wracking because it’s just a one-man cage. I’ve been in cages before with Andy, and he gives you a lot of confidence because you know he’s been doing this for a long time, but when you jump in a one-man cage swinging, you know, five, ten meters off the back of a boat, just secured there by a rope, and you’re seeing a shark already tear to pieces one of the floatation devices, it really gets your heart going. You get a little bit fearful, but at the same time, you got to have this quiet confidence that everything’s going to be OK, or you’re just not going to get the sharks and the experience you want to get from it.
Casagrande: I have to say, I was pretty impressed with how well the death metal engaged the sharks.
Shark Week continues through July 12 on Discovery. Discovery and its conservation partner Oceana have teamed for the new initiative Change the Tide, which aims to create a coalition of engaged organizations and individuals to help preserve and restore our oceans.