Sharks Never Sleep by Brendan McAloon
A decade ago I prepared myself for a South Australian surf trip by reading the coroners report of a shark attack. The death in question happened a few years earlier at a spot I would soon be paddling out at. “It's like reading about plane crashes in an airport terminal,” said my startled travelling partner. And while his metaphor was catchy but it wasn't accurate, because what I sought was education not entertainment. Something that conveyed the reality of a shark attack free of art or artifice. Put simply, I wanted the truth even if it was uncomfortable.
I imagine Brendan McAloon was driven by the same impulse when he wrote Sharks Never Sleep. Here in Australia we've experienced clusters of attacks, in South Australia around the turn of the century, Western Australia at the end of the first decade, and now the Ballina to Byron stretch. No-one can explain the increased regional activity and the repetitive nature of the incidents drives mainstream media into a fervour that distorts the truth, while advocate groups press their beliefs both for and against. All the while, surfers, who are on the so called front line against sharks, don't know who to trust.
So in writing Sharks Never Sleep – an evocative title if ever there was one - McAloon sates his own desire for truth by skirting the news outlets and heading straight to the sources. A novel journalistic approach in this age of agglomerate websites.
Starting with the death of Tadashi Nakahara, McAloon gains the confidence of rescuers and witnesses who recount their experiences and also the aftermath - the psychological reverberations from witnessing the hyper reality of a shark attack. If you've ever asked yourself what you'd do if an attack happened near you, and I'm sure most surfers have, it's fascinating to read just what many surfers did do.
Between recollections, McAloon takes excursions in time, describing how sharks assumed their mythical role, including the cultural effect of Jaws by Steven Spielberg, and excursions in place. One chapter is devoted to Reunion Island's la crise requin – the shark crisis – named so when the Indian Ocean island suffered 18 shark attacks in four years, seven of them deadly. He also speaks with shark scientists to get the latest information and find find out why there's a paucity of knowledge.
In a past life, Brendan McAloon worked for Rip Curl, he produced their webcasts, worked on a Search TV series, and co-produced Mick Fanning's biopic, Mick, Myself, and Eugene. Evidently the two have remained in contact because Mick's attack looms large in Sharks Never Sleep and he provides McAloon with the most comprehensive account of the J'Bay incident yet.
Towards the end, McAloon circles around and revisits the death of Tadashi Nakahara. The sheer bloody randomness makes it all to easy to inject ourselves into Nakahara's story. And while the reality can make for grim reading, though never quite as bad as a coroners report, McAloon's desire for knowledge is wholly understandable. Even, dare I say it, entertaining.
Sharks Never Sleep is published by Hardie Grant