Rugby league hero fronts seven days of shark-infested TV, writes Nick Grant

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Shark Week has returned to make you reconsider your bathing options.

Subscription telly's long-running institution (it started in the US 26 years ago, and has played on both sides of the Tasman for the past 18) kicks off tonight on Discovery Channel with a couple of shows - Great White Serial Killer at 7.30pm and Return of Jaws at 8.30pm - likely to make many viewers stick to landlocked swimming pools from now on.

Not that Discovery is promoting the outdated, erroneous idea that sharks spend all their time lurking in shallow water waiting for unwary humans to prey on. Oh no, no, no.

Indeed, the publicity material for the annual ferocious fish fest is as much about rehabilitating sharks' public image as it is about promoting the programmes playing this week, urging viewers "to remember that when it comes to sharks, humans are the predator".


It's a point that Andrew 'ET' Ettingshausen is keen to emphasise.

The Aussie rugby league hero has hosted Shark Week in NZ and Oz for four years now (he was offered the gig on the strength of his career playing for the Cronulla Sharks and the fishing show, Escape with ET, he's been making since retiring from footy). He has lots of facts and figures about things with fins at his disposal. The most jaw-dropping one is the humans versus sharks scoreline.

"Every year 100 million sharks are killed by humans," he says. "It's hard to fathom there'll be any left soon, with that many getting hammered."

On the other side of the ledger are about 100 confirmed shark attacks a year worldwide, of which maybe 20 per cent are fatal. In most instances those deaths would be a case of manslaughter, not cold-blooded murder. The vast majority of sharks "don't actually like to eat humans, they normally have a bite and go 'yuck' and spit it back out. The problem is, it might just be a nibble for them but they're taken a limb and so you bleed to death ..."

There are some simple "don'ts" you can observe to ensure the chances of that happening to you are minimal, he says. "If you know a place where great whites visit each year?

Don't go swimming out there. It's pretty basic. And don't swim in the sea at dawn or dusk, or when it's been overcast and rainy for a few days and the water's all murky and dirty. Remember, the sea is their domain, so be cautious and respectful."

Thanks to his fishing series, now in its 15th season, Ettingshausen has had his share of close encounters with sharks.

"The first time I dived in Papua New Guinea," he says, "I looked to my left and there were sharks out there and I looked out to my right, and there were all these whaler sharks just circling. And I felt like every one of them had their eyes on me.

"But I've done about a dozen dives when sharks have been present now and I feel really at home in the water with them. They don't bother you, and they're just magnificent to look at.

"As far as the fishing front goes, though, well, that's a different story. Sometimes when we're bringing a fish in, the sharks will just devour it right beside the boat, which is pretty hairy.

"And once when I was up in the Northern Territory, I'd landed a nice big Barramundi in dirty water, so I couldn't see what was going on. I was just sort of swinging it to let it go and - boooom! - there was like an explosion right in my hands. All I remember is ripping my hands out of the way as the fish got cut in half by a whaler shark ..."

From tonight to next Saturday, there's a new Shark Week show on Discovery at 7.30pm. And, thanks to Discovery Channel and Sea Life Aquariums, viewers can download a free pass to Kelly Tarlton's in Auckland from