Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Big Seal Rock
As well as being the site of the tragic shipwrecks SS Catterthun and SS Satara, Seal Rocks on the Mid North Coast of NSW is famous for its grey nurse sharks. People come from all over Australia and even overseas to dive with these gentle but fierce looking creatures of the sea. Seal Rocks is one of the few, if not the only, location in NSW where grey nurse sharks can generally be seen every day of the year. The best sites for diving with the sharks are Big Sea Rock and Little Seal Rock which are located to the south-east of Seal Rocks Lighthouse.
It is a 10 minute run from the beach at Seal Rocks to Big Seal Rock. Do not let the name "Big" confuse you, although it sticks up a bit out of the sea, it is still quite small. The best spot for sharks is the northern end of the island. After anchoring on the protected western side at the tip of the rock, you descend 12 metres or so to a bottom of small rocks interspersed with larger boulders. The main location to see sharks is a gutter which runs back into the island from where you are anchored. The gutter itself only rises a few metres and ends in a small overhang or cave. The grey nurse sharks hang around the gutter, normally up in the cave end. The sharks may sometimes not be seen as they can be hidden by large schools of small fish that cover the entrance of the cave.
|A map of Big Seal Rocks Shark Gutters|
Courtesy of Ron Hunter, Dive Forster
On my only visit here in June 1997, I saw two or three sharks in this gutter, including one right in the mouth of the cave. The normal method of diving here is to follow the sides of the gutter up from the deeper water (to keep from scaring the sharks). Be careful as the slightest thing (even a flash) can scare the sharks away. If you must photograph them (or video), wait until everyone has arrived and then do your work. At least them, if they disappear, each person has seen them. It is wise to get in the water quick on this dive so you do not miss anything.
After visiting this spot, you can swim back out of the gutter and to the north where there is another gutter that runs towards the very point of the island. Just before it reaches the actual point it rises up a little to the ridge before dropping away to 15 metres. Along the gutter there are normally sharks (on my dive we saw four or five) and there are some nice sponges and sea squirts. As you go over the ridge to the eastern side there can be more sharks (we saw one).
From here the sea bottom drops away quite dramatically, first to 20 metres then 25 metres and to 35 metres further away. You can swim a fair bit to the south here (in fact, you could probably swim right around the rock) before returning to the gutter area. A swim to the north-east takes you out along a vertical wall that is very dramatic.
After finishing your exploration of this area, return back to the anchor area (check out the first gutter again) and then have a look at the boulders to the south of the anchor. On my dive at Big Seal Rocks I saw more sharks here (two or three, some more than once). Also, this area had some excellent fishlife (leatherjackets, yellowtail, silver sweep, mado) and very nice sponges, sea squirts and small gorgonias. A very nice area.
When diving at Seal Rocks, you must use dive operators from Forster and generally you stay in Forster. It is about 42 kilometres from Forster to Seal Rocks and it takes about 35 to 40 minutes to drive the distance. Although Seal Rocks is very small, there is food and drink available from a caravan next to the beach from where you are picked up by the dive boat.
This is an excellent dive, especially for those interested in seeing grey nurse sharks. In fact, do not waste your money on diving with sharks in an aquarium, spend your $$ on coming here. The visibility was not too bad, may be 8-10 metres and no current.
On my trips to Forster, I have always dived with "Rotten" Ronnie Hunter of Dive Forster. Ronnie has a large comfortable cat to dive from. Ronnie also has cheap but neat accommodation in a house centrally located to all facilities. Contact "Rotten" Ronnie on 61 2 6554 7478.