Fishing Lines: Sampson tempted by Delilah

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The Independent Online
I HAVE a theory about the spate of great white shark attacks that have fascinated and appalled newspaper readers this week. It is my belief that the sharks are warning off Victor Sampson, who plans to capture one particular prize specimen later this year.

Sampson, from Dulwich, south London, has already admitted that his expedition to South Africa could end up with the great white catching him, rather than the other way round. 'It's so big that there's a chance it will attack the boat,' he says.

The shark, named Delilah by a film crew which will be following Sampson's hunt, has been spotted several times by commercial boats, which estimate its weight at between 6,000lb and 8,000lb, and its length at around 25ft (longer than the shark in Jaws). At least such estimates have a tingle of veracity, which is more than can be said for the exaggerated dimensions that have been swimming around in several newspapers.

A shark which bit a Tasmanian woman in two was estimated at 10ft to 11ft, but mysteriously grew overnight to 15ft. Even more remarkably, the newspapers managed to fix its weight although the shark has not been seen since. The favourite estimate appears to be two tons, so it should be fairly easy to spot as it will look like a football with fins. By the end of the week, the fish, exhibiting truly extraordinary growth, had reached a length of 20ft and provided the headline of the week, the mawkish 'A shark killed Mummy and now she's gone to Heaven'.

Other incidents have included a 16ft great white gulping down a honeymooner off Sydney, and a 'killer shark' ripping apart a man off Hong Kong, in an area where just two weeks ago an early-morning swimmer was attacked and an elderly woman was taken two years ago. I have not seen any estimates yet for the Hong Kong fish, which disappeared immediately as if knowing the locals' predilection for shark's fin soup.

In case you are about to cancel your holidays to Blackpool or Benidorm, let us get a few things straight. First, great white sharks are about as common as blue whales round our coast and even in the Med. And if you are going to California (scene of most shark attacks) or Australia, the main thing is to keep away from seal colonies. Seals are the great white's favourite food. Almost every attack has taken place because the shark mistakes a diver or surfer for a seal.

Sampson, who has caught more great whites than anyone in the world, says it is tosh to believe that great whites will act like a man-eating tiger. 'They don't hang around beaches waiting for swimmers, and they don't know the difference between a diver in a wet suit and a seal. To a shark, they're both protein,' he says. 'They have a regular patrol route of about 300 miles, but mostly they are oceanic.'

Last year he caught one of 2,500lb, the second largest fish ever caught on rod and line. 'Great whites are very different from what most people believe,' he said. 'They are very shy, and even if you get one around a boat, it can take a couple of hours to take a bait. But when they're hooked, they are very strong and aggressive.'

Ironically, if Sampson captures Delilah, he does not intend to kill the fish. 'My plan is to fix a satellite transmitter to it so that its movements can be monitored, and let it go,' he says. And no doubt the shark will be equally benevolent if the positions are reversed.