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  • Sam Davis

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    Shark whisperer shares tales from below

    James Cook University's Richard Fitzpatrick has released a book detailing some of his close encounters with one of the world's most feared predators.

    Massaging a constipated shark while working at Manly Aquarium is one of marine biologist and filmmaker Richard Fitzpatrick’s favourite stories.

    The three-metre grey nurse shark came to Mr Fitzpatrick for help and a rare encounter ensued.  

    “I was massaging the shark for over a day and bonding.” he says.

    “It kept coming back to me. It would saddle up alongside me to rub its belly until it cleared this blockage.

    “Having a relationship with an animal - particularly a shark - that people don’t necessarily think of is pretty interesting.”

    Mr Fitzpatrick has just launched his first book, Shark Tracker: Confessions of an Underwater Cameraman, in a launch event at Cairns Airport on Friday. The domestic terminal will also feature some of his incredible imagery on various screens.

    Friend and fellow videographer Christian Miller says Mr Fitzpatrick is never short of a fish tale or two.

    “Whatever you can imagine could happen to someone, it’s happened to Richard,” he says. “He’s pretty incredible.”

    The tome is full of dozens of stories including one that made him very popular with a major American cable network.

    “One of the weirdest encounters I had was when my camera got swallowed by a great white shark,” Mr Fitzpatrick says.

    “It had a cable connected to it that was around my neck so when the shark got the camera and swam off it dragged me off with it.

    “It was a surreal moment because I was watching it on the monitor. It was like ‘Oh my God! You’re in the mouth of a great white shark.

    “My mates dragged me in by my feet and we got the camera out.

    “It was the first ever footage going into the back of a great white’s mouth. The Discovery Channel used the footage for years after that.”

    The Emmy-award winning filmmaker discovered his love for sharks as boy growing up in Rockhampton, observing epaulette sharks in shallow water.

    More than three decades later, Mr Fitzpatrick says he is still in awe of the apex predators.

    “With sharks, it’s about the unknown,” he says.

    “Every time you go in the water you see them do something and I always come out with more questions than answers.

    “There’s a secret life that these animals have. You could spend 100 lifetimes out there and still not know everything.”

    Next year, Mr Fitzpatrick will start filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef.

    “It’s my first 3D IMAX feature which I’ll be directing as well,” he says. “We’ll start filming in January.”

    Combining his passion for sharks and film has been driving by a desire to teach people more about marine life.

    “Education has always been a big part of what I do,” he says.

    “I started making little video clips to explain behaviour.

    “What I found was video and moving image worked better to me than still photography.

    “We’re doing science and filmmaking at the same time. It’s a great thing and a good hybrid between the two disciplines.”

    (Images supplied)