Paul Raffaele began his career as a cadet broadcast reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation before turning to freelance writing in 1976. Raffaele has since written features for Parade, Smithsonian magazine numerous other media outlets. Raffaele is currently recovering from an injury suffered in April, 2008 while on assignment for Smithsonian in Afghanistan with photographer Steve Dupont.
What drew you to this story? Can you describe its genesis?
I went diving in a cage with great white sharks a decade ago at the Neptune Islands off South Australia and wanted very much to introduce Smithsonian's readers to the true nature of this amazing fish. The great white is not the lone monster as portrayed in Jaws. They are far more interesting than that, and are generally not mindless man-killers. Some do kill humans, but this number is very, very small.
What were your perceptions of great white sharks when you undertook this project?
I knew them to be very large fish that were largely not interested in eating humans—seals are much tastier with all that blubber—and that they also have an interesting social life. When several great whites congregate, their dominance is expressed with body bumps and controlled biting.
What was your favorite moment during your reporting?
Sitting on the cage, flush with the water, and—with no bars separating us—having a great white come within inches of me as it followed a tuna head being pulled on a line by the dive master. I'd been watching their behavior for at least an hour and was confident that even though they were so close to me they would not be interested in me as a meal. Though, when one bumped the cage, it lashed out with its massive tail, missing my head by inches. If it had connected and knocked me into the water, well, who knows what would have happened.