Getting to Know the Sharks in Guadalupe Island, Mexico
A Close Encounter
I never could get used to the creaking and jerking of the winch as the shark cage slowly descended down to 35 feet. I continually cleared my ears as we sunk, and if I wasn’t careful the pain in my ears would get so bad that I thought my head would burst.
When we hit depth I saw two very large females circling about in the distance. They weren’t too far away and when they noticed us they came right over to investigate. As I watched them grow closer I looked up through my exhaled air bubbles and saw Darren calmly watching them both, continually stamping on a burlap sack of tuna remains to keep their interest.
They orbited horizontally, vertically and from every angle imaginable. Sometimes they would come so close to the cage that it was very tempting to touch them. But I fought that urge as I didn’t want to scare them off, or get them used to human contact.
I guess for the first few moments I was intimidated because it was just me and these two behemoths. They were around 16 feet long and easily over 1500 pounds each. But the intimidation faded away quickly to such an incredible fascination that I became transfixed. And I suddenly had the urge to talk to them as if they could understand me!
When that thought went through my mind I wondered if these creatures could feel that I was fascinated by them. It may sound crazy, but I honestly believed they did. And vice versa.
I had my GoPro on a selfie stick at that point, using it like a rifle. I found that having my headstrap on was useless because the exhaled bubbles just got in the way of good shots. I kept it on them both turning on my heels to keep them in my frame.
The second one stayed right with me at the cage lazily circling about, eyeing me up and down with those dense, dark eyes of hers. So I spoke to her even more.
“You’re so pretty,” I said in my head. “I don’t feel threatened by you at all.” She benevolently circled me for what seemed like hours but what I think in reality was more like 20 minutes. During this practically silent ballet where the only sound I heard was my exhalation bubbles and my own voice in my head, I could swear we connected. The entire fluid environment fell away from me as we kept our focus on each other…and just watched one another.
Then suddenly she turned and slowly went down off into the gloom. I kept my eyes on her as the deep blue sea swallowed her up. Disappointed I said in my in head, “Where are you going!!?? You’re so gorgeous, come back here and talk to me!” And like that, just as the gloom encased her she came right back! I sighed as she returned, lazily swimming to up me so I could chat and get some good shots.
I giggled to myself. “Are you teasing me?! You silly girl.” She swam around my cage some more. It made me think about my late wife, who I’d lost to breast cancer complications some 18 months before. She loved to tease me and we shared lots of laughs about that during the course of our 7-year marriage.
My wife was an incredible animal lover and animal welfare activist. She had all kinds of pets growing up, from birds, mice, fish, cats and dogs and even worked for the RSPCA at one point as a paid Volunteer Coordinator. And it all rubbed off on me too, through the adoption of our own pets, fostering of animals and volunteering for that same organization.
I named her Roz.
And with a big jerk, the cage started moving upwards. My time with Roz was at an end. I watched her as she stayed at 35 feet, circling about, where she was joined by the second shark and eventually went off into the gloom. I was so emotional as we ascended through the water. I could feel the tears building up in my mask and my breathing starting to stutter.
I had a distinct personal connection with this incredible animal and it was almost as if she spoke to me personally. I didn’t feel afraid or threatened. If anything I felt enlightened and gracious that she gave me some of her time, allowing me to capture it all on my camera for eternity.
After seeing her acrobatics for almost an hour, I decided to leave the surface cage and take a break. But I was perplexed as to who this was.
Divemaster Garrett, who was surfacing from the submersible beside me answered my question. “Hey everyone, Domino is down there!”
Domino was the most rambunctious shark out of all of them. She outperformed all challengers with the speed, manoevrability and pure aggressiveness Great Whites are known for. She put on a show for us and didn’t care who watched, almost like an exhibitionist. The swagger of this shark got us all drooling for more. She attacked the baits from all angles and would immediately line up for another shot if she missed it. One time she missed a bait and quickly darted away into the deep blue gloom. For a few moments I saw nothing, my head on a swivel, and figured she’d lost interest. So I turned my GoPro off to save the battery. WRONG.
Just moments later, she came screaming up from the depths at a nose up attitude in between the cages! She went straight for the bait floating on the surface – and missed! She was moving so fast I thought she’d breach the water as the Great Whites in South Africa do!! But she must’ve known she was going to miss, because she put the brakes on at the last minute, leveling out and swimming away. And of course that happened so fast I didn’t even get a chance to turn on my GoPro!
She lined up on a bait 100 feet away like a jet coming in on a bombing run. She zoomed in and attacked it, clenching it in her jaws and throwing her head to the left as hard as she could to break the line’s resistance. It held for a few moments – then snapped with a dull crack as she hit the top of my cage with a tremendous KABOOM!! The cage rattled for a second then she was free to swim down into the depths and devour her meal!
I was so excited I nearly shit myself! I knew I got that one on my GoPro, because when she crashed into my cage she was literally on top of me!! I jumped up and down excitedly knowing that I finally got the money shot I needed to make my movie complete!!
Some Reflections on Diving with the Sharks
Photo Credits: Header by Stefan Pircher all other images and video content by author, not to be reproduced or used without permission.