Isla Guadalupe Great White Shark Diving – Day 3

For some, the day started earlier than others.  In an effort to get to a better shark diving spot after yesterday’s empty handed attempt, the boat pulled up anchor and started motoring north at 4:30AM.  The film crew followed suit shortly thereafter in an effort to get a head start on the day.

Me however… I heard the engines spin up just down the hall from my room…and promptly went back to sleep.  Well, at least until sunrise at about 6:15AM.  At which point I stumbled out of my bunk and up to the main deck to see what we were up to.

IMG_4291By this point we had picked out a spot closer to the northern tip of the island, and were navigating around within a small area trying to find a suitable place to drop anchor.  As I mentioned yesterday, the sea bed here drops off dramatically, making it somewhat difficult to find a stable place to anchor.  But, that was the worry of the crew.  My immediate worry was my belly – which I calmed by joining the first breakfast call.

IMG_4295After breakfast was complete we had a bit of time while they launched the cages and took care of some shots they needed outside.  This gave me time to prepare my camera gear for the day and then enjoy just sitting outside a bit and doing…nothing.  Given the busy lives many of us lead at home, it’s nice to sit around and do nothing – especially with the sounds of sea lions echoing off the rocks behind us.

IMG_4296 IMG_4298Yesterday I was in the first cage rotation, but today the second rotation went first.  The folks at Shark Divers were great about ensuring everyone got a fair shot at the water.  Sometimes you’d luck out…and sometimes not so much.

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So while they were down under, I was up above watching the crew chuck fish on a rope overboard.  Kinda like soap on a rope…only much, much stinkier.  Do note that none of these fish have hooks in them – there is simply rope through them.  Just want to make sure nobody thinks there’s any harm to sharks here in the event the shark gets a hold of the fish.

IMG_4302About an hour later when it was our time to go in we heard good rumors from the teams headed out of the cages.  While it may sound funny that we wouldn’t exactly know if there was a shark or not, you have to remember that we can’t see terribly far down in the water from on the boat itself.  Unlike in South Africa were the sharks immediately came breaching to the surface, these ones are a bit more timid – and prefer to slowly stake out their dates (or perhaps that should be ‘steak’ out instead…).  Thus the folks on the boat are actually the last to know.

So, without further ado, into the cages we went.  And within seconds of plopping in  I saw my first shark slowly sliding from beneath the boat to below the cages.

IMG_4722 The shark swam slowly lazy circles around the boat, only occasionally changing depth to come up and take a peek at us, before gliding back down into the depths…disappearing into darkness.

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The thing that becomes immediately clear here is that great white sharks simply aren’t the ruthless take-no-prisoners animal that the media has made them out to be.  They are in general rather reserved and oddly enough…kinda timid.  While we had two fish-heads out there for their consideration, and they honestly weren’t that interested in them.

For them, we were more akin to a floating circus that happened to stop by in their neighborhood.  And that was simply more interesting (and perhaps frightening) than anything else. They were in no rush to come in and pickup and free food (or caged tourists), despite our hopes they’d swing by for better photos.

But on occasion they would come up and eye us a bit.

IMG_0147Somewhat rarely they’d attempt to go for the bait, but the crew wouldn’t allow them to actually get it.  This is an in effort to make sure we aren’t simply a buffet table that the sharks get used to.  Ironically, the little fish swimming around did a far better job of getting a free meal than the 2,500 pound great white sharks.

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The second item you’ll notice when they do get close is just how massive these animals are – and not only in length (upwards of 16ft+) – but probably most importantly in girth.  At times it felt like having a limo driving towards you.

IMG_0122Of course, the most striking element of their visit is just the gracefulness of them.  They aren’t ravaging around trying to break into the cages, nor are they banging against the boat trying to sink it like in the movie Jaws.  Nope, they are simply quiet, calm and reserved.

One common concern with shark diving in general is that its said that in effect it’s training the sharks to associate humans with food, and thus potentially endangering either humans in the future – or sharks behavior.  However, a lot of interesting research has said that really isn’t the case.  Looking at the human endangerment side – sharks simply don’t like the taste of humans.  We aren’t appetizing to them (though, Oceanic White Tips would probably be a notable exception).  When you look at a shark, the only way it can ‘test’ something is to bite it.  Most shark attacks usually only result in one bite – at which point the shark decides we aren’t desirable.  Unfortunately, with you’re dealing with a set of teeth upwards of two feet wide, that single bite can be life ending.

It’s also unfortunate that in many cases most undesirable shark encounters can be avoided.  The biggest contributor to shark-human encounters is mistaken identity.  This is most common early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun makes it difficult to recognize form from below – triathletes in wetsuits look very much like seals.  Further contributing to this is that nearest shore the water tends to be more murky.  Finally, many times humans swim near river deltas or other areas which draw up sediment – adding another layer of confusion.

Bringing this back a bit to the primary topic of this blog (triathlon/running), many in the community may remember the great white incident that occurred last April outside of San Diego which resulted in the death of a man out on a tri club swim practice early in the morning (side note: that write-up is probably one of the best written about a triathlon related event…ever – go read it) .  Unfortunately, in this case many of the most common recommendations for avoiding shark attacks were avoided.  Now, I know as a type-a triathlete/swimmer that we all want to get out early in the morning and knock out our swims.  And remember 99.999% of the time this isn’t an issue and you go onto your normal day, but – there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of an encounter in that remaining .001%.  Read more here about some of the little precautions you can take to minimize an encounter.  Moving on…

I got this picture of one guy making a slow sweeping turn below the cages – probably one of my favorite pictures of the day.

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Before we knew it, it was time to rotate out of the cages and into the galley for lunch.  Though, because it was such a nice day, we decided to eat lunch outside instead of in the galley.

IMG_4911With a great Rueben sandwich and pasta salad now history, we were excited to get back into the water and hopefully get some close up action with the great whites that were still circling below. So into the cages we went…

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And again we were on the lookout for our little friends…

IMG_4773 Thankfully it didn’t take long to show back up:

IMG_4861AIMG_4930A IMG_4909Unfortunately, most of the time the sharks never really got too close to the cage, instead opting to take slow passes a bit below us, or away from us. One did make a half-hearted attempt for the bait, before becoming disinterested and swimming back down again.  Though, it was impressive to see the angle of attack of the shark towards the bait:

IMG_4989A Shortly after this photo the sharks disappeared down into the depths (turned out to be between 2-3 of them during our 2-hour photo op), thus making for a very silent remainder of the afternoon.

So we returned to our usual practices of taking lots of pictures of fish, and each other.  That’s Simon below from OPS, if you remember from yesterday he’s the one with the massive $100K camera.

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IMG_4983Before we knew it though, it was time to empty the cages again so they could be pulled for the night.  The wind was picking up a bit causing some rather sea-sickness inducing rolling, so the Captain decided to move the boat into a more protected area until the following morning.

IMG_4997With a successful day of shark diving in the books, everyone was in a good mood and looking forward to another great day tomorrow.  Given the calming weather over the course of the day, tomorrow is looking to be fantastic.

Of course, no day here on The Islander (the boat we were on) would be complete without a great dinner, and tonight was again no exception – though somehow I managed to miss taking a good photo of Chef Rick’s incredible pork tenderloin.

After dinner we had the treat of a private showing of the film The Cove, which is sorta like The Inconvenient Truth, but instead regarding the slaughtering of dolphins in a small town in Japan.  One of the primary filmmakers – Simon Hutchins – was onboard with us for the trip for an upcoming project.  The film premiered earlier this summer worldwide, and went on to win awards at the Sundance Film Festival (and many other festivals), as well as significant international media attention.  The film covers a team which spent considerable time and effort to setup HD cameras in a small cove in Japan to cover the weekly slaughter of thousands of dolphins during the season (20,000 annually).  The dolphin meat is then resold throughout Japan purposely mislabeled as various delicacy whale types.  This is problematic for two reasons – the first less obvious being that dolphins inherently have extremely high levels of mercury due to their place in the food chain, thus the meat is effectively poison.  But the second being the most obvious issue of thousands of dead dolphins…or dead cousins of Flipper.  Then there’s also the third inherent issue of whale meat…but that’s a different issue for a different day…

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The movie comes out on DVD Dec 8th – or to simply add it to your Netflix queue – click here.  Lastly, if you’re interested in understanding which fish are safe to eat (both from a mercury standpoint, and an endangered species standpoint), the Monterey Bay Aquarium has put together this handy little wallet guide that you can order for free (or just download).  It outlines good alternatives for each item on the banned list – sometimes it’s as simple as choosing a different source for the same fish.  It’s pretty cool and super simple to follow (they even have a sushi guide!)

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Btw, hopefully you’re finding this interesting.  I’m trying to tie in a travel diary here with bits and pieces about some of the issues that the oceans face.  It’s fascinating talking to all of the really smart folks onboard here, because you start to understand the root of the issues.  Each of the different folks on the boat have a story to tell about the work they are deeply passionate about – and there are so many stories to tell.

So with that, it’s off to bed for another day of diving tomorrow.  We have one final full day here at the Island before we have to make the 20+ hour trek back to Ensenada, Mexico.

(Please note: All photos and text are copyrighted by me – Ray Maker – if you want to use a photo, just ask and e-mail me. Unlike the sharks, I don’t bite.  Thanks!)

<< Back to Day 1, Day 2 | Ahead to Day 4, Day 5 >>

12 Comments

  1. I am extremely jealous. Were it not for the fact that I ralph easily, I would be right there gleefully chumming the water and screaming "Hey fishy! fishy!" with you. Sweet. Congrats on a successful adventure!

    Reply
  2. Kim

    I am really enjoying your great pics and travelogue-as always! Sounds like a great time!

    Reply
  3. Really enjoying your writing, even on non-tri subjects. Keep it coming!

    Reply
  4. this is absolutely interesting! I love all the pics; what an incredible experience! There's so much of the world I want to see...

    Reply
  5. Those were some AWESOME photos. What a great adventure for you and your brother. Thank you for the seafood pocket guide. I will be putting that to good use.

    Reply
  6. This is sounding like such an amazing trip Ray! You always plan the most interesting vacations. Fingers crossed for continued good shark sightings!

    Reply
  7. Looks amazing! I read the ESPN/OTL write up - incredibly moving story.

    Reply
  8. Just showed the shark photos to Alex - "They're beautiful!" I think he wishes he was with you guys. Can't blame him!

    Reply
  9. You should write books about your travels, you make everything sound so interesting! Thanks for the extra tidbits about sharks, it helps that you give a good picture of them outside of the media.

    Reply
  10. Jen

    Cool stuff!

    BTW, there's a free iPhone app from the Monterey Bay Aquarium that shows you the same info as the wallet card on which fish to eat, and tells you a little more about each type of fish.

    Reply
  11. Wow ...thanks for sharing ..it has been great reading and viewing!

    Reply
  12. i absolutely loved this blog series. and, thanks for the link to the cove - i think i will be doing some of my own writing on this topic (for grad school, i have to choose a public policy topic for one of my application essays - thanks for the inspiration!)

    i'll be in maryland for 4 months next spring/summer, i'd love to get together for some training/geeking out on garmin-quarq.

    Reply

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