A beautiful blacktip shark greets me wide open!The sea is rough, the spray whips across my face, the boat ride out to the site bumpy and long, and my butt hurts each time we smack into a wave crest and drop down with a crash. But I don’t care, and fortunately sea-sickness is a rarity for me, all that is on my mind is them, the blacktip sharks and hopefully the tiger sharks too, only minutes away.
Mike photographs the blacktips.My companions on this photographic mission are close friends and fellow conservationists: Mike and Val Fraser, fine underwater photographers and water babies extraordinaire, with countless hours underwater; Dr Leonard Compango, world renowned shark expert; Sophia and Mark van Coller, both talented underwater photographers, and Sophia, a gifted freediver with the style of a dolphin, and the legendary Wolfgang Leander whose love for tiger sharks is unmatchable.
The reason I am here this time round is because of Wolf. He had invited me to join him in 2008 when he was last in South Africa to dive with the tigers but I sadly had to decline as the shark centre consumed my time voraciously back then. Meet him I must and now I’m free again and back where I love to be, where I belong, the sea on my skin and the sharks surrounding me.
The viz is poor, the bait stem attracts around 40 blacktips, but no tigers yet… I love the blacktips (Carcharhinus limbatus), they are exceptionally beautiful. Their torpedo shaped golden, bronze bodies are perfectly designed for slicing through the water at speed, above you, below you, right next to you, sometimes accidentally touching you. I am honored to be in their domain, safely surrounded by moving walls of sharks and prove once again that sharks are not out there to eat us, hunt us or harm us. To think this is to insult such great animals as they are far smarter than that.
Then she comes, the mighty tiger shark. I have not seen one for a couple of years and I’m at the surface on snorkel with Wolf when she appears. I get a fright; she seems so big in comparison to me, so close to me. And for a second the conditioning of the media over all those years prior to knowing better flashes back and I feel a twinge of fear. Wolf reaches out to me, assuring me all is fine and I relax knowing full well he is right. She moves much slower in comparison to the blacktips but with curious purpose. Soon there is another one, smaller than her but equally graceful and beautiful.
It is difficult to describe in words the privileged experience of diving with so many of some of the oceans most majestic animals. No drug or alcohol high or any adrenaline sport I was once hooked on like paragliding, rock climbing, and white water canoeing, ever gave me this deep sense of fulfillment, abundant peace and overflowing enjoyment. I stop photographing for a while and just watch the spectacular dance of the great sharks before me, etching it into my mind forever. I smile, and water trickles into my mask.
Two days later the dance continues as I am still having visions of them each time I close my eyes, something that happens to me every time I spend hours with them. Craig Foster, award winning documentary filmmaker, who has spent years filming tribes of Africa, tells me my vision experiences are similar to those experienced by tribal people when in trance, and he believes I am tapping into the great thread of life that we are all connected to. The sharks do that for me. They bring me home.
See more photos of these beautiful animals… (A special thanks goes to my good friends, Mike and Val for their hospitality, photos and sharing the ocean with me, and Sophia and Mark for taking some pix of me, thank you! Let’s do it again soon!)