This adventure I am headed to Guadalupe Island in search of the world's largest predatory fish, the Great White Shark. Guadalupe is a volcanic island located about 150 miles off the west coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Due to it's large seal population, it is one of the premiere locations for observing the Great White Shark in it's natural habitat.
I started my journey flying to San Diego, California from my home in Jupiter, Florida. From there I drove down to Ensenada, Mexico where the boat was waiting in port for my arrival. I finally arrived at 9 pm that evening, met the crew and captain for our safety briefing, and set sail on the 24 hour crossing to Guadalupe Island.My first night left much to be desired. The waves averaged 12-14 ft and the rocking boat flung me out of my bunk over and over. The next day was full of dive briefings, shark identification classes, and preparing my gear for the next morning's dives. As we approached the island that evening I felt like I was in a scene from King Kong. With only the moonlight to illuminate the island. I watched silently as the ominous silhouette slowly grew bigger. We arrived around 9 pm and dropped anchor 100 yards offshore. After a few beers and some dinner we all retired to our bunks so we could be up as the sun rose to jump into the water.
It was 5 am when I poured a cup of coffee and watched the crew begin chumming the water as the sun rose. The boat was equipped with two surface cages and 3 larger submersible cages lowered down on a winch. By law, it is required that divers must be inside of a cage when diving with Great Whites. For my first dive I chose one of the surface cages.
The surface cages provide a lot more action as Great Whites hunt near the surface. Right off of the bat I had a 12 ft male charge the tuna heads floating by the surface cage. His momentum carried him right into my cage. I had to put my hand on his nose and direct him away. It turned out to be one of my favorite images from the trip.
Throughout the day, we had a total of 5 sharks show up. This was the first time I encountered Lucy, an 18 ft pregnant female white shark. October through November are the only times of the year that these massive pregnant whites come to Guadalupe, which was my reason for coming this time of year. Lucy made multiple close passes by the cage and even came within 3 inches of my camera for an extreme closeup. Seeing these colossal mamas up close is an experience of a life time and made my whole trip for me.
On the second day out I wanted to try a few different shots. I built a 7 foot pole cam for my camera which I could control with a remote shutter. This would allow me to get up close and personal with the whites. I was hoping my camera might spark their curiosity and lure them in. I began my day in the surface cage and everything was going along great until a 13 ft male rammed right into my camera and hand. I thought at least one would be broken due to the sheer power of these animals, but both turned out alright.
Next I decided to try some over/under shots to get the island in the back ground of the shot and the sharks in the foreground. This meant me lying on top of the cage with my pole in the water. It was a very difficult shot to capture as there are many factors that come into play. First I had to make sure there were no beads of water on my dome port that could ruin a shot. And with constantly moving ocean splashing it is easier said than done. Focus was my second biggest challenge. Trying to keep the sharks and the island in focus while my camera is 7 ft away proved very challenging. A small aperture helped tremendously with this.
As I lay in wait for a shark to move into the right position I heard the Captain yell, "Hammerhead!" And to my surprise a Smooth Hammerhead zoomed in to eat the bait. He got just a few bites in before a giant 18 ft female crashed in to chase him off. This happened several more times before the Hammerhead got the message and moved on.
The final day I went down into the submersible cages. Down 40 ft below the surface, I could observe more natural behavior of the whites. All day I had two giant 18 ft females calmly circle the cages. They seemed to have a very similar swim pattern as they swam straight up to the cages coming inches from my lens, and then would swim out of sight. After a few minutes passed they would repeat the same pattern. I really enjoyed watching the pilot fish that would swim right in front of the white sharks mouth as it added perspective to some of my photos.
The ocean is always unpredictable which makes many of my trips have varied success, but aside from the rough crossing there and back it was an amazing trip. We encountered Great Whites each of our days at Guadalupe, and I achieved most of the photographic goals I set out for. Getting to be in the water and photograph these gargantuan apex predators of the ocean truly is a humbling experience and one I will not be soon to forget.