In June of this year, I left Australia yet again bound for the shark waters of the Caribbean. Upon arrival it was good to know not much had changed, in the water, (still jet lagged but no giving a dam because we were about to dive with sharks), we were greeted with the usual swarm of Caribbean Reef sharks. An amazing creature, the Caribbean reef shark measures up to 3 meters and one of my favourite species as just like in the human world, the females are the more dominant and in control, and make good subjects for film and photographs. For the next few weeks, I made my home playing with these sharks, gaining footage in one of the few and most renowned places in the world, and only where you can see a shark feed like this. I cannot explain the feeling of being in this swarm of sharks. After a few close encounters, some shark induced punctures, and allot of footage... it was time to say goodbye again. Stuart Cove is an amazing man to talk to, I asked him of his wildest adventures with sharks and the story usually ended with him being stitched up on the dock whilst drinking whisky. He’s passion for showing these creatures to the world has not gone unnoticed. These feeders and array of dive instructors have shown countless people a creature they were taught to fear, and change their life through it. I brought my mother who described herself as 'from the Jaws era', an avid diver and shark lover but still had some apprehension. She was more than convinced after only one shark feed dive at Stuart's that fear was not a necessary factor when it comes to sharks. There is one beautiful moment of these dives, its at the end, the customers in the circle shape around us being to ascend, and the feeder and I take the bait elsewhere to keep the sharks from investigating divers feet. Michelle and Stuart Cove were kind enough to allow me into the circle wearing chainmail suits during my last visit, since then I got to get closer into these feeds. In this moment when we are alone with the sharks, they go form batman to joker, and get a little wilder. Whilst holding my camera up which gets frequently smashed into my face by a rushing shark, I see through the monitor this ballet of 50 moving bodies, all with eyes on the bait, but occasionally looking away to study the divers... this my friends, my fellow divers, my fellow delinquents with scuba certifications... this is what dreams are made of... next stop, Mexico.
Few places in the world hold a whale shark congregation, for ours we came to Isla Mujeres in Mexico- I spent half of the flight there repetitively informing my travel buddies that whale sharks were just 'confused fish' and although I was exited, I was convinced sharks had to have teeth to be ranked cool. A small island off the coast of cancun, Isla was obviously a hot spot for tourism. We went with Andy Murch,(http://bigfishphotographyexpeditions.com) the best part of this trip for me was having a total shark encyclopaedia to talk to, every dinner and breakfast, the only table conversation between Andy and I was 'shark'. Andy is a renowned shark photographer, with so much experience in the sharks world, and knowledge of not only the well known but also the unheard of species of sharks. Andy offered us a shark fanatics style experience of the whale sharks. As we rocked up to the site after an hour on the boat, I could see about 50 dorsal fins in front, more to the left, and more to the right. I almost wet my pants with excitement! Only freediving, we jumped in the water with these creatures, whos size and skin made them look like theme park statues, how amazing they were, I completely take back anything I said about them being dorky sharks. The whale sharks were busy feeding, rushing through the water with their mouths open, so as I was filming one, one would run into me from a different direction and I would have to quickly kick out the way of its mouth. In the waters for hours, and often the only ones there, surrounded by whale sharks. The most I saw underwater at once was seven whale sharks. Occasionally we would see one 'vertical feeding' also known as 'coke bottle'. This is when they would find a nice current flow, or need to wash their gills out, and just sit in a trace in the water, allowing me to get very close, and admittedly... attempt to put my camera in its mouth. So careful not to touch the shark, I aimed for that one magic shot.
Mexico was amazing, the whale sharks were amazing, the giant manta rays were amazing and certainly cavern diving in the forest was amazing. The first thing you will notice however is how tourism has taken over, the whales sharks are often swarmed with small boats and many people, but taking into account these are not fishing boat, I do believe the tourism here is acting as a defence, for each one of these boat if not taking people to the whale sharks, would most likely be fishing boats, and the bright side of such a small and previous fishing community in this country changing to profit form the life's on sharks and not their deaths.
Mexico has recently established laws that close the fishing season when sharks are breeding, and although this area is ripped by illegal shark finning operations, you will find the locals (who get paid $3 for each shark) are not the ones responsible. I was 'fortunate' enough to see this first hand, at the only fish market on Isla with a permit to catch sharks, as they leased them onto the truck and the smell of rotting bull sharks urea pierced the air, it was not a pretty sight, but it was also not a genocide. Could it be a case of small town which I would have expected to have a far stronger shark fishing/finning presence has become a 'whale shark watching' town instead, and the times are changing for places even as small as Mexico? However you want to look at it, having small section of time in which fishing sharks is closed off, is two steps ahead of most countries, and in an ocean well known for its demise, to see creatures in these numbers was a gift, and a first for this shark fanatic.
Now to edit the footage...