Friday, May 23, 2008

Shark Diving with the future President?

From Luke Tipple's new blog over at

Just as I thought the Bahamas Tiger Shark season was at an end the call came in. Patric Douglas from SharkDivers had a French documentary team lined up to shoot dolphins and tiger sharks and they needed me on-board.

I’d just rounded out a month at sea which included a shoot with Discoveries Mythbusters for Shark Week and two weeks of diving with hardcore shark fans from Germany. With just enough time up my sleeve I met my Mum and brother in San Diego but when they left for New York I got back on a plane bound once again for the Bahamas.

In the rush I had just enough time to get the vessel and necessary operating gear sourced and delivered to the MV Kate. Among the requested items were two high tech underwater scooters, six bottles of oxygen, soft-no-lime (re-breather fuel), 300 pounds of chum, a helicopter, a dozen cases of wine, two shark cages and 6 dolphin shaped balloons… quite the unusual list but not one beyond our means! Usually I fully research my clients before we embark on the mission. Getting the background story and paying attention to detail really assists me in relating to a client and catering to their needs… but I have to admit, I stepped onboard knowing only that we had two vessels, 28 passengers, a potential serious language barrier and no real shooting schedule. Just the type of challenge I relish!

Ushuaia Nature is a team of predominately French movie makers that have traveled the globe for 20 years recording the beauty of our natural world. Yeah, that’s right, 20 years! These guys (and a couple of girls) comprise most of the original members of the film team and the comradery developed from spending so long together is obvious.

They are led by Nicholas Hulot… if the name doesn’t ring a bell then you probably haven’t spent any time in Europe where he is one of the most revered personalities on television. He is an author, TV host, and political force with a mission to spread global awareness of the need to conserve our natural earth’s beauty. He also founded the “Nicholas Hulot Foundation” and is being pressured to run for President of France!

The Ushuaia team boarded the vessel and I was finally presented with their shooting goals: to document and record the beauty of the Caribbean waters around Grand Bahama Island. The schedule included diving with Christine Zenato of Unexo, a well known shark handler who is experienced at inducing the state known as ‘tonic immobility’ (where a shark essentially ‘goes to sleep’ after having it’s highly sensitive snout stimulated by hand).

I joined Christina underwater along with a few cameramen and one very powerful light array but interestingly the sharks had a severe negative reaction to the generator powered lights and would not settle down enough to be handled. Three dives later and with the removal of the lights and most of the divers Christina was successful in her mission, safely handling the shark and giving Hulot quite a thrill! It should be noted that the handlers were wearing Neptunic Shark suits and would not attempt this dangerous activity without this level of protection.

The following days were spent out at sea completing a number of their shooting objectives which included diving at Tiger Shark Beach with the resident Tiger and Lemon Sharks, swimming with Atlantic spotted and bottle nosed dolphins and even breaking out a couple of Kite boards to ‘surf’ with the playful dolphins! Their safety officer, Krov (a fellow Aussie and great guy), remarked that Nicholas is extremely lucky and seems to get amazing footage… his prophetic words proved correct on the second to last day.

While perusing a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins on the beautiful White Sand Ridge the team decided to dive and get footage. Just as we were to hit the water someone yelled “Turtle”, followed immediately by “Tiger Shark”… to which I naturally replied “Dive Dive Dive!!!”. Unbeknownst to us we’d stumbled across the scene of a Tiger Shark attack on a huge old Green Sea Turtle. Three of the sharks, ranging from 6 to 10 feet, were aggressively feeding on the still living turtle. Knowing this was a rare opportunity to observe a natural feeding event I hit the water with the camera crew to witness the demise of this huge old aquatic reptile.

For the next 2 ½ hours I watched with a mix of awe, excitement and sorrow as the three Tigers harassed, bit and tore at the turtle. Honestly I wasn’t given much time to think about it as I was on high alert knowing that at any time the Tigers could, and most likely would, turn on us. Reflecting on it later I knew what I’d witnessed would stay with me forever as one of the most amazing and emotional things I’ve yet to see underwater.

This shoot was yet another success for us in the Bahamas and one that will always stay special to me. The French team were incredible to work with and their nightly sing alongs were quite the spectacle. I was privileged to celebrate Nicholas’ 53rd birthday with their team and laughed myself to tears when their crew doctor dressed as Elvis and serenaded the group with his hilarious version of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ before jumping overboard into the marina… absolutely classic stuff.

Till next time

- Luke


Olivier said...

Hi there,

yes, Nicolas Hulot is one the most appreciated personnalities in France, in the same way as was Commandant Cousteau, Paul-Emile Victor and some others.
He's definitely having a big influence (but never enough) on the ecological way-of-thinking of french people...
Good dives !

a french diver

jeremie said...

Hi Luke,
i just found your website, nice comment about the trip in Bahamas, that's remind me Elvis...
Cheers and have fun.
Jeremie the kiteboarder

Timber said...

Hi! Just found your site, it's great! I saw you on Mythbusters and then your blog popped up when I was searching for Christine and Tonic Immobility. Thanks for the great info and keep all the great stories coming!