Friday, June 19, 2009
Lapping waves and the cries of fur seals on the nearby shore were the only sounds to be heard 150 miles from the mainland. The water roiled as foot-high fins sliced the surface like a knife through cerulean silk. It was a perfect day for a dive.
"We've got a 16-footer," announced Patric Douglas, CEO of Shark Diver at www.sharkdiver.com, the outfit leading our expedition. From beneath his shades, Douglas beamed like a proud papa as he pointed out the great white circling the cages. Not wanting to miss the action, I hustled to join the other divers, who had already scurried to squeeze themselves into wetsuits before the great white disappeared back into the cobalt depths.
Moments later, after almost getting thrown into the water by the surge, I was safe within the 100-square-foot cage, the hookah regulator looping from between my clamped teeth to the deck above. The current tossed the cage—and us—only slightly more gently than a washing machine on our first day.
And then it appeared. Like a phantom shadow, the shark approached from below, slowly swishing its massive tail side to side as if it had all the time in the world. This was nothing like spotting a shark confined in an aquarium's tank. With our cage dangling over the side of the 88-foot MV Islander, my cagemates and I were well aware that we were but visitors in the shark's domain.
As the behemoth approached, we determined it was a female, and as she glided past just inches from our cage, her length was so great it seemed forever before she passed. I'd heard that great whites could reach such lengths—and longer—and for better perspective, I'd told myself I'd be seeing creatures roughly the length of a VW bus. What I hadn't counted on was the girth. I'd joked to landlubber friends that I was going to ride a shark, but after seeing how wide a female could grow, there was no conceivable way I could have saddled one, even had I been suicidal enough to try such a ridiculous (and illegal) feat. The six-foot-wide creature slid past, her black eye so close we could see the pupil, which made the shark even eerier than when she appeared to have two black, unseeing orbs.
When I emerged 45 minutes later, I had a grin as toothy as a great white's. Douglas slapped me on the back after helping me out of the cage and back on deck. "Pretty boring, eh?" He guffawed at his own joke as I racked my brain for an appropriate adjective. What emerged from my mouth cannot be printed in most publications of repute.
Only in the last few years have these waters, under the jurisdiction of the Mexican state of Baja California del Norte, earned fame for its white shark population. Other locations around the globe—Australia's Great Barrier Reef, South Africa's notorious Shark Alley, and even San Francisco's Farallon Islands—have long been renowned for their notorious aquatic residents, but Isla Guadalupe has quickly become a favorite, as much for its convenient location (an overnight sail from San Diego) as for its warm waters and astounding visibility, which can reach up to 100 feet. Such ideal conditions attract not only adventure-seeking divers such as my shipmates but also scientists in search of primo research conditions.
During shark season (July through November), at least 50 white sharks—and possibly as many as 100—patrol the waters, estimates marine biologist Mauricio Hoyos, who spends several months a year camped out in a tin shack a couple yards away from a fragrant fur seal colony. He and a couple dozen lobster and abalone fisherman comprise the whole of the population of the island, a desolate red rock long since made devoid of vegetation by a marauding pack of abandoned goats.
After dinner our second night, Hoyos presented his most recent findings to a galley of rapt shark aficionados. We felt special, privileged even. Not only were we among an elite few—a couple hundred a year at most—to visit these waters, but we were getting a first-hand account with the most up-to-date information on sharks available.
Shark Diver provides a great deal of aid—both financial and practical—to Hoyos and his project. The crew has provided almost all of the research photos of the sharks, duplicates of which exist in a massive binder in the ship's galley, each labeled with the shark's name and distinguishable markings so that passengers can identify underwater visitors. Divers, inspired by Hoyos' shipboard stopovers, often go on to send donations or even specifically requested equipment. Shark Trust Wines, which has graced the table of many a Shark Diver meal, donates a portion of its profits to both shark conservation and research. The combination of first-hand encounters, freshly caught scientific knowledge, and cultured respect for the creatures we came to visit was but one of the many aspects of the trip that made it unique.
As we entered the galley our final night at Guadalupe, we did so solemnly, well aware that our once-in-a-lifetime experience was drawing to a close. It was then we discovered that our congenial chefs had taken it upon themselves to whip up a farewell meal we wouldn't forget, which included the 60-pound yellowfin tuna that had been caught by local fishermen. Divers and crew retold the tale of how we'd almost had two such tuna on our tables that night, and those who’d had the good fortune to be in the cages at the time shared their photos and video.
Jenna Rose Robbins is a freelance writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area who loves shark diving. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
From the Captain Mel Website
Along with a full open hour a 6 AM — and the next two hours our special guests include Mote Marine’s shark expert Dr. Bob Hueter and — Luke Tipple, Director of the Shark-Free Marina Initiative – plus lots of your phone calls – 6 to 9 AM every Saturday on Florida’s most popular radio fishing program — The 970-WFLA “Capt. Mel Show.” Call in – Listen in!
You can listen in by following this link
Captain Mel has been promoting Shark Conservation and catch and release for almost 20 years, here’s what he has to say on the issue:
Catch & Release: What a Concept!
By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA
You would think that me, “a reformed meat fisherman” would take these things in stride – go with the flow. But I gotta tell you – seeing a beautiful, hapless big tiger shark dragged in dead off the New England coast a few years back by a group of guys hoping to win a prize– really turned me off. And to compound the matter, many of the “no-nothing about fish and fishing” TV media hailed these men as “conquering heroes”
”Wow, that was some catch,” mused one lame TV interviewer. “How big was that baby.” “1100 pounds” said one of the anglers. The sad part is that a magnificent animal was killed – and those guys were six minutes late. So they didn’t even cash in on their ill begotten spoils.
I know, I know. Many reading this could be thinking “what a shark hugger!” But the more I see the destruction of some of nature’s most impressive creatures for such mundane reasons, the more I realize that kill tournaments have to go the way of the horse-drawn carriage and Hula Hoops. It’s just plain sad.
As a 40-year resident of the Sunshine Sate, I can recall the common sight of massive sharks, tarpon, amberjack and other leviathans of the deep hung unceremoniously to rot in the sun. Even then I felt twinges of anguish of the fate of these creatures.
Many of these great denizens of the sea had their lives terminated because of the proliferation of so-called kill tournaments throughout the state at that time.
These days, most of us have concluded that there is no valid reason for kill tournaments – especially since we have such great new tools like digital cameras and other new age devices for recording and reporting one’s catch.
This great concept was pioneered several years ago by Capt. Richard Seward and his colleagues of the Tampa Bay CCA Chapter. These days, catch and photo release contests are the norm with the great majority of tournaments and organizations<
In the more than 20 years that I have been hosting my 970-WFLA radio show, it’s been an inspiration to see the trend — “Catch and release.” That’s the mantra of many, if not most Florida sportfishers. Basically, these folks want to make sure that their “fishing partners” – the fish — are happy, healthy and multiply.
Does this mean that I think we shouldn’t take an occasional fillet or two – or even three home for dinner? Absolutely not. I personally enjoy a nice fillet or two on frequent occasion. Yet, is it my job to feed the neighborhood? Do I need the “gee-whiz” experience of laying out dozens of dead fish on the dock? Why would you?
Fish are most attractive and fun when they are alive and vibrant. So why not take a quick picture — and put that critter back so it can rejoin its kinfolk in the deep.
And please, take the time to learn how to best release all target species so that they survive the experience.
Experts recommend that it’s best to leave the fish in the water and use some kind of needle nose pliers or release device to let them go. And if you must lift a fish out of the water to pose for a picture, remember — that creature was designed to spend its entire life in a horizontal position. So when taking pictures, hold the fish horizontally with wet hands – avoid using a towel or rag – take you pictures and return that baby to the water as quickly as possible.
My pal “The Mad Snooker” (Capt. Dave Pomerleau) often says, “try holding your own breath for the entire time you have a fish out of the water. Then you will have some idea of how the fish feels.”
Now if only we could somehow bottle that “Florida catch and release spirit” and export it to other parts of the U. S. and the world.
Today the fund continues to generate much needed money for new and ongoing Mexican lead shark research.
Support shark diving operations that support shark research.
Your dollars go towards shark conservation and detailed understanding of local shark populations through science.
The operators on the front lines of tagging and tracking shark research and support for the past 7 years at Isla Guadalupe are the following. These are the operations who have consistently donated time, money, and energy towards local sharks well beyond their commercial side:
Save Our Seas Foundation has done it again, with the help of Saatchi & Saatchi in South Africa.
Together they developed a campaign in aquariums with stickers that "inside out" on shark tanks - so the message was actually to the sharks and read: "Warning - Predators beyond this point - Humans kill over 100 million sharks each year"
Editors Note: Brilliant, kudos to all for the idea.
The group wants to enforce a state law that makes it illegal to feed sharks within three miles of shore.
The formation of the task force comes about two months after Hawaii Kai community members strongly opposed a shark tour in their area, which ultimately caused a planned operation in Maunalua Bay to be called off.