Monday, November 23, 2015

Island Of The White Sharks

Do you want to know what it is like to come to Guadalupe Island and meet the Great White Sharks? Read the following trip report and look at the pictures from John Gunn and Katrien De Maertelaere who joined us at Guadalupe Island back in August.  

Island Of The White Sharks
As we boarded Horizon, the 80 foot long dive boat that would be our home for the next week, we had no idea of the adventures that lay ahead. Fulfilling a life long dream to dive with Great White Sharks, I was about to embark on a trip out to Guadalupe Island in Mexico. A rocky desolate island 150 miles west of Baja California, which is now recognized as the best place to dive with these wonderful creatures in crystal clear waters. Having recently spent time out at the Farallon Islands (The west coast’s other hub of Great White activity) I couldn’t wait to experience the magic of Guadalupe.

Shark Diver ( were our hosts and the crew of the Horizon greeted us warmly as we strolled past the monstrous steel shark cages out on deck and settled into our cosy sleeping quarters. The trip out to Guadalupe isn’t for the light hearted, a 36 hour trek in decent swells (and apparently we had it calm!) but the Horizon was a wonderful vessel and once we’d past through immigration in Ensenada, Mexico we were out in the open ocean, heading due west over some of the richest and biologically diverse stretches of water in the world. Within a couple of hours of leaving the Mexican mainland we were accompanied by a large group of Pilot Whales, who stayed with us for over an hour, breaching out of the water just a few feet from the boat. It was a wonderful start to what we were all hoping would be the adventure of a lifetime. 

After a bumpy couple of nights sleep, we awoke on the second morning to the sounds of clucking steel and rushed up on deck. The cages were slowly being lowered into the water, overshadowed by the towering, volcanic rock face of Guadalupe Island. It was quite a sight and it felt only right that one of the world’s largest congregations of Great White Sharks had chosen this alien rocky outpost as their hunting ground. After a quick but delicious cooked breakfast (the food on the entire trip was divine!) and an introduction to the cage rotations (we’d be tag teaming one hour in and one hour out of the cage for the next 2 days!) it was time to gear up and get diving!

I was part of the first rotation and with the bate lines floating next to the cages and chum being poured over the side of the boat, we anxiously waited for our first glimpse of the world’s oldest apex predator! The hour ticked by without an appearance and the next team of divers jumped in to try their luck. Within minutes we were startled by the soon to be familiar shout, ‘WHITE SHARK!’ as a huge dark shadow gracefully glided past the boat. I could only imagine the sight from below the surface.

There had been no need to panic! Our second dive of the day turned out to be one of the best dives of the entire trip. We were treated to 3 White Sharks, circling the cages for the full hour. The opportunity to see these animals up close in clear water was truly special. They’re both graceful and terrifying at the same time. A monster from your nightmares, that you can’t take your eyes off. The 14 foot sharks glided inches from the cage, ominously disappearing into the blue, before somehow re-appearing moments later from the completely opposite direction. While at first glance their eyes are black and sinister, a closer look reveals a soft light blue interior that focused in on the divers as the shark glides past. These guys were definitely checking us out!

As rotations merged into each other, the action never stopped and as we experienced more sharks, we were privileged to witness an array of different personalities that each gave a unique interaction. Shark Diver keep a log of all the White Sharks they encounter and name them, as a way of keeping track. Over time, we learned who was who; ‘Legend’ was a mid- sized feisty shark that would charge and breach for the bait, giving the topside divers and crew quite a show. ‘Johnny’ was a more relaxed but larger and proud shark and every now and then we’d be lucky enough to look down into the depths and see the infamous ‘Bruce’, a monstrous male White Shark circling below. 

From the surface, the water was so clear it was like watching the sharks swimming in a pool and from below, the 100+ foot visibility offered photo opportunities I’m yet to encounter anywhere in the world. On our last night we were treated to a fantastic presentation from a couple of local researchers (the only inhabitants on the island, with the exception of a small fishing community) from Pelagios Kakunja Marine Conservation, educating us on the vital science and research currently being done to understand more about the Guadalupe ecosystem and the best ways to protect it in the future. As well as the informative talk, the two researchers showed us a ‘deep sea monster’ that they’d found floating on the surface, a bizarre bottom dwelling creature that we figured out probably belonged to the ‘Frog Fish’ family. 

Finally, we were treated to up close GoPro footage of a recent Great White predication on an Elephant Seal at the island (only the third time such an attack had been caught on camera), before we all slunked down to our cabins beneath the waves and looked forward to the final morning of diving before our departure back to the mainland.

The final morning didn’t disappoint, as we were continuously circled by a large male shark called ‘Biteface’. At nearly 16 feet in length, he dwarfed the cage as he glided inches from the steel cage and our busy cameras! After lunch the cages were hoisted back onto the Horizon and we set pace at a steady 10 knots, back to San Diego. Within a few hours, just as the sun was setting, we were accompanied by a stunning group of breaching Dolphins, giving the entire group a great opportunity to reflect on this wonderfully rich and wild stretch of ocean and the trip of a lifetime.

Will I be returning to Guadalupe? Most certainly, but probably not before my passion for Sharks and underwater photography takes me to the Tiger Sharks of the Bahamas and the resident Bulls Sharks of Fiji. Take a bow Shark Diver, you well and truly delivered!

Thank you John and Katrien for coming out with us and writing this great report! It was a pleasure having you on board and we enjoyed introducing you to our "friends" at Guadalupe Island. We are looking forward to taking you to the Bahamas and Fiji for your next shark diving adventure!

Martin Graf
CEO Shark Diver

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at

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