Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Great White Shark Diver 2012 - Joanne Faulkner

Some people love sharks and some people are willing to travel quite a ways to see them. Newly minted Shark Diver Joanne Faulkner is one of those people, and yes, Joanne, we'll have you join us anytime!

All my life I have wanted to dive with great whites. My Dad took me to see Jaws when I was about 10 years old – maybe he thought it would be fun to scare the kids? 

Well, I loved it, couldn’t get enough of sharks after that.

So to be fortunate enough to actually get to go on a trip with Shark Diver was the opportunity of a lifetime. And it was really really amazing.

I had not been able to convince anyone I knew to come with me, so I went on my own. It didn’t matter though, there were several others on the boat who also came on their own. We also had a family of 4, plus a couple (who turned out to be avid travelers and divers, with many entertaining stories to tell).

OK, early on the first morning (after a rocking and rolling 20 hours on the open ocean to get there), my new dive partner and I were standing on the back deck, no one else around (they were all either still in bed, or having breakfast inside, or getting ready to dive).  I was trying on my wetsuit for the first time, which was dry – and I was dry – so this was not an easy task. As I was bent over wrestling with the leg of the suit, a great white shark breached clear out of the water, and splashed back into the water. I was about 2 feet from the railing, and I saw it's belly!!!!!  

We had no time to be scared, it was about a second or two at most. With the colour drained from his face, my dive partner looked at me, walked into the center of the deck, and said quietly, "holy #$%&#! we're all gonna die." The poor guy had come to Guadalupe Island to get over his fear of great white sharks… so, not a good way to start! He was convinced we were about to be eaten. But then he started to joke about it, saying that pretty much nothing else could top this experience of seeing a great white jump out of the water right in front of us. And it’s true. I will always remember that split second, putting me into the realm of a very minimal group of people in the world who have ever witnessed a great white shark breach.

We were grouped in pods of 4 for our dive rotations, which went hourly – this meant we had on average 5 hours a day in the water. Ample time to see white sharks! (and get very pruney fingers soaking in water all that time)  There was a half hour break (no divers in the water) at noon for lunch. The cages went in the water at 7am, and basically they let us go in until 5pm or 6pm or whenever we were all too exhausted to get back in the cage.  In our initial trip information from Patric, it said that some people skip their rotations and others could get extra cage time – I wondered why people would travel all that way and just stay on the deck! But experiencing it was very tiring! And yes, I did end up skipping at least one rotation, and then on the last day I didn’t do the last couple of hours that were an open rotation. I could hardly pull myself out of the water towards the end of each day; I was completely drained, but in a great ‘once in a lifetime’ way!

The crew worked their butts off making sure each of us had the perfect trip. We were safe at all times. We ate enormous amounts of food (which was fantastic). Some of us had food allergies or sensitivities, and chef Mark made sure to cook individual meals for those folks (including me, no wheat and no meat). Although I must admit I had a small piece of the raspberry glazed Cornish game hen served one evening, and it was delicious.  Most of us went to our lower-deck bunks around 8pm each night because we could hardly keep our eyes open by then. And surprisingly, there was no drinking at all. Well, I think a couple people had a few, but remember, we were on the ocean and the boat never stopped rocking. Our stomachs were often feeling a little woozy at times, but most of us were good at re-balancing ourselves by looking at the horizon (this little tip worked well for me). However, I gave up trying to shave my legs on day 2, because I kept bumping against the shower wall as the boat tipped from side to side. 

We saw 9 great whites over the 3 dive days, 2 of which were ‘new’ to divemaster Martin – they had not previously been identified. Being September, the female sharks are not (usually) in Guadalupe, but we did see one – the rest were males. They are nothing like in the movies and on tv – these sharks were calm, docile, just slowly cruising by our cages, sometimes a little closer than anticipated, but I never felt scared! One of them came so close to me I stopped breathing in my regulator and couldn’t even take a photo. I was mesmerized by every tiny detail I could see of its skin, and eyeball (yes, it was that close!) 

Having a great white shark look you in the eye is what the word awesome was really meant for. I was in a true state of awe, for sure! It’s difficult to describe the feeling of getting to do the one thing that has always been on my bucket list. Long before anyone called it a bucket list. As a kid, I thought it was just always going to be a dream. Going on this trip was exhilarating and I have so many adventurous stories and memories – and it’s kind of nice to have some bragging rights once in a while too. J  But it doesn’t have to be a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip … I’m already planning my next trip to Isla Guadalupe.


Joanne Faulkner - Official 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 sharkcrew@gmail.com.

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