My camera went into action as the first great white approached the cage. I was torn between capturing it on film to share the experience with others, and just observing it with my naked (but masked) eyes. In a split second I decided that my less-than-perfect vision underwater dictated videotaping this incredible animal as it emerged from the murky waters. That way I could see it clearly myself once my glasses were on topside AND share it with others.
The shark slowly passed right in front of the cage with its eyes (and teeth) clearly visible even in the 1/2" diagonal viewfinder that is my window on the undersea world. I've heard and read stories from others of how "cold" and "mean" these sharks look. It is not considered appropriate to be anthropomorphic about other species. That means to give them human characteristics and emotions. We don't really know how their minds work. My impression was quite the opposite. If I were to use human characteristics, I found the black eyes somewhat "sad" and the shark "inquisitive" and "curious" rather than "mean." Of course I might have formed a different opinion were I outside the cage!
I only did one cage dive the first day. Underwater visibility was not great (15-20 ft) and I knew my footage would not be sharp or have enough contrast under those conditions. For the rest of the afternoon, I focused on filming topside activities. The crew from the Polaris Supreme was constantly rebaiting the floats with yellowtail and throwing them into the water. PIER (Pflueger Institute for Environmental Research) scientists were on the watch topside for the sharks so they could affix the satellite tags on them, while others were underwater making observations on their size, gender and behavior. The largest shark observed was an 18 foot 3,000 pound female (which I hoped was on a diet of nothing but fish!).
Following the afternoon dives, we showered while the shark cages were disengaged from the two boats. After a glass of wine, our team went over to eat dinner on the Polaris Supreme with the second shift. Tom, the captain of this vessel, sure knew how to put on a spread. Wise move... if the fishing isn't good when they go out on a charter, no one can complain about the great food! I may even have to buy a new weight belt and wetsuit after this trip. Following dinner Guy Harvey showed some of his footage from that day. I didn't want to crack my underwater housing so I didn't show what little I got in the murky water. We returned to the "Kelsey Lee" and moved the boat to a separate anchorage for the night.
Prior to falling asleep, the expedition leaders had decided we needed more shark bait. None of the divers volunteered, and we were running low on the smaller yellowtails due to the lack of albacore in the cool (63-64 F) water. Packy elected to head out to the nearest temperature break to see if we could catch anything, so the next morning we departed at 5:00 am. The trip would take two hours, so I remained cozy in my warm bunk. Once we arrived, I pulled out the camera and started filming the 7-8 fishermen as they began casting. One... two... three strikes at a time. We had hit a yellowtail bonanza and quickly had plenty of bait to draw the great whites in.
We returned to Guadalupe and side-tied to the other boats. The yellowtail and one albacore were transferred to the Polaris Supreme, and our shark cage was put back in place. Several people who remained with the ships had already been in the other cage. The visibility had improved markedly and they were getting much better views and more sightings. I filmed topside for a while and observed one shark take a bait right in front of a cage, tail slapping it and its startled divers as it turned away. WOW!
I was determined to do two dives and entered the cage right after lunch. The visibility was much better (65-80 ft.) and the sharks were already present. I was able to get the best footage of the trip this day, and was quite pleased with the results when I viewed them that night. We could see the sharks clearly from a good distance so I had plenty of time to get the camera up and rolling as they approached. This enabled me to get longer sequences as the sharks drifted slowly by our cage, inspected the baits dangling from the floats and even as they approached the second cage.
Following my first dive that day, I filmed a little topside from the flying bridge high above the action. It was a good vantage point to get the sharks near the surface as they swam around our boats and checked out the baits. I could shoot whatever was happening at the stern of all three boats. Guy Harvey's videographer noticed my vantage point and joined me. After getting the footage I wanted from that lofty perch, I went back into the cage for my second dive.
Two other divers joined me, but I couldn't tell who they were. One of them had a goatee, and asked to use my camera to get pictures of me. I didn't realize until after I surfaced that the two were Packy and John Talksy, captain of the "Kelsey Lee." I continued filming at my end of the cage. The good visibility actually introduced a new problem with videotaping. Because you could see the sharks coming from some distance and follow them as they passed the cage, it was much more common to get the cage's bars in the picture as I panned. Although the cage's openings were (gulp) quite large, I didn't want to stick my camera outside the cage where it (along with my hand) might be taken by a shark mistaking the silvery housing for a "super sized" yellowtail! I was wondering how Guy Harvey dealt with this and discovered on the last day that the cage he used had fewer bars and was meant for filming in addition to just observing.
I showered after my second dive, had another glass of wine with our group and proceeded to dinner. As if to celebrate the success of the day, a big cut of rare prime rib filled my dinner plate. Dessert was mango sorbet. I was in heaven. If we followed our original schedule, there were still two days of cage diving to go before we headed back north for Newport. There was still much to look forward to, but I was happy with what we had achieved already. To be continued.
© 2004-2005 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays.
Face-to-face with the landlord the first day, shark
appearing out of school of fish,
backside of shark, shark passing by fish-eye video camera.
"Big mama" passing by the second shark cage, good side
view of smaller shark,
a close encounter- coming, and going.
This document maintained by
Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material © 2005 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia