The splash and slightly drenched lens reminded me how close she was. Looking through a 24mm lens makes the central object seem further away than it actually is. Staring through a camera gives one a false sense of security, nothing can touch you as your shield is up.
Many years back I read of a fisherman who was knocked out of his boat by a low flying shark. He said the fish got airborne about 2 meters from the boat, arced through the air knocking him into the water as it cleared the deck. I thought this impossible and a slight exaggeration until years later I saw my first shark breach in False Bay, I remembered the story and thought so that’s how it must have happened.
A few weeks before we arrived in Mossel Bay, something similar happened on this boat I was shooting from. Enrico, the marine biologist and owner of the boat, was in his office when he got a call from the crew that were on the water that morning, a shark had just jumped into the boat. Being a Monday morning he thought it was a joke, they nervously reassured it was no joke, there was definitely a shark in the back with the crew now in the front.
I’ve always loved the line from Jaws, ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’ and I’ve used it on countless occasions with everything but an actual boat. The first day I stepped onboard Enrico’s boat I finally had the opportunity and muttered the line to myself, nobody got it. But it did seem like an awfully small craft to go out and attract sharks with. The second day out we had 21 individual White Shark’s (dorsal fins are read like finger prints) around us during a 5 hour period, the average size was 4 meters, the boat is around 9 meters.
When the occasional overly zealous shark approached the bait and slammed into our side, the snout was inches away from my feet, the boat’s gunwale was roughly in line with my thigh. When this happened it would invariably slap its tail on the side of the boat as it changed direction. It’s a loud bang, followed with a wet camera and everyone yelling ‘did you get it?’
The Monday morning the shark hopped on board, another boat was called which towed them back to harbour where a crane lifted the fish safely back into the water. With the shark in the water and boat crew back in their normal positions, the day was rebooted.
Although we were on the water chumming and baiting for research with a new shark repellent, I have mixed feelings about the tourist cage industry. I think it has helped in a way with creating a more positive image for sharks and undoing the damage done by Hollywood. But there’s something about baiting and teasing a shark for a cage full of tourists that doesn’t seem right for me. Watching a shark glide gently past a boat is graceful but I think less exciting for the average tourist wanting to see gaping mouths and sharks slamming into cages. I’m not so sure that behaviour helps quell any fear one may have of the animal. I get the gaping mouth, and I do marvel at the jaws that protrude when going in for the bite, it reminds me of the family member who pushes out his false teeth to freak the kids at the Sunday lunch, but that isn’t all there is to this animal. As time moves on I’m witnessing more ‘pioneers’ free diving with White Sharks, I do believe it will become the norm in the near future as it is with other shark species.