"Never," "you can go with a friend," "we do have children" ... these are just some of my excuses to never go shark diving on a designated shark trip. No misunderstanding: I absolutely love sharks during an unexpected encounter. I always hope to capture the classic shark silhouette on a sandy patch close to the Cayman wall — a big treat, and an even bigger one if a Caribbean reef shark comes close and hangs around for some minutes before its shyness takes over and it disappears into the mysterious depths! But ... my husband booked an oceanic white-tip expedition to Cat Island in the Bahamas with Epic Diving, to morally support a good friend and NGO Shark Angels.
I explored the website. Right in my face: "Photography workshop with Amanda Cotton; one spot left." The word "photography" combined with "workshop" affects me like honey does bears, like Bonnie was attracted to Clyde, like Yin is not complete without Yang. I said to myself, "Ellen, book now." I checked my savings and contacted Amanda and Epic. Five minutes later I was in and would be in the water with oceanic white-tips — before my husband's trip!
I only worried about what lens and dome to take and getting ready and packing, along with leaving a clean house, a stuffed fridge and freezer, so my husband could take over while mom would be shark diving. Uh-oh ... was this a shark trip? I honestly think it slipped my mind.
Arriving in Cat Island was an adventure on its own. I installed myself in a house with the other participants and loved the school-trip feeling. I was ready!
Until the next morning: the boat trip out to the big blue (oceanic white-tip sharks are pelagic animals) was rougher than a normal boat drive over the reef. I was prepared and took my nondrowsy seasickness drugs, which helped and soon I was the drug dealer on board.
We arrived at the snorkel/dive site and after 15 minutes of professional chumming by Debra and Vinnie Canabal, the first two Carcharhinus longimanus came to the surface: what beauties — but so big. Really, did I sign up for this trip? Would I go in the water with these top predators? I have a huge respect for sharks, I would even call it shark love ... but eye to eye, from boat to surface, my fear took over, a healthy fear though — I'd rather call it common sense.
I recalled the excellent briefing of the night before: keep eye contact with the animals (difficult with more than one shark, and by now there were four), don't let the sharks touch your body (should be possible with my photo rig as a shield), keep your heart rate down (I'd better wait a while before I get in ... adrenaline pumping!) and try to stay close to the boat and the group (wind and current will cause some kicking ... ahhhhhh).
I took some time to observe the animals and some of my fellow snorkelers before I got in. "Some time" became almost an hour, as I love to see some patterns, some behavior I can hold on to. When I got in, boy, was I in the zone! One focus, staying safe, and in the meanwhile handling my camera...
The week was a big succes: I conquered again a big fear, I felt humble and grateful for the encounters with oceanic white-tips, plus silky sharks, juvenile reef sharks and mahi mahi. I've met again wonderful people and can you believe ... I've booked another shark-diving trip! I have an excuse though: it's again a combination of diving and a photographic workshop!
Photo above taken on Cat Island with Epic Diving aboard the Thresher. Camera specs: Nikon D800, Sigma 15mm lens, YS-250 strobe on 1/4th power. ISO 320, f/9, 1/125 sec.
Originally from Belgium, Ellen lives on Grand Cayman, and travels the world as an underwater photographer.