As the door to the cage slammed shut, the dive briefing commenced: “You will be down about 40 feet, so if there is any malfunction, you will have to open the cage door and swim up to the boat. I advise you to do it quickly as there will be three or four great white sharks that will take an interest in you.” If I wasn’t fully awake before, I sure was then.
My home for the next three days was the Solmar V, a 112-foot live-aboard dive boat. We were at anchor just off Mexico’s Isla Guadalupe, a 22 mile long, 6 mile wide volcanic island located about 250 nautical miles southwest of the port city of Ensenada on Mexico’s Baja peninsula. I had come with 11 other adventurous folks from all over the world to witness the annual gathering of great white sharks.
Regular watchers of the Shark Week series will be familiar with Isla Guadalupe as the island is home to several of the television show productions. The most famous annual visitor to Guadalupe is a huge female great white, Lucy, who is easily identified by her deformed caudal (tail) fin. Despite her 18-foot length, enormous teeth and chilling black stare, I found myself leaning out of the cage to get a better camera angle each time she passed.
Over the course of three days, I spent five continuous hours per day in the water –– from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. –– to get these photographs. Was I ever scared? You betcha! There were two times I thought I was a “gonner.” One was my face-to-face encounter (shown on page 74), and the other … I just prefer not to talk about. At any given time, there were several great whites within arms length of the surface cages. The crew did a fantastic job teasing them to us by using huge chunks of yellow fin tuna. This provided the opportunity for some really close-up shots.
When shooting, I get caught up in photographic details like exposure and composition. Now as I look back on these images, I can’t help but be moved by the beauty, raw power and grace of these animals. I will return some day to visit again with these amazing creatures. It is a gift that restores this ocean explorer’s soul …
As this shot was taken mere inches from my fisheye lens, you can clearly see the rows of triangular shaped teeth as well as the special sensing organs in the snout called ampullae of Lorenzini that sharks use to detect scent in the water.
The famous “Lucy,” at roughly 18 feet, is quite impressive. She has an acoustic tag implanted near her dorsal fin that allows scientists to know when she arrives at Isla Guadalupe.
This huge male with jaws agape could easily swallow a person whole. His massive powerful jaws, loaded with serrated teeth, clearly show that he’s an apex predator.
This young “pup,” at only about 12 feet, displays a grin that seems to invite me to come play.
Above, left: The cages provide a fabulous opportunity to get up close with great whites. Above, right: My friend, Simon from South Africa, occupied the cage next to me for hours each day.
While the sharks are able to stick their noses into the cages, they are not able to open their mouths to bite.
Jamie Walker, who grew up in Columbia, has had a lifelong obsession with salt water and the many animals that inhabit its shallows, offshore depths and ride the air currents above. As a photographer, fisherman and sailor, Jamie has had many interactions with these animals and their beautiful surroundings. Over the past several years Jamie has spent many days at sea working on The Billfish Research Project which involves deploying pop-up satellite tracking tags into sailfish and using the collected data to understand the migration of these amazing fish. Base camp for Jamie is still in Columbia, where he lives with Jenny, his wife, and a bunch of black labs.