Thanks to Sam McWilliams for this great footage. I’m glad my cries are a bit muted on this one!
Nice views here of two white sharks, one with a lovely speckled sort of pattern on the tail. I love how they simply disappear into the green. I also love how the divers in the cage keep their feet off the bottom of the cage. There is a weird sensation of suddenly not having legs when one is deposited in the cage, followed by a desire to keep track of one’s legs as much as possible.
(Thanks again to Peter E.)
Many thanks to my “cage mates” Andria and Peter Eisenhauer for this footage of a white shark snacking on fish heads. Seeing that jaw drop down was one of the peak experiences of my life. I love the contrast of the underwater sounds and the shouts of the crew on deck.
I am trying to write and remember more about South Africa, before the memories take on the feelings of dreams, before mundane realities of day-to-day life in L.A. eclipse my beautiful visions.
Here are a few things I can’t stop thinking about:
1. The time I felt most sacred: when a stray piece of bait floated in through the viewing window of the cage. No shark in sight, but I instantly flung the fish head back out into the water just the same.
2. My first full day in South Africa it rained. Apex kindly arranged a wine-tasting tour for us. It felt funny getting slightly drunk on very fragrant wines so early in the day, but I managed to get through it. At one winery near Stellenbosch(?) I stood next to a roaring fire, petting a fat, contented calico cat. A group of school kids on a field trip tramped into the room and collapsed on chairs around the fireplace. They were probably only about 15, but holding their glasses (each one with a swallow of gold in the bottom), scarves wrapped about their necks, they looked impossibly sophisticated. As one lovely dark-haired girl approached me, I had that incredibly rare and warm feeling that I was acting in a scene from a movie. I told her that “my fellow Americans” and I had come to South Africa to see the sharks. She looked wistful. “Once I went diving with ragged tooths. One shark was pregnant and as the sun slanted on the water, I could see her babies inside.” She looked so happy remembering this, her cheeks flush with the fire. A dashing schoolboy approached us, gently breaking her reverie. Maybe it was the wine, but everything felt effortless and scripted at the same time. “Do you mind if we take a photo with you and your friends?” he asked. “It’s not every day that we meet Americans.”
3. On my last day at sea, the swells were high and dark. We weren’t sure if the sharks would come. But they did. Standing on the deck of the boat, as the dark water rose around us, and a near 15-foot shark surfaced near the side, I felt empty in the most beautiful sense of the word: empty of everything except the moment of witnessing: the fin, and tall, sharp tail, then the shark itself, turning on its side, white belly flashing in the sun, jaws opening, closing, then sinking beneath the waves again.
4. Looking at the eye of the shark as it swam close to the cage and feeling recognition, but not knowing if this meant that the shark saw me, or I saw myself in it.
5. All the terrific people I met: Chris and Monique Fallows the most gracious hosts and enthusiastic naturalists in the world, Renee and all the great people at Apex Predators, Carrie from New Hampshire with her bright enthusiasm for South Africa and her saint-like patience with annoying people, Sam who worked at a farm animal sanctuary in Wisconsin and had an uncanny eye for spotting seal predations and her husband Brad who told great stories, Janet with her quick wit and impressive collection of shark swag who gave us all shark neckties, lovely Christine from the U.K, a fourth time visitor to South Africa who knew all the sharks on a first name basis, our kind, funny and amazing guide Alistair, our patient and helpful B&B host Jonathan, generous Peter from Buffalo and his wife Andrea who didn’t even swim yet plucked up the courage to climb in the shark cage anyway. Thanks to everyone who laughed at my jokes and everyone else I’ve forgotten and thanks especially to the sharks for showing up and changing my life.
Events like this make me feel lucky to live in California.
Should I Get a Bigger Boat?
Shark Attacks on Boats, People, Dogs, and Seals
by Ralph S. Collier (President, Shark Research Committee)
and Peter Howorth (Director, Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center)
Where: Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, California
When: Friday, August 8, 2014 • 7:00pm
Cost: $15 (SBMM and Shark Research Committee members), $20 (non-members)
To Register: Go to www.sbmm.org or call (805) 962-8404 x115
What should you do if a shark takes a fancy to your boat? Yes, this really does happen––boats have been attacked by sharks. Find out why this happens and much more as Ralph S. Collier, the west coast’s leading authority on shark attacks, explores various theories on why sharks attack everything from surfboards to boats, and from crab trap floats to people. Learn what makes a shark tick and why it is such a supremely well-adapted predator. Discover from Peter Howorth how attacks on marine mammals can serve as canaries in the coal mines, warning people of shark hazards, and what is being done about this.
If you are in the Santa Barbara area on August 8, 2014 please stop by. Directions to the Museum are available on the SBMM web site when you order tickets. After you order tickets please notify the SRC so we can place you on our Members list for this event. For confirmation of SRC Membership, and to obtain the $5.00 discount per ticket, please print out and bring this email. Seating is limited so order your tickets today. Thank you and we look forward to seeing you August 8th at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
I’m leaving for my South Africa shark trip tomorrow night. In addition to packing seasickness pills and stacks of books for my million hour flight, I’m trying to “prepare” to meet the sharks. For example, I got a mani-pedi in a gorgeous slate gray color in tribute to the white shark’s camouflage. On a more practical level, I’ve been reading a particularly helpful volume given to me by shark legend Ralph Collier, is the wonderful book Field Guide to the Great White Shark by R. Aidan Martin. Here are a few excerpts:
1. Do not extend your arms or any part of your body out of the cage. While observing or filming one shark, you could easily be nipped by another.
2. Even very large great whites can be very cautious or even timid on approaching shark cages and are easily “spooked.” Sharks are very aware of divers’ eyes and seem to dislike being stared at as much as you or I do. To foster the closest possible approaches by Great Whites, avoid flash photography or direct eye contact during the earliest phases of your dive. Wait for the sharks to build up their courage and approach the cage in their own good time. Once they have decided the cage and its bubbling inhabitants are not a threat, Great Whites will more-or-less ignore both to fuss their attentions on the bait or each other. That’s when you can observe the most interesting behavior and capture the best images.
3. Be aware that Great Whites have attacked boats. In some instances the boat sank; in others the attacking shark actually leapt into the boat in pursuit of pinnipeds or hooked fish.
4. This tip will come in handy if the shark destroys the cage and I have to somehow make it to the surface:
While in the presence of a great white, maintain a vertical orientation in the water column. Perhaps because most swimming animals are longest horizontally in the direction of travel, many sharks seemed more unnerved by height than length. A vertical orientation—combined with persistent eye contact—may make you seem larger and more intimidating to a Great White.
This little guy seems pretty disoriented as he keeps swimming back towards shore, but it’s very satisfying to see him finally disappear beyond the waves.
A fascinating tale of cannibalism on the high seas. (Thanks Maryjo & Emily)
This first story is about how orcas around the Farallon Islands up by San Francisco keep the local great white population in check. Nature is brutal, and orcas are smart, dispatching our heroes with “stuns” and “karate chops.”
The second piece is about the World Wildlife Fund’s support for SeaWorld. While I recognize that it’s impossible not to be a hypocrite in this world (To cite one example out of many in my life, I oppose industrialized fishing and factory farming and yet participate in by buying food for my cats), some of these ethical conflicts are really glaring and galling. It’s good for SeaWorld’s image to support the WWF, but how can the WWF fight to protect the vanishing habitat of wild animals with money from an organization that keeps whales in swimming pools? If you’re not too burned out, please sign the petition asking the WWF to end its relationship with SeaWorld.