October 12, 2010
The Great White Shark and Guadalupe Island
If you want to swim with a Great White Shark you can come along on my next expedition to Mexico. A select few of us will be going “cage-free” – which is about a close to a totally free fish-like experience as any human might ever experience. We’re interested in underwater photography, catching these amazing creatures close up in their natural habitat. We travel just 150 miles off the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California, Guadalupe Island. Visibility is fantastic – 60-100 feet – and the water is warm – about 72 degrees. Conditions that are just right to merge heart and soul with the sea.
Swimming with Sharks
That state of becoming “one” with the ocean has been something lots of divers have tried to feel, and not just on a Great White Shark dive. An Israeli inventor I read about recently named Alon Bodner has been working on an underwater breathing apparatus that lets you swim like a fish without carrying compresses air tanks on your back. It sounds like science fiction, something out of Star Wars (Obi-Wan used an underwater breathing apparatus in “The Phantom Menace”). But there’s really more science to it than fiction. Nuclear subs and the International Space Station use something called electrolysis to split oxygen from hydrogen to get you something you can breathe. It seems like a system like that would work underwater, since even at a depth of 200 meters (nearly 700 feet) there’s still 1.5% dissolved air.
Scuba like the Fish Do It
You can’t mention SCUBA without mentioning Jacques Cousteau. With Emil Gagnon, he receives credit for basic design of the equipment we use today – a portable air supply. Alon Bodner’s idea is to use the same system fish use. The fish’s breathing apparatus work by allowing them to extract oxygen from seater, even deep in the sea. Amazing! But can we do it that way too, and dive without a tank? There’s a problem. And it brings us back to sharks.
Sharks are cold-blooded. That they don’t have to worry about regulating their body temperature – they rely on the water to do it for them. A shark has to stay in a part of the sea that has temperatures he can work with. He also swims all day with his mouth open and water streaming through his gills. That’s because seawater supplies just a little oxygen, and to extract it and support his large body, a shark has to keep moving. According to experts, only little fish, with little bodies, can sleep. But big sharks have to keep moving, and keep processing that seawater so they can breathe.
What’s that mean for you and me? We’re warm-blooded, so we have to regulate our temperature. That requires a lot of oxygen, more than anybody can figure out how to extract from seawater using a compact technology. (The technology they use on subs is really big and requires lots of energy to work.)
So I think that swimming completely free at depth, like a fish, might be pretty far off technologically, but I can give you that experience in real life. Just sign up for one of my adventures. The two most recent expeditions to see Great White Sharks in Isla Guadalupe sold out quickly. But you can sign up now to be part of the next one.