Written by Amos Nachoum
Great White Sharks – Nasty Predator?
My expeditions to encounter the Great White Shark tend to sell out fast. That’s what just happened to my last two October expeditions. My favorite spot in the world to see Great Whites is in Mexico’s Baja California. Luckily, I have another Mexico diving trip coming up. The trips sell out fast for a good reason. People are fascinated with Great Whites, even though these sharks have the undeserved reputation of being a nasty predator. They’ve got a lot of teeth, as many as 300. They’re big – 12 to 16 feet long, and they weigh a couple thousand pounds. Steven Spielberg gave a starring role to a Great White in Jaws, and that didn’t help their reputation as a ferocious man eater.
But the truth is they are one of the most fascinating animals you’ll ever encounter, and one of the most rare.
When young, they feed on small harbor seals and later go after sea lions, elephant seals and even small toothed whales. They like to ambush their prey from below – one big bite usually does the trick. They will also scavenge – eating the carcass of a whale shark. They will sometimes eat sea turtles and sea otters.
Let’s be fair, though. Scientists and others who study the Great White say that in the past 100 years more people have been killed by dogs than by Great White sharks. That’s not to say that they don’t look scary. They do, especially when you’re facing one close up. But that’s only part of what makes them so fascinating.
The Great White Shark: A Rare Species
There are only about 100 adult Great Whites in the state of California’s waters. Scientists say less than 3,500 Great Whites are left in the world’s oceans, making them rarer than tigers. They are long distance swimmers, capable of traveling 12,000 miles over a nine month period. A trip from California to Hawaii is a common trip for them. Scientists have tracked them swimming from South African to Australia and back in nine months’ time.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been capturing young white sharks, exhibiting them for a a short time, and then releasing them. The first time they did this, in 2004, the shark had almost a million visitors. The aquarium’s executive director Julie Packard said the shark was “the post powerful emissary for ocean conservation in our history.” The aquarium is also studying the adult Great White sharks to learn how to protect them from overfishing and the effects of bycatch – sharks that get caught in the nets of industrial fishing operations, get injured and can die because of it.
That’s what happened to one of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s White sharks, a female. Captured on August 26, 2009 and released on November 4, the shark traveled more than 500 miles, from Monterey Bay to Baja California. There, she was accidentally caught in a gill net and died.
Baja California – One of the Best Dive Sites for Epic Shark Diving
There’s no doubt that Great White sharks are worthy of great respect. They’re found in the waters of Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It’s true that are amazing dives to be enjoyed in all of those locations, but my favorite place to see them is in Baja California. The water is clear and warm and the shark encounters will always be your best memories of shark diving.
Written by Amos Nachoum
My striped marlin adventure is leaving on December 4th, 2010. Want to come along? To get you started, here are the ten best things I know about the striped marlin.
1. You might have seen a marlin on the wall of a sportsman’s lodge and were impressed. I can assure you that the striped marlin is much more impressive in person.
2. Sport fishing is really big in Cabo San Lucas, and marlin are some of the most prized catches. I’ll tell you a secret, though. If you come with me to warm and sunny Todos Santos, a Baja California artist’s colony and surfer’s mecca up the coast from Cabo, you’ll find a special kind of inner peace in a beautiful location. And you get something else: You can scuba dive with a legend of the ocean.
3. Marlin are legendary animals, and not just because Ernest Hemingway wrote about them. The striped marlin we’ll encounter are said to be among the fastest fish in the ocean. I’ve seen them attacking schooling mackerel “bait balls” with their spear-like bills and I can tell you, they’re fast. They can even use their spear as a defensive weapon and to help catch food.
4. If you want to come on my expedition, the timing is critical. First of all, there are only a couple of spots remaining. The people who have signed up know that in December we’re in the peak feeding time for whales, seals and marlin. When the ocean’s that busy – it’s good news for scuba divers. We’ll see some spectacular displays of striped marlin feeding on mackerel, but we’ll also see the intense aquatic competition between the Bryde’s Whale and California Sea Lions. See it once, remember it forever. The photographs you get of this feeding frenzy will be among your most treasured.
5. Our boat is meant for 24 divers, but I like to take just four people on this trip. We can move fast to the best spots for marlin. How do we find them? We watch carefully for birds who are fishing for mackerel. Down below, we’ll find big groups of as many as a dozen striped marlin going after the smaller prey. They’re joined by seals, sea lions and Bryde’s whales up to 40 feet long.
6. It’s likely that you’ll see a lot more striped marlin with me on this trip than if you go anywhere else. Other divers report seeing just two or three, and they have to travel as far as Tonga or Ogasawara, Japan to have the experience.
7. On our adventure, we are there to capture the spirit of the animal, not its life.
8. Little known striped marlin fact: They can change the color of their stripes. When feeding or courting, the stripes on this amazing animal can light up – glowing with a blue or lavender phosphorescence.
9. If you check out Todos Santos on Google Earth and have the new Oceans plug-in, you can get a taste of what it’s like without leaving your desk. I recommend leaving your desk, though. You’ll have an experience on this expedition that you’ll never forget.
10. Did I mention that the timing is critical? December is when it’s all happening. I hope you can join me in this incredible adventure!
Written by Amos Nachoum
Last week I advised you to “stay tuned” for the second part of our Guadalupe Island expedition. We were diving – sometimes “cage-free”– with Great White sharks. Here’s one moment from the shark’s point of view.
Over the two weeks of this expedition a total of 20 divers learned first-hand about the Great White shark with some real “face time” experience. When they returned to their homes all over the world - Germany, Greece, New York, Florida and California – they all instantly became ambassadors for aquatic wildlife. Why is that possible?
Everest of Shark Diving
When you are introduced to this — the Everest of Shark Diving — you are never the same afterward. It’s a soul-shaking experience and it simply changes your life forever. I know it’s been that way for me, and it’s fresh each time I visit Guadalupe Island to see the Great Whites. For me, and for the divers I bring along on these trips, that’s the only way – you just have to go there. The experience is unfiltered. Completely real. This is a lot better than reading a newspaper or getting a TV reporter’s view of the ocean and its wildlife. Certainly, there are a lot of good sources out there: The Monterey Bay Aquarium, BBC Science News, and Google Earth with the Oceans plug-in is a fantastic resource. But nothing can replace actually going there yourself. Seeing these animals for yourself changes everything. You can be your own reality filter by getting up close and personal with a Great White shark. Like in this picture:
While I was in Baja California for the Great White dive, I learned that yet another body surfer along the California coast became the fatal victim of a shark attack. It happened in Santa Barbara County and it was a tragedy. But it also sparked yet another media frenzy about “predator” behavior of the Great White. In fact, a California Fish and Game official called the Great White involved in the attack a “perfect predator.” This makes me sad, not only because of the human tragedy, but also because so many of the positive, peaceful encounters I’ve lead for years get very little coverage. I’m all for dispelling the hype and myth of danger. But this can only be done when we dive with great responsibility and respect for aquatic wildlife. Here’s it it looks like with a real shark, real people, real life.
I say it’s the responsibility of the conservationists, the photojournalists and the environmentalists to keep the information flowing freely, and avoid spreading panic and the “witch hunts” of a shark attack. We need to help create a shark image makeover.
Will you join us? We’re ready to go with next season’s adventures. It promises to be another classic Big Animals expedition. I can tell you that life is good when you have three sharks around you.
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.