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APEX ENCOUNTERS

A Photostory about White Sharks 

The Great White Shark (Carcharodon

carcharias) is one of the most feared apex

predators in existence. Here one can be seen

amongst a shoal of fish off the island of

Guadalupe.

APEX ENCOUNTERS

Shark populations have been threatened due to Over harvesting, environmental degradation and shark culling. For the first time in years Great white sharks a leading Apex predator appear to be on the rise. In order to continue to conserve these magnificent creatures a change must take place in public perception. One of the best ways to make this change is to experience these sharks incredible beauty and power first hand, the goal is not to make sharks appear friendly or harmless but instead to inspire the public to respect these ancient predators that call these waters home.

Shark tourism is a growing industry that has assigned a new monitory value to sharks globally. On average a shark is worth $200 in the shark fin trade but the same shark is valued at up to $178,00 in the shark tourism industry. This shift in their economic value provides a realistic financial alternative to shark finning. However, the industry faces intense criticism due to claims that chumming alters the natural predatory behavior of sharks. Despite no scientific backing claims have also been made that chumming in close proximity to divers can cause sharks to associate people with prey causing an increase in shark attacks.

Careless practice during wrangling has also lead to severe accidents. On October 13th 2016 a video was released online showing a shark crashing through a shark cage at Guadalupe Island during a shark tourism operation. The video quickly became viral shattering public perception once again. I traveled out to Guadalupe island, a white shark hot spot, just days after the video was released to learn more about this growing industry and the impacts of chumming.

A great white shark bows down as it begins a deep dive displaying behavior that appears to be almost submissive, a stark contrast to the aggressive behavior society associates with these Apex predators.

Hanging in cages at 30ft a group of divers catch their first glimpse of a great white shark moving silently through the water circling the cages with curiosity.

Two great whites cross paths, their fins cutting through the waters surface as they turn to go their separate ways. For years, Great White sharks have been perceived to be solitary hunters but tagging efforts have begun to show a different story. The Sharks aggregate to a a few key locations throughout the year showing these magnificent apex predators may be more social than we previously believed. Guadalupe island is one of the few places you can observe these shark interactions and their huge abundance makes it a perfect destination for shark tourism operations.

A dive master hangs on the top of a stainless steel shark cage signaling ‘Okay’ to the boat from just below the waters surface. Guadalupe Island is the only known location you can observe sharks in crystal clear water. It is not uncommon to have 30+ft of visibility. Each shark cage is manned by an experienced dive master who signals to participants where sharks are and keep a record of the individuals that were encountered each day.

By taking profile style photos like the one featured here a database of the individual sharks visiting Guadalupe island can be created. Each shark has a unique pattern in its coloration allowing this identification to take place. As well as allowing us to ID the sharks this shading also functions as a predatory adaptation called countershading. The Darker grey top and white bottom allows the great white to blend into its environment increasing its efficiency as an apex predator.

A Great White shark cuts through the water with the power of a torpedo after making a run for the bait hanging at the waters surface. Sharks have a cartilage skeleton, cartilage has half the density of bone reducing the overall weight and allowing them to conserve energy. This incredible adaptation allows them to launch themselves from the water at speeds up to 25mph and up to 10ft in height.

A great White shark bears its jaws to a group of scuba divers positioned in surface cages after being outwitted by the wrangler and a failed attempt to charge at the Bait. Due to a recent change in the laws wrangling is now allowed off Guadalupe Island. Wrangling is the process of dangling large pieces of bait near the surface in order to bring sharks closer to tourist cages allowing them to observe aggressive behavior.

During this expedition I found overwhelmingly that when participants observed photos such as the one featured here the main emotion was respect. Although this photo demonstrates aggressive behavior it also highlights how powerful these animals are and the main feeling from participants was that it highlighted the beauty of being an apex predator rather than invoked fear.

A White shark cruises above momentarily blocking the sun showing its incredibly streamlined silhouette. As well as the typical teeth bearing shots of great white sharks tourists are able to view the natural beauty of these outstanding predators. Their streamlined body shape allows them to move through the water at great speeds. The clear water of Guadalupe allows tourist to observe a variety of behaviors, during the trip you were much more likely to see passive pass overs like the one captured above that showed an incredible calm and beautiful animal than charging sharks with gaping jaws as people may have expected. The aggressive cliche photo opportunities were entirely created by the boat staff using chum and bait and were not an accurate representation of natural great white behavior.

A shark glides through the water dancing in the suns rays that penetrate through the surface. A shoal of fish swim away demonstrating the shear size of this powerful predator.

Powered by its large caudal fin a great white speeds away into the blue leaving a trail of bubbles on the surface in its wake.

Photos and Story by Inka Cresswell All photos rights belong to Inka Cresswell 

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