The stories behind some of my favourite images

Big fish little fishes

whaleshark

A few years ago I returned to an island called Mafia off the coast of Tanzania. I’d spent several months in the early 90s there as part of a team studying the feasibility of creating a multi-zone marine park. It was created in the late 90s. I went back 13 years later to write an article about how the place had faired.

Usually when I return to a destination, it’s a disappointment. The world sadly is deteriorating before my eyes. But Mafia Island was different as it was better. The corals, the fish were all healthier and more prolific than my first trip.

There was also an added bonus: whalesharks. Mafia Island is one of the world’s whaleshark gatherings. They come to the shallow water in front of Kilondoni, the main settlement on the island. At the time I took the picture it was a pretty new discovery and the only way to get out to the sharks was to hire a local fishing boat. I have to use the term ‘boat’ fairly loosely because the one we hired was more holes than boat. The captain though was bailing just about enough to keep his planks of wood afloat so it wasn’t all bad.

The whalesharks were used by local fishermen who would find a shark, surround it with net and draw it tighter. It’s not what you think though as fishermen would be in the water and allow the shark to escape and they would harvest the fish that swam with the sharks.

The fish seemed to the drawn to the sharks probably for shelter as the seabed was barren sand so the sharks were a kind of moving reef. We found a shark that had just been released by a fishing boat and sat a while until it settled down. It didn’t take long. The shark swam directly towards our boat, it submerged slightly as it got to us and I watched it go beneath us. It never came out the other side so I dipped my head below the water and saw the shark vertical in the water within the shadow our boat created.

Slipping below the surface I could understand why. The glare created by the sun, bright white sand and suspended particles in the water was horrendous. The shark was using our boat as sunglasses.

She stayed under the boat for several minutes, enough time for a shoal of small fish to gather around her. I watched them swirl and anticipated when they’d get between the shark and me. The moment lasted no more than a second, possibly two.  Back on the boat I reviewed the images and knew I’d got a special shot, but didn’t realise quite how special. “`the images earned me Specially Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

If you’d like to see more of my work take a look on www.gavinparsons.co.uk

 

 

 

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