The oceanic

Copyright: Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

Copyright: Gavin Parsons. All rights reserved

This week’s ‘behind the picture’ is one from my archives. It was taken in the Red Sea, just off Big Brother Island in the early naughties. The reason I bring it to you today is because the oceanic white tip shark today received CITES protection. This is a bit of great news for this ocean going species, although extremely sad for the state of our seas.

When this picture was taken, oceanic white tip sharks were fairly common, especially in the Red Sea; now its numbers have been decimated. These are impressive creatures and deserve protection from over fishing, but it is not full protection. The species can still be targeted by fishermen, but there will now be enforceable laws on international trade.

This shot, as I said, was taken off the Brother Islands in the middle of the Red Sea. I was on a specific oceanic hunt and had already been to Elphinestone Reef, which was supposed to be a shoe in for oceanics, but I saw none. I’d hung off a line on the back of the boat for several hours missing two dives to try and find an oceanic. As we left I felt like I was doomed.

The next stop was Big Brother Island where I’d seen an oceanic white tip on a previous visit. But it was at the end of the dive and I had used my 36 exposures, so didn’t get a shot (It’s hard to imagine only having 36 shots now.)

The Brother Islands are perfect because of the deep water surrounding them. They are the only thing that sticks up for miles and are a draw for fish and, therefore, a draw for sharks. I spent pretty much all the time on board the liveaboard watching the water between dives for the tell tale shape of a shark on the surface. We’d seen nothing the first day and then just after lunch on the second day as I was changing film, a cry came from the stern of the boat. I grabbed my camera and hopped in the water.

I couldn’t see anything but blue when I cleared my mask and thought perhaps I’d scared the shark away. But then I just caught a white flash about 20 metres away. It was the oceanic white tip shark.

I was joined by a guy who had never seen a shark before and here he was jumping into a sea with the third most dangerous shark in the oceans. It was fairly wary at first though and circled us widely. But each time it got closer and closer. Within about ten minutes is was right up with us and as bold as any shark I have come across. So close in fact that my buddy had to raise his fins to keep the shark back more than once.

I was using a 16mm lens and watched the shark get closer and closer through the viewfinder. It was only when I could not make out all, the shark that I thought to look up and found it was pushing me backwards in the water. She wasn’t particularly threatening and not once did she open her mouth. So I felt as safe as you can be in an ocean with a big shark, but I thoroughly enjoyed the encounter.

When I got back home and had the film developed I was delighted with the results and this shot eventually won the BSAC travel photographer of the year in 2005.

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