Archive for the ‘What It’s Like’ Category

What It’s Like Free Diving To Tag Great Whites

Thursday, August 13th, 2015
Illustration of free divers tagging a shark.

Steven P. Hughes

Team Work
Free divers work together to tag sharks. While one diver focuses on tagging the sharks, the others maintain visual contact with the sharks so that they keep their distance.

To tag a great white, first you must know if it’s a player. By that I mean, will it get close? Many are shy. People believe that if a white shark approaches, it attacks. But luring a shark to the research boat takes work, encouragement. We use bait, which we remove when the free divers enter the water, one at a time and with no splash. Splashes scare sharks.

White sharks are ambush predators. We can free-dive with them only in Isla Guadalupe, Mexico, because the visibility is 100 feet — they can’t sneak up on us like they could in South Africa, where the water is murky.

Our free divers work in teams of three. It takes focus to tag a shark, so while one diver is tasked with tagging the shark, a second acts like a bodyguard, maintaining visual contact with the animal or animals at all times. If they know they are being watched, they’re far less likely to get inquisitive.

The third diver photographs the shark. So far in Isla Guadalupe, 158 individual white sharks have been identified. We want to know whom
we tag: Is it one we have seen before in Isla Guadalupe or a new individual? The pattern of pigmentation around the gills, pelvic fins and tail distinguishes each.

The free diver tasked with tagging must swim within roughly 6 feet of the shark; depending on the shark, this dive takes around two to
three minutes. The V16 tag — stainless steel and 3.5 inches long — is shot into the base of the dorsal fin on the left side. We tag only the left side to streamline the process. We need to know where to look to see if an animal has been tagged. If you tag the same animal twice, it will emit two frequencies, which collide and cause problems.

As soon as the animal is tagged, the diver surveys his surroundings, and then heads straight back to the boat. Then we wait for a new shark to approach.

Nature is unpredictable, which is why my trips to Isla Guadalupe last three months. Sometimes we’ll tag six sharks in three days, and at other times we’ll wait two weeks before seeing one. To tag two sharks in one day is good; five is amazing.

What It’s Like To Be A Shark Week Videographer

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015
Shark Week Videographer Andy Brandy Casagrande IV

Jeremy Simons/Northern Pictures

Andy Brandy Casagrande

Shark Week videographer Andy Brandy Casagrande IV stands with his camera rig.

This particular film started with the working title Sharks of Darkness. We are in New Zealand, near a seal colony, where we aren’t witnessing daytime predation from the great whites we’re there to film. But they must feed on seals, so we figure we’ll investigate. During the day, we familiarize ourselves with the area. I’m surprised how amped up — how untamed and wild — these sharks are. It’s not at all like Isla Guadalupe, Mexico, where the animals know the drill. Here, it’s all new. Curious, the great whites use their mouths to explore — which, for filming, is amazing.

Nightfall can’t come soon enough. We’re ready for the underwater cage, which differs from usual ones in that its sides have wide openings with no bars, necessary for my 50-pound Epic Red Dragon camera, which requires wide clearance.

Once inside, we’re lowered 70 feet into total darkness. I flip on my camera lights and immediately a shark swims toward my camera, crashing into it.

It’s so close, I can’t focus or train my lights on it. Then a second and a third come charging in, all forcing their way into the cage at once.

I start thinking, They must be attracted to the light. Or, perhaps because it’s night, they’re in hunting mode.

Either way, it’s not looking good and I’m not feeling all that comfortable. In darkness, we resemble seals, thanks to black wet- suits, and I’m wondering if this was a good idea. How am I going to reach the surface? When I work in a cage, I don’t wear fins. They’re strapped to the side, where, right now, a shark is chomping on aluminum.

At least half a dozen white sharks surround the cage, and a couple are still pushing their way inside. I can’t help but picture one stuck in between the bars. It would only turn more aggressive. Violent.
I can’t slow my racing heartbeat. I look at my gauges. I’m almost out of air. I’ve never been so freaked out inside a cage, let alone outside.

It’s time. I remember the communication system linking me to the surface, and I yell to the director to hoist us out of here. That was easily the most afraid I’ve ever been. Apparently, viewers felt the same way, and they liked it. The show, renamed Lair of the Mega Shark, rated so well that we just filmed a part two.