"We know there is a multitude of opinions about cage diving with sharks but let's make it simple, sharks alive are worth ALOT more than sharks that are dead, both to the ocean and to humanity. When you lock eyes with one of these apex predators, I can guarantee any opinion you may have that is negative toward the industry will most likely change.
Myself, photographer/brother; Bryce Thurston and Cinematographer; Tyge Landa, had an awesome opportunity to spend 3 days on board Calypso Star Charters down in Port Lincoln, South Australia. Calypso are leaders in the Shark Cage Diving industry, operating an extremely safe, and non-destructive experience to the sharks and their environment, allowing people to be inspired, learn, and appreciate these incredible animals and the critically important role they play in sustaining a healthy oceanic ecosystem. Do sharks mistakenly attack people? Well, yes, along with just about everything else on this planet, from bees to spiders to bears to other humans.. but that doesn’t mean we should develop a negative mentality toward them, the ocean is their home, we are vulnerable every time we enter it and that's just plain nature and one of the things that comes with interacting with it. All in all, done responsibly, shark cage diving is a great experience that I recommend you dive into if you ever get the opportunity."
We flew down from Sydney to Adelaide, from there we decided not to jump on the Qantas direct flight to Port Lincoln, which is only a mere 50 minutes or so. Would’ve made us a lot less tired, but we wanted to photograph a few things on the road so we drove the 8 hours around the peninsula, which consists of mainly long, straight, tiresome roads! There is however an amazing salt lake! So good that I’ll be releasing a whole separate article on it in the near future..
The best place to stay in my opinion is the Marina Hotel, it’s a bit out of town but it’s right on the wharf where Calypso’s boat is docked. We had 3 days on the boat all up, so we could make sure we had a good chance at getting some shark activity. Calypso’s sighting rate is close to 90% which is awesome so there is a high chance you’ll see one. More sightings the better though for a photographer, it can take 1 minute or 1 week to get the shot, that’s the nature of nature though, it’s a wild and unpredictable environment out there, which is something to take into consideration if you’re going to photograph it.
You leave at 6:30am and it’s a 2.5 hour boat trip out to the Neptune Islands from Port Lincoln, and it’s through very open seas so if you’re prone to sea sickness, I highly recommend taking some ginger travel calm or whatever you think will assist with that. The first day was a bit hit and miss, on arrival, shark activity was very low and didn’t pick up too much throughout the day so there was a lot of waiting in the cage watching the schools of trevally and kingfish swim around (which is actually epic!). It was also very high seas, which created a lot of rocking and not the best conditions to shoot in. The second day was much better but cage time was limited with the amount of people on board. It all came down to a chaotic 20 minutes on the last dive of the day when one particular shark came in guns blazing to the smell of chum.
Calypso is the only day charter that has a license to chum, they use it responsibly to attract the sharks. It’s a controversial topic, but there really is no other way to draw them in and I have no issues with it. It may or may not teach them to associate humans with food, sharks are wild and most wild things are unpredictable, but sharks are also very smart creatures, I personally don’t think it makes a difference, others, I know would disagree. Sharks are designed to take out the weaker things in the ocean in order to keep the ecosystem strong, if we enter the ocean and fall into that category, then there’s potential a shark can mistakenly take us for a weaker seal or sea creature.
They only ever investigate prey with the element of surprise, it’s amazing watching them come in and check out the environment, there are extremely cautious and curious beings, analyzing the surrounds and assessing the situation well before they decide to have a go at the chum.
What’s it like to be face to face with a great white shark? Outside of a cage; terrifying. From within a cage: completely mesmerizing. They have an incredible range of emotions through their seemingly straight face, from smiles, to curiosity, to fascination, right through to intent to kill. Really, some angles you get of them they look like the deadliest, most lethal predators on the planet.. which they probably are!
Since the beginning of time (whenever that was) humans have shared and told stories about large creatures of impending danger, and if you look at the movies over the past 2 decades, it’s obvious this generation is fascinated by them as well. However, one of the biggest problems about the media that we consume, is that it feeds peoples fear. People will make judgements, opinions, and have all sorts of arguments about what should and shouldn’t happen and the root of the problem is often fear. A fear of lack, or discomfort or the big one, a fear of death. I won’t turn this into a sermon because it will if I attempt to address that issue, for the interested though, only faith can truly overcome the ‘fear of death’ stronghold. But for this article, I do want to address some of the effects of fear.
People tend to want to eliminate their fears, and when faithless people take that action, it often results in a false need to eliminate life. Kill the sharks! Kill the sharks, I’ve heard senseless and uneducated, faithless people say. However, sharks have an absolutely vital role in the oceans ecosystems, they are the cleaners of the seas. They are the animals that keep the ocean healthy and breathing. Yes, breathing, the ocean takes in over 50% of man’s carbon emissions, and gives us back the oxygen we need to breathe. Very kind thing to do considering mankind has literally decimated its ecosystems and over polluted a vast portion of it, almost to the point of no return. Feeling compelled to continue, I won’t, rather I will simply back up my friend and underwater photographer; Matt Draper, whom is in pursuit of “Turning Fear into Fascination”. I like that, it’s essentially an attempt to inspire people to educate themselves on the natural beauty we are surrounded by and learn that every single creature both big and small are part of a perfect cycle of life that we should not unsustainably tamper with. Education is the answer.
The Day of Days:
The third day of our charter was absolutely incredible, the storm had subsided, and the ocean was a magnificently crystal blue. There were multiple Whites circling the boat as soon as we arrived and I could hardly wait to jump back in the cage and continue my transfixion with these creatures. We had Andrew as our Skipper this day, he’s the boss and an absolute legend! He understood our desire and mission to document the sharks and worked with us to give us the most time under and photographic opportunities that he could. Very grateful for it! It’s just so good when you can work with people that share your passion. The clarity was incredible this day and the sharks showed up in numbers! The Neptune Islands is the largest seal colony in Australia, with an estimated 40,000 of them on the North and South Islands. No wonder the Sharks are there! However, studies show that the sharks don’t hang around there, they spend an average of a week or so then keep moving on. Spending time down in the cage, gazing at these creatures passing is a completely captivating experience. I’ve encountered sharks in the water a few times over the years, I don’t normally hang around too long when it happens though, so to watch them within a safe environment was such a special experience – I must say I’m guilty of feeding on the same general assumption that they are to be feared as well, however I’m on that educational journey of turning that fear into a respect, a respect for what they are and the purpose they play in a healthy oceanic ecosystem that is required for our future.
In the cage I was equipped with Cressi-subs to see well, the best masks I've ever worn and I've worn quite a few! They have great vision and amazingly comfy, they don't hurt your head after an hour or so like a lot of other masks do and they don't leak at all, even with having a moustache. The Agent Eighteen 5/4/3 Waterman with built in hood was keeping me extra warm. It's not that warm in the water..
Camera wise, I shot this whole series on the Canon 5D mark IV, a full frame 30MP master piece of a camera, the high resolution versions of these images are sharper than a sword in print and each shot is available to order through my site. I have the 5D4 encased in the AquaTech Elite 5D4 Series, shooting with back focus and the top shutter release in all natural light.
We took a quiver of lenses down to use, these shots were captured using the:
- Canon 16-35mm f/4
- Canon 50mm f/1.2
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8
It’s a funny thing, no matter what lens you use, you’re going to get shots and miss shots, I was WAY to close with the 70-200mm most of the time but then again I captured some beautiful bokeh and emotional close up portraits and details with it. With the 16-35mm I was in more of a telephoto comfort range, however I felt like I was too far away a lot of the time but managed to get those full body environment shots that I love. Using the 50mm you’d think would be a happy medium but turned out to be too close at times as well. I have a lot of ‘ALMOST’ amazing shots. But enclosed in this series are the goods I got from all 3 lenses. The fact is that the sharks move a lot and it’s a constantly changing subject. Just have to go for it with whatever is in your hands!
If you are planning on heading down to have this experience, I highly encourage you to do it! For me, it didn’t make me feel any different about entering the ocean, but instead left me with a great appreciation for them. I hope my images in this series “Dark to White” inspires you to appreciate these powerful animals and to head down and see them for yourself with Calypso Star Charters – www.sharkcagediving.com.au
See you in the water,
Watch the documentary..