I’ve always loved, been fascinated by, sharks. From the earliest age and at the first view of them on tv I wanted to know more about them, see them in real life and understand what they did.
I’m quite sure that, were it not for films like JAWS, Deep Blue Sea and the Shallows, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as afraid of sharks as we are.

I’m also convinced that the younger you are to experience something considered dangerous, the more likely you are to be ok with it and brave. I was never really afraid of snakes because my siblings and I first handled one with an adult in Sardinia when I was about 9.
With sharks… it seems lucky to me that the first one, a little reef shark, swam by me when I was 14 or 15.

The whole idea that sharks will most likely attack you if they see you in the water is as much of a fallacy as the idea that if you jump into the water with a pod of wild dolphins they will want to play with you.

If one includes species that have only been seen dead or found a small number of times (Megamouth etc.), over 350 different species of shark have been identified. And of those a huge number are sharks you would never see swimming, that live at night, very deep, under ledges or on the ocean floor. Many species of sharks, which are related to rays — also cartilaginous fishes, look nothing like what you imagine a shark looks like. Some are flattened, some guitar-shaped, some look like carpets… Some just look like normal fish with big eyes, strange heads or tails. Shark size ranges from 20 centimeters for the dwarf lantern shark to 18.8 meters for the whale shark – the biggest fish in the sea. The vast majority of shark species have never been known to attack anybody. And humans are decimating sharks at an unprecedented and horrifying rate. We kill 100 to 273 million sharks a year, including those taken for their fins, which are cut off when they’re alive (the sharks are then thrown back into the water, unable to swim and left to die), those entangled in nets and taken by mistake as by-catch. And yet sharks kill only 6 to 8 people a year around the world. So sharks are killing us at perhaps 0.000000029304029 to 0.00000006 the rate we kill them. It is said that overall shark numbers have declined by ninety percent over the past few decades.

It has been an incredible privilege over the years to see perhaps 12 species of sharks, including the zebra, tiger, whale, thresher shark, wobbegong (which looks like a carpet!), the very rare and endangered oceanic white tip, and two species of hammerhead.
Only about 12 times – split between perhaps 4 individual animals – have I felt a shark liked me too much or might, had I been unfortunate, hurt me. Each time I was in the water with dead fish and blood to attract them.

About three times a year, I take friends whose diving skills are unquestionable to see tiger sharks, great hammerheads, and oceanic white tips in the Bahamas.

One pretty much has to draw sharks in with food to see them. Of course you might see a shark at random on a dive, and it might be the species you’re most interested in. But if you want good photographs, including close-ups, and to really get to know a species you need to travel to where it’s commonly seen, go to the site experts and professionals visit, and, usually, throw fish and blood in the water to bring the sharks in.

This chumming is such a common practice in some places, and works so well, that the feeders and guests see the animals nearly every time[1]. In fact, some sharks attend these free meals so often that the feeders can easily identify/recognize them. Emma, for instance, is one of the more famous sharks at Tiger Beach in Grand Bahama.

For tiger sharks we have to travel about an hour and a half to Tiger Beach, in Grand Bahama, which isn’t a beach at all. It’s a sandy bottom - with the odd bit of coral reef here and there - in the same area where we find the spotted dolphins I go and see with the Wild Dolphin Project every summer. Someone told me that it was people searching the area for dolphins who first noticed there are lots of tiger sharks there.

At Tiger Beach the first thing you see when you anchor is a large number of lemon sharks, eager to eat the chum from the shark boats, waiting at the surface. They form a sort of moving, ever-changing circle of diners and eat nearly everything we throw in – while we are actually chumming for tigers. There are more lemon sharks at the bottom, and frequently Caribbean Reef Sharks, too. The Tiger Sharks nearly always come at some point. They’re much bigger, and more colorful, than the other sharks — with their beautiful markings and squarish faces. The least tiger sharks I’ve ever seen on a dive there is 1, the highest number 5. We once waited more than an hour at the surface, chumming over the side of the boat for what seemed like forever, for a tiger to come only at the end of the dive… two hours after we started feeding. Other times a nearby boat already had a tiger when we arrived ... or the shark(s) came very soon after we anchored.
The feeders sometimes stroke the noses of the tiger sharks, and the eyes roll white – to protect from possible damage[2], or push their heads down towards the sand to avoid teeth. Sometimes they keep one hand on the nose and redirect the shark with the other hand on the body, pushing the animal forward or sideways. We’re given plastic sticks, white and about a meter long, to ward sharks off if they come too close, and we’re told never to take our eyes off a tiger shark when it comes near –– to keep looking at them even once they’ve swum past us in case they choose to turn around and approach us from behind.[3] Overall, though, and over the course of 8 or more dives at Tiger Beach, friends and I have rarely been scared of a tiger shark: we haven’t had cause to be.
The original feeder we used, who must have done thousands of shark dives, would joke that he had “two chances” with tiger sharks: they bump something first before they bite it.

Cameras are very good buffers, particularly when strobes are attached, making the rig bigger, and can be used to push sharks away.

The tiger sharks, while impressive — and some of them very big (Emma is 14 feet long!), seem to move slowly... nearly as if it’s a task to carry their heavy bodies around. And one could almost argue that some of the ones at Tiger Beach are unnaturally habituated to people.

There are literally thousands of photos of Tiger Beach, and the tiger (and, occasionally, great hammerhead) sharks there, on Instagram and the Internet. Emma the tiger shark in particular.

For the Great Hammerheads we go to Bimini, which is also prime territory for the Atlantic Spotted Dolphins.
And just like with the tiger sharks, it’s very shallow water, the feeder stands on the sand next to the bait box, and the divers sit in a line or semicircle some distance away, opposite the feeder.

The nicer feeders frequently take fish out of the covered bait box (a crate) and give them to the sharks. The slightly less nice or novice feeders keep the bait box closed nearly all the time, which keeps the sharks around since they still smell the fish and blood in the water; but keeps them unjustly hungry, too!

Where there are lots of lemon sharks and some reef sharks on the tiger dives, there are lots of lazy nurse sharks on the sand, hoping for food and often close to the bait box, on the hammerhead dives. On the hammerhead dives we also frequently see bull sharks, which are considered more dangerous, and are quite girthy.

Great hammerheads are HUGE — reaching up to 6 meters in length , and their dorsal fins are very tall.
They are in the books as some of the more dangerous sharks; but I have never seen one look threatening or come up close on a dive. The last feeders we had said the same thing: they’re not in the least interested in us and, if anything, they avoid us. They come in for the food, barely look at the feeder (“shark wrangler”) or divers, turn away immediately, and then come back for more.
Sometimes they dip their bodies to one side, looking almost diagonal when you see them swim.

The nurse sharks are basically puppies. They sit on the ground, they mill around, they look and are harmless. They just want their food.
Despite their enormous size, and awkward shape, the hammerheads can turn on a dime. You should see the speed with which they swivel over the bait box after taking a fish and before heading away again. One of the theories about the hammer used to be that moving their heads side to side helped them swim faster. Called the cephalofoil, the hammer is apparently occasionally used to hit stingrays and skates, favorite foods, from above. It also serves as a hydrofoil that allows the sharks to turn quickly. Apparently the cephalofoil is also used to detect prey and can pick up the electrical signatures of buried stingrays.

One nice thing about the hammer dives is that once we’ve arrived at the airport and got on the boat, the shark-feeding spot is only a 10-minute ride away.

The Great Hammerheads are quite seasonal. You have to be at the site between December and March. One time we went in April and waited nearly three hours to get one shark. The boat the day before us also waited 3 hours, but they got three sharks.

The Oceanic Whitetip dives and the animals’ behaviour are very different.

The oceanics are at Cat Island, down south.
Local fishermen first noticed how many sharks there are at Cat.
For these sharks we fly an hour and then take a boat for another hour before getting to the dive site.
The water there is very deep and we only see the bottom if the current drags us closer to shore.
You drift with the current on those dives. One time we drifted for miles, around two very distant points, and ended up two or three bays away from where we got in.
For these dives the bait box dangles from an untethered buoy and the feeder stays with it. Perhaps the bigger risk on the oceanic dives is that you can forget to watch and limit your depth. The feeders suggest you go no deeper than 15 meters; but one tends to follow some of the sharks when they descend deeper -- or to sink a bit. Sometimes your buoyancy isn’t perfect or you’re not attentive enough to stay shallow.

The more acute and animated feeders, a bit like with the tigers, are very physically active and precise – they move in an acrobatic manner to feed in different directions and in unison with the sharks. Keeping their eyes on multiple sharks, including some that approach from behind, and feeding them at the same time can’t be easy. The best feeder we had managed to watch/be vigilant and feed 4 or 5 oceanic whitetips in close proximity at a time. He just moved and thought and fed right. It was a bit like an underwater, thrilling but dangerous ballet.

The oceanics are often friskier than the tigers and hammers. They’re bolder and more interested. Perhaps because they are open ocean predators and they stumble onto food less often than they’d like. On one dive a shark came and pushed me three times in a row. I pushed it away with my camera each time but was definitely flustered, a bit worried…
On our very first oceanic dive, in 2015, nine sharks showed up. We didn’t even have to chum to bring them in; they arrived within 5 minutes, drawn to the noise of the boat which apparently reminds them of fishing boats they can get scraps from. Keeping our eyes on 9 sharks, a couple of which were much bigger than the others, was challenging. Having only 4 or 5 in our field of vision now and again and knowing there were 4 or 5 out of view, possibly behind us, was a bit daunting.
On other dives at Cat we’ve had anywhere between three and six sharks.

The oceanics are only reliably at Cat Island in April and May.

Without a doubt, oceanic whitetips are my favorite sharks. They are BEAUTIFUL, curious, strong, and their colors are stunning.
Silky sharks are a close second. They are very sleek, fast and extremely beautiful.

Our feeder used to be a crazy Brazilian guy called Beto. He was 39-years-old and unmarried the year we dove most with the sharks – maybe three years ago. I always used to joke with him and ask if he could please stay alive so that we might employ him to do sharks next season.
He got married the next year and then I joked that now he had something to live for.
He was head diver on all our shark dives and had experience feeding multiple species: great hammerhead, tiger, oceanic and Caribbean reef sharks. He moved from Nassau to St. Lucia a couple of years ago and then to Australia. So now we use different operators/feeders…

I only bring friends who are very skilled divers on these shark dives — particularly with the oceanics, which I think are riskier than the others. I’m much less nervous that a shark might hurt a friend than I am that a friend might panic out of fear, run out of air at the wrong time or swim off clumsily, arms and legs dangling in all directions, if they have a problem.

At this point I have a lot of faith in the sharks — and in most of the feeders. Certainly the experienced ones.
It feels unlikely to me that an accident will happen — unless someone stops paying attention or does something stupid. Having done about six of these oceanic dives now[4], no one has been injured.
But I never want to be complacent, feel overconfident or forget to be vigilant. That’s probably when accidents happen. If you take your safety for granted, think you’re invincible or get lulled into a false sense of security... if you suddenly think all the sharks around you are docile, THAT is a risk. They are top predators, fast and strong, and they are wild animals.

[1] And many tiger and great hammerhead dives
[2] Nictitating membranes -- transparent or translucent third eyelids present in some animals -- can be drawn across the eyelid for protection and to moisten it while maintaining vision.
The eyes of great whites, for example, can easily be scratched by the seals they eat.
[3] That happened to me once – and I could tell immediately because the feeder and my dive buddy suddenly rushed to me to ward the shark off.
[4] Some shark species are seasonal in certain areas. Some, like silky sharks, also migrate…

Cocos island is, according to Sylvia Earle, “one of the sharkiest places on Earth”!
It is STUNNING there. I was privileged to join an expedition with Sylvia and her Mission Blue
Team a couple of years ago.
Cocos is pretty much a protected Costa Rican island full of rainforests, with waterfalls pouring down
Rock faces into the ocean, its waters a very rich ecosystem with schools of large and pelagic fish like tuna swimming through and hundreds and hundreds (thousands during the right season) of Scalloped

Galapagos sharks and whitetip reef sharks, which hunt at night and will actively do so under the torches of divers, also abound.
Since the water started getting warmer a few years ago, tiger sharks have started showing up as well.

Plenty of other dive sites exist (Punta Maria, where the image of the scarred Galapagos shark was taken, and Halcyon, which is very deep and where the currents can be treacherous, come to mind) but by far the best site for hammerheads is a fairly shallow reef (20 meters), with rows of rocky ledges you can sit or crouch on, called Manuelita.
The hammerheads get cleaned there by barber fish, and they swim around and climb up and down the reef vertically as well.

Hammerheads are notoriously skittish and stay far away from divers. So in order to get good photos – not to deter the sharks from coming close – people need to hold their breath.
All of us on these dives at Manuelita were doing our very best not to breathe out at the wrong time, causing an eruption of bubbles that would scare the sharks away.

The above image is the best I have of a scalloped hammerhead. One thing I love about it is that the shark looks nearly silver in color even though the shark was actually grey.
This version of the photograph was touched up – “color corrected “ – by the top retouching person at National Geographic, Mike Lappin.

Lemon sharks are everywhere on the tiger shark dives at Tiger Beach. While their teeth look
Very threatening, the sharks are not. They pass in and out and come all around us during the dives; but they
Never show any aggression. They frequently have funny expressions on their faces, though, and so are nice to

Elphinstone in Egypt is quite famous for oceanic whitetips. Simone, our skilled and experienced friend/guide for spinner dolphins at Sataya, has taken me there twice. The second time, in 2017, was amazing — with 3 or more sharks coming very close, and one even repeatedly moving in, out and around a group of divers (it seems strange to have sharks come so close when you’re not feeding them) — and the main shot for the shark section of this show was taken then. But the first time Simo took me, with my friend Jim, we had a very long dive in fairly shallow water (which keeps your air consumption low) and saw not a single shark — despite Simo’s assurances they’re always there. THIS insolent shark showed up right after we’d finished our dive and put most of our gear back on the boat. He was an after-party shark! Not having a snorkel or weight belt on me, with my BCD still on and very buoyant, I tried to take some shots of the undisciplined shark and its pilot fish companions, resulting in the image you see here. It was so frustrating not to be able to get below the surface and shoot at the same level as the fish — and breathe more easily. But, happily, this one image is quite nice.

Oceanics are remarkably beautiful, with their incredibly long fins (as described in their scientific name — longimanus) and fading contrasts. Unlike blacktips and other white tips there is no solid line at the change of color between the fin base and tip.
These sharks, which were once some of the most common large animals in the world, have suffered a terrible fate over the past few decades. According to some reports, a 93% decline in the Oceanic population took place between 1995 and 2010. Their fins are very valuable in the international shark fin trade.

Malapascua is purportedly the only place in the world where you’re practically guaranteed to see a thresher shark if you try for it. Certainly if you’re there for a number of days.
There are 3 species of thresher shark: the bigeye, common, and pelagic. I don’t know which species this is.
The disproportionate, extremely long tail is used to stun the shark’s prey and can be the same length as the shark’s body.
They mostly eat squid, cuttlefish, and pelagic schooling fish such as bluefish, juvenile tuna, and mackerel.
They are nocturnal and live quite deep – up to 500 meters… but come shallower to “cleaning stations”, to have parasites removed by cleaner wrasse, early in the morning in Malapascua.
We were leaving the hotel at 4:30 every morning (having gone to bed after an extremely early dinner), hoping to beat the crowds (maybe 6 other boats) and arrive at the dive site by 5.
Photographing the threshers is quite difficult as there is nearly no light at the crack of dawn, the site is deep and you’re not allowed to use flash.
The dive happens at one of two cordoned off ridges over 25 meters deep. A rope is meant to keep divers off the edge and encourage them to sit in a line.
This image was expertly touched up by the main retouching guy at National Geographic, Mike Lappin. All my photographs were extremely grainy, and I’m always jealous of the fantastic images of threshers one occasionally sees. At the same time, I suspect that a huge number of the shots from Malapascua that are out there have been digitally corrected and enhanced.

There are about 14 named and easily identified nurse sharks at Compass, although you frequently see others there as well.
These sharks are basically tame. People go in and swim with them, feeding them as well, nearly all the time.
They have grinding plates, to feed mainly on shellfish, rather than the sharper bigger teeth you’ll find on most sharks. We often come and feed them squid, maybe 4 times a year, and photographing them is always a tremendous pleasure. Being able to swim among the heads of 10 or more sharks while they eat, as seen here, is very clear evidence that these nurses will not “attack” you.
At high tide the pontoon is completely submerged and, so long as there’s enough water at any given time, the sharks actually lie on the wooden planks, human feet all around them, ready for any bit of food they can possibly have.
The funniest sight, and some of the most common and best photos of these, is when the tide is in-between and the sharks are half out and half in the water, still lying on the pontoon.

People really love these sharks, they have become famous, I love photographing them ... especially when the water is high enough and there aren’t too many people around.

But there should be more regulations to protect them, with less people in the water at one time (you regularly see 15 or more people, often not good swimmers, spatially aware or responsible, crowding the sharks) or maybe a guide or 2 to watch over them.
I’ve seen people act recklessly around them. One guy I saw hold a shark by its tail, the shark thrashing as hard as it could to try to get away. Another guy was holding a shark’s dorsal fin as he was swimming.
So the nurse sharks at Compass are wonderful animals, gentle and entertaining (and they help dispel the myth that all sharks want to eat you), but they are also the perfect example of the pitfalls of wildlife tourism, and one can only hope they won’t be loved to death. Or suffer organ failure from overeating!

“Lady Hook”, the first tiger shark I ever dove with — at "Tiger Beach", which is immensely famous for tiger sharks (and tiger shark diving) and not an actual beach at all; but rather a sandbank about a 45-minute cruise from shore.

Our guide, a very brave and somewhat crazy Brazilian shark feeder (“shark wrangler”) named Beto, told us the name “Lady Hook” came simply from the fact that she was female, and she had a hook in her mouth.
The majority of sharks that come in for feeding are female… and many are repeat customers that feeders have named and easily recognize.
The most famous one, which is very commonly photographed – a famous model at this point, is known as Emma.

The next times I saw Lady Hook the hook was much smaller. (I’ve been told some modern hooks are biodegradable.)

Those fish in front of her are small bar jacks, not pilot fish. Pilot fish are bigger — and black and white.

The feeders and guides tell you to never take your eyes off the tiger sharks, particularly as they move past you, because sometimes they can be tricky.
But Lady Hook was extremely calm and not domineering at all the day this photograph was taken.

I have a real soft spot for sharks. Out of over 350 species only a very small number could be considered “dangerous”.
While only six to eight people die from shark attacks around the world every year, we kill 100 million sharks or more on a yearly basis.
The high estimate is 273 million.

I have only felt threatened a very small number of times over the course of dozens of shark dives.

This image was taken from inside a cage on a trip with Brian Skerry from National Geographic, who published multiple
stories on sharks over the years, and particularly on great whites, tigers and oceanic whitetips recently.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared of the great whites even while observing them from the safety of a cage.
JAWS or no JAWS I think I would find them very menacing-looking no matter what. Toothy, powerful,
fearless, with pitch-black eyes... Sadly, I don’t see the same beauty in great whites that I see in other sharks.

The big ones in the Neptune Islands are 5 meters long (and sometimes a little longer) and, as a guide said,
the major difference you notice between a 4-meter shark and a 5-meter shark is the girth — a much thicker body and
fatter stomach — and not so much the length.

Brian’s photographs from that trip are, as one would expect, fantastic.
Unfortunately I have only perhaps 3 nice images out of about 5 sharky days.
I got very sick on the New York - Los Angeles flight I took, my cameras weren’t always going off (I upgraded after the trip) and, to top it all off, my dry-suit flooded on one of the dives!

Nearly all the famous Australian great white pictures used to come from Dangerous Reef; but it seems like they are increasingly
Being taken at the Neptune Islands.

Great whites are protected in Australia. They have reportedly suffered a 92% decline in Queensland.
The IUCN Red List categorizes the species as “vulnerable”.

Much as I enjoy this image, and it’s one of my best, all I really see here is a number of smudges
or undesirable gunk floating about in front of the camera…
That site has very fine sand, which you and other divers tend to kick up, and which the sharks also move when they come to eat.
In this image one can see grains of sand floating around.

One reason this photograph is interesting perhaps is that hammerhead teeth are rarely seen from this angle… and this specific
hammerhead was badly in need of an orthodontist!

There’s one thing I find fascinating about hammerheads – and also manta rays – which is that it can be hard to distinguish where
The eye starts and how it’s separate from the body. Their eyes sometimes look completely blended with the rest of them.

About a third of all the sharks I see in the Bahamas have a hook stuck in their mouths, and some a line trailing behind them as well.
We have silky sharks, which are the sleekest and most beautiful sharks I know, less than 10 minutes away from home.
There are nearly always two or three at the surface of the dive site we call “Silky”. Since we started feeding on dives there we now sometimes get
6 or 7 to come.
Silkies are very fast and often surprise me – swimming straight to my strobes or body and descending from the surface to 10 meters below in a couple of seconds.
They look wonderful with flash!
We see them on our December and April trips; but they don’t seem to be there in July. They must not like the warmer water.

The silkies we have in the Bahamas are quite small. The biggest one I’ve seen was about a meter 20; but most are less than a meter long.
Yet silky sharks can grow to 2.5 meters, and I have seen big ones in the Galapagos.

Silkies are increasingly being caught for the shark fin trade.

My friend Trevor and I had gone to Yap mainly to see manta rays, which the island is very famous for
And which I saw hundreds of in 1992 and 2000. We didn’t see any mantas at all, though we also
Didn’t look for them at “cleaning stations” very often. But we did go on a nice shark dive there.
About 8 blacktip reefs (which I think should be called “black over white tip reefs”!) and 4 grey reef sharks came.

Despite the name of this dive site, which we visit very often, Caribbean Reef Sharks are generally considered very safe
To dive with.

These particular sharks are fed often by tour operators and live-aboard dive boats. They and a number of enormous
Groupers at the bottom are always at the site, waiting to stuff their faces.

We usually see anywhere between 3 and 6 sharks right at the surface when we arrive at the site, and one of
The challenges there is not to land on a shark when you jump or back-roll into the ocean!

Since I first started visiting this site about nine years ago the sharks have become bolder and closed a lot of the distance
They used to keep from divers. People have been rushed by sharks there recently. Evidence perhaps that overexposure to anything
(in this case sharks overexposed to people!) can be a bad thing. And that teaching animals to associate humans with food can also be an ill.