I am struggling to find a way to explain this trip, as my words do not do these remarkable creatures the justice they deserve, but I will try my best.
Now back in Byron Bay, I am at my preferred local coffee shop getting the caffeine I need to start the day. As it was only a week ago that I was charged up from all the natural highs that come with seeing a dinosaur in the aqua blue waters that circulate around the Neptune Islands in South Australia.
The adventure began at the local pub in Port Lincoln where my girlfriend and I were anxiously awaiting our pick up for the trip of a lifetime. As we waited we started talking between ourselves about who else at the pub may be joining us on the voyage.
In no time at all Chris the deckhand from Rodney Fox Expeditions arrived and had all our bags loaded in the back of his ute. He advised us that we could walk to where the boat was moored just a few hundred meters away which was great as we were able to have a couple brief conversations with the fellow passengers that we would be sharing these experiences with.
Once aboard the Princess II we all signed our lives away as the crew sighted our dive licenses. I remember looking at my girl and feeling fantastic as the trip that we had talked about since meeting almost a year ago was upon us. In all the commotion of leaving the dock we were introduced to the small number of crew that would make this trip a reality. All the crew where fabulous and knowledgeable but Andrew Fox stood out to me as a star. His life is one big adventure, as from a very young age Andrew has been interacting with the sharks like siblings, and it shows.
Now the trip to the Neptune’s was full of many tremendous moments but in order to keep you all from heading back to Facebook or the TV I will skip forward a day so I can tell you about the sharks. My first real encounter was early morning from the back of the boat and I was finally star struck. Funnily enough it wasn’t a famous actor or sporting legend but a magnificent, unchanged apex predator, the Great White Shark. Wow, I had to get Michelle and of course the camera.
The sharks that we saw were not the massive females that you see in winter but males that were still around three to four and a half metres in length. The movements of these animals were so graceful and mesmerizing that I couldn’t take my eyes off them. One thing that really astounded me was how they just seemed to appear right behind me out of nowhere. Soon enough the whole boat was out on the back deck in awe of this creature.
A few minutes later, the crew submerged the surface viewing cage and we all watched it moving turbulently with the swell. Once it was ready they asked who was heading in first and to my surprise I was really happy just watching the sharks from the surface. So I just waited till the first few people had been under before I got wet. Once in the cage everything changed. It felt like I was a ragdoll being pulled in every direction by the increasing swell. How was I ever going to shoot the images I was after in these conditions, I asked myself. Then out of nowhere a big male shark appeared right in front of my mask. There it was, so beautiful and powerful like the sea that surrounded him.
After a few seconds of enjoying the moment I started to shoot. Giving one hand to the cage and the other to my trigger I tried and tried. A few good shots did come from that first session. Nevertheless after reviewing my images I realized that I needed to get the camera closer and out of the cage so I could get a shot without the metal confines of the bars that kept me safe.
With my newfound technique I plunged to the ocean floor inside the bottom cage. A small crane off the side of the boat lowers the cage to a depth of about 25 metres. The only issue was that the swell on the surface made the cage bob up and down like a teabag. Being down at depth you get a totally different look and feel of the sharks; they seemed to be more chilled but extra curious of us. We did a few other dives on that first day but it wasn’t till the next morning when the weather had cleared and the best diving was about to happen that I started to get in my groove.
Michelle and I made the most of these conditions and were the first in the cage that morning. We were rewarded by some amazing moments that will last a lifetime. One thing that I loved about the surface cage was the remarkable light that shimmered all over the sharks and left stunning rays of light piercing to the depths.
That day seemed to be filled with remarkable dives and surreal moments both under the surface and above. But reality soon caught up and the day came to a close as we started heading for port. While this trip was ending I felt something change in me. I felt terrible about how humans are wiping out these pristine creatures along with many more right before our eyes. If only more of the world could see what I saw and begin to understand that we as a race don’t have the right to kill something purely because we are afraid of it when we go into its home.
[All images used in this article are by and copyrighted to Matt Shepherd of aquaseen.com]