Have you ever wondered what it’s like to come face to face with one of the world’s most notorious predators? Perhaps you watched JAWS and were instantly captivated, or maybe for you great white sharks are the stuff of nightmares… No matter what your view, there is one thing you can’t deny and that’s that these epic sharks fascinate us.
Personally, I love sharks. I love the grace they have when they move through the water, the stories that surround them and the way their fins cut through the surface like a razor. There are few things as spectacular as watching a great white shark fly out of the water and somersault in the air during a breaching event. My first encounter with a white shark was in South Africa’s iconic Shark Alley but after hearing stories of Guadalupe, with its water so clear it’s like looking through glass, I was desperate to take the plunge again.
After graduating from San Diego State University with a B.Sc degree in Marine Biology my dad gave me the world’s best graduation gift, a 6 day live-aboard photography trip to Isla Guadalupe in search of Great White Sharks. Here are my 9 top reasons why a trip to Guadalupe to come face to face with a white shark should be at the top of your bucket list!
1) OBSERVE ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST SPECTACULAR PREDATORS IN ACTION
We all know the stories that surround these commanding apex predators, but there is nothing that compares to watching these magnificent animals in person. Observing Great White Sharks off Isla Guadalupe gives you the opportunity to admire their beautiful streamline movements and the incredible power they use to glide through the water. You can even observe the constant adjustments of behaviour that occur in an attempt to outwit the Wrangler poised above watching for shadows in the water. (SPOILER ALERT: if he attacks from the deep the Wrangler misses him every time, so have your camera ready.)
2) CRYSTAL CLEAR WATER
There are few places in the world where the water is described as having a gin-like quality. From the top deck of the Nautilus Belle Amie you can watch the sharks circling the divers below as if looking through a glass window. This incredible 125-150ft visibility gives you the ability to see every detail of the great whites as they pass by your cage; with water this clear you can even count the rows of razor sharp teeth. Be warned though, this water is icy to the touch! Be sure to pack lots of layers to warm up between dives. A windbreaker you can throw on over your wetsuit between dives and a woolly hat will be greatly appreciated if you plan on making multiple back to back dives! During the dives you will also want a well fitting 7mm semi dry wetsuit or drysuit. I used a Scuba Pro 7.5mm Semi Dry I love this design because the side pockets are perfect for storing lens caps and the semi dry design keeps you warm in even the coldest of water. I also used a 4th element hood, gloves and dive boots. I love their Get a Grip gloves because it’s easy to operate my camera without feeling as though I’m getting frost bite in my fingers.
3) COUNTLESS PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES
If you are so lucky as to have the opportunity to take the plunge this is not the time you want to leave your camera behind. Well constructed cages allow the perfect amount of space to accommodate even the widest of dome ports. But whether you are a professional photographer or borrowing your brother’s GoPro you are guaranteed to get some spectacular photo opportunities. I used the Lumix GH4 with a 7-14mm lens and a Nauticam housing. This camera is great underwater especially if you like doing video as well as photography. Its compact design makes it easy to throw into a backpack when travelling, it’s capable of 4K video and is wifi enabled allowing you to upload your photos as you travel!
4) A HUGE ABUNDANCE OF SHARKS MEANS AN INFINITE NUMBER OF SHARK ENCOUNTERS
Isla Guadalupe is a volcanic island located off Mexico in the Pacific Ocean. To get to this secluded island it takes a full day’s boat travel and the crossing can have rolling seas so have your sea sickness medication ready! I recommend carrying a combination of drowsy and non drowsy medication. The drowsy medications can be stronger making them ideal for the crossing there and back, but during your diving days a non drowsy remedy may be necessary if you get sea sick from small ocean movements.
There are 229 identified great white sharks that visit this bay making it a popular filming location for Shark Week and the National Geographic. It is even possible you will run into some well known characters such as ‘Scarboard’ with her unusually cartoon like shape or ‘Bruce’ a frequent star in Shark Week who boasts a 16ft length. Photo ID books were made available on the boat so we were able to find out the names of the sharks we encountered each day. These informative guides are also available for purchase with a donation going towards shark research so you can introduce all your friends to your favorites or compare photos back at home.
5) PROFESSIONALLY RAN AND SAFE ORGANIZATIONS
During my photography trip to Isla Guadalupe I used the Nautilus Belle Amie, a wonderful ship with an incredible crew. The dive masters were enthusiastic and professional at all times and with multiple marine biologists on board there was always someone available to answer questions. With a well planned rotation schedule there were plenty of dive opportunities and it was always clear that the crew made safety the highest priority leaving you free to relax and enjoy your dive! The food on board was also amazing, I still dream of their banana walnut breakfast muffins and there’s even a Hot tub/Jacuzzi on the top deck so you can warm up after a long day of diving! I also travelled with Nautilus to the stunning Socorro Islands, this time on the Nautilus explorer. Both ships run Guadalupe trips and both are equipped to an impeccable standard so no matter which boat is available you can expect fantastic facilities, brilliant staff and a wonderfully ran organization.
6) SURFACE AND CAGE ACTION
Whether you’re an accomplished SCUBA diver or just want to give shark diving a try there are plenty of opportunities to get in on the action. The Nautilus Belle Amie was equipped with 3 submersible cages for SCUBA divers and 2 surface cages that can even be used by those who are not SCUBA qualified, which means everyone can have a first class view of the action. You can even get some great shots from on deck. When the sharks come in for the bait expect to see lots of beautiful fins cutting through the surface and if you’re lucky, jaws breaching the water.
7) CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
On an active day get ready for some serious close ups. These big sharks are filled with curiosity and if you’re lucky will be circling your cage throughout your entire dive! You may even be fortunate enough to get close enough to see the incredible deep blue irises these magnificent sharks possess. The sex of the sharks can have a large impact on just how energetic they are. For boisterous energetic males you should plan your trip around July or August. But if it’s the big females, the true giants of the ocean, that spike your interest then October is the perfect time to come face to face with a great white.
8) THE OPPORTUNITY TO CONTRIBUTE TO SHARK SCIENTISTS WORK
The great white shark population of Isla Guadalupe is closely studied by scientists and you may notice that many of these beautiful sharks have been tagged. Diving at Isla Guadalupe gives you the incredible opportunity to contribute to the ongoing research of documenting and recording each individual shark that visits the bay. By taking high quality profile photos of sharks you can determine the shark’s identity by looking through the extensive photo records of sharks and looking for specific markings. If you can capture an image of a new individual you can even be awarded with the privilege of naming your own shark! I am proud to be a young Ambassador for The Watermen Project, a shark conservation team, so if shark conservation peaks your interest follow our shark research on Instagram.
9) MEMORIES THAT WILL LAST A LIFE TIME
Great White Shark diving is a mesmerising, exhilarating experience. It truly will leave you breathless and then turn you into a storyteller. These magnificent animals are like no other in the water. What at first may seem like a scary exterior is quickly transformed into a species of pure beauty. You cannot help but marvel at their strength, grace and immense size. Being able to stand and observe these predators in such pristine conditions is truly a blessing and an experience I will treasure forever. I’m already saving up the money for my next trip below the surface, Danger Reef anyone?
Have you ever been diving with Great White Sharks? We’d love to hear your stories, tips or questions in the comment section below!
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