Diving with great white sharks at Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

Diving with great white sharks at Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

Trip Dates: November 6-12, 2004
Agent/Vessel: Great White Adventures (Lawrence Groth)/The Searcher
Visit Site(s): Guadalupe Island, Baja California, Mexico
Staff: Lawrence Groth (owner), Scott Davis (researcher) + Searcher staff

Participants: Al Pelgus, Andrea Ferarri (Italy), Bob Lojkovic, David Ho, Douglas David Seifert, Eric Cheng, Fabrizio Boccolini (Italy), George Hughes, Jim and Anna Abernethy, Leandro Blanco (Spain), Manu San Felix (Spain), Maris "Kaz" and Marilyn Kazmers, Osvaldo Ballabio (Italy), Walt Stearns

Context

Until a few years ago, photographers and shark lovers took long flights to South Africa and Southern Australia, often braving weeks of harsh weather and rough seas to get a fleeting glimpse of a great white shark underwater. These days, photographers are flocking to Isla Guadalupe in Baja California, Mexico, because it offers nearly guaranteed white shark encounters in clear, blue water. Granted, there is no dramatic breeching and predation like you might see at the Farallon Islands or off of South Africa, but for underwater encounters with white sharks, there is nothing else like it. Where else can you be surrounded by four or five 12-14' white sharks in 100' vis? This is the reason white shark trips to Guadalupe (which are on modestly equipped fishing vessels) are the most expensive liveaboard dive trips in the world. However, if you're thinking that a white shark trip to Guadalupe too expensive, they probably won't miss your business. Charters are fully booked over a year in advance.

Saturday, November 6, 2004

22:39 - We boarded The Searcher this morning at Fisherman's Landing in San Diego, and were underway (loaded up with bait fish and chum) by about noon. The charter I'm on was organized by Jim and Anna Abernethy through Lawrence Groth at Great White Adventures. I happen to already know many of the 16 guests, including Maris "Kaz" and Marilyn Kazmers, Douglas David Seifert, Osvaldo Ballabio, Walt Stearns, Leandro Blanco, David Ho, and Jim and Anna themselves. And some of the others (e.g. Manu San Felix) I've heard a lot about.

The Searcher at port in San Diego

The Searcher at port in San Diego

Most of the last ten hours have been spent eating, sleeping, familiarizing ourselves with the vessel and crew, setting up all of our fancy gear, and chatting about various interesting dive-related subjects. This charter has set a new record for Lawrence and Great White Adventures because there are 40 cameras on board! Every single guest is a photographer or videographer, and many of us shoot professionally. The cages will probably crowded with wandering strobe arms, but the vibe so far is a good one, and I'm sure that it is going to be a fantastic week.

Researcher Scott Davis gives a talk on white shark tagging

Researcher Scott Davis gives a talk on white shark tagging

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

13:25 - By 11:40am on Sunday the 7th, we had arrived at Guadalupe, lowered the cages into the water, and gone through all of the briefings necessary to maximize safety. We dive in two groups of one-hour shifts, and Jimmy, Anna, David, and I were assigned to the starboard cage in Team 2.

Arrival at Guadalupe Island

Arrival at Guadalupe Island

Suiting up for cage time

Suiting up for cage time

Deploying shark cages in the water

Deploying shark cages in the water

As Team 1 was being pulled out of the water at 12:40pm, the first great white shark arrived on scene and took a large chunk out of one of the hang baits! Team 2 dropped into the cages and started snapping photographs immediately. By the end of our first rotation, three white sharks were circling the cages and were coming in consistently on the bait. These were the first white shark encounters for many of the guests on board, so there was a lot of cheering going on. Especially exciting was when a white shark hit the cage right where Jimmy and I had our cameras (and arms) sticking out of the bars. It was exciting because neither of us saw the thing before it made contact with us. :) Anna was to our right, but she was busy shooting away and neglected to do the requisite poke/kick/squeal when a shark is spotted.

A great white shark next to the cages 

A great white shark next to the cages 

A white shark approaches the shark cages, underwater 

A white shark approaches the shark cages, underwater 

Jim Abernethy takes video of a passing white shark

Jim Abernethy takes video of a passing white shark

So far, Monday and Tuesday have been a bit slow. Yesterday, over eight different individuals (including three that none of the crew had seen before) were in the water around the boat, but they stayed below the cages for most of the day and didn't make many close passes near the cages. Lawrence has a third, one-man cage on board (a.k.a. the Chum Bucket) that is lowered to about 20' in depth; a single diver stands on the top of the cage, observing the sharks while a safety diver (Lawrence or Scott) supervises. I loved being in that lower cage. It's rare to be able to observe great white sharks from their level or below, and the sharks that were in the water with me routinely came by and circled slowly. Unfortunately, the visibility was horrible, clouds filled the sky, and none of them have come closer than about 15' away. Still, it was very thrilling.

In the evening, we motored south along Guadalupe and did our first four and a half hours of chumming this morning along the southern tip of the island. Nothing arrived, so we moved even further south until we were sitting just north of La Afuera (Outer Rock), which lunges up from the water -- huge, red, and girthy (although the north side of La Afuera is covered with muted greenish growth). Again, no luck! So now, we're continuing around the other side of the island back to the cove where we had luck before. A seven-day trip allows for this sort of exploration, but along with that luxury comes an element of risk as well.

Thursday, November 10, 2004

Not much happened in the morning; a couple of sharks were around, but they didn't seem interested in the hang baits at all. The seas are rougher today as well, and all of us are getting beat up in the cages. It is especially difficult to be in rough waters with a large camera because most of us hold our cameras by sticking our arms outside of the cage, and it can sometimes be difficult to maneuver when positioned in such a manner. The other two boats here had to pull their cages because their cage designs cannot be maintained in seas as rough as the Searcher's design can. At least we could get in the water!

At around 1pm, the sharks got frisky. Some large females were in the water, and one of them has a school of pilot fish swimming with her. Lawrence has noted that only female white sharks here seem to keep company with pilot fish, and so far we have observed the same thing. I dropped in the cage with Anna just after 1pm, and we had the time of our lives: four white sharks were hanging out around us, making *very* close passes, but not necessarily hitting the hang baits. Most of the sharks approached us from the bow of the boat, and many approached from deep water -- my favorite approach, because they shoot up out of the dark blue with their toothy grins aimed directly at us. Some females are so fat that their nose and jaws look tiny when they approach straight on. Some of the sharks are fat, too.

Saturday, November 12, 2004

It took us 24.5 hours to make it back to San Diego, and the seas were pretty rough. We had to slow down because the bow of the Searcher was becoming airborne over some of the larger swells. Exciting. :)