"So who's gonna be the first one in? You?!" Captain John's finger was pointed right at me...
So let me back up a little bit to how this all came about. So my amazing older brother, Ted, bought me a shark dive for my birthday/Christmas present (any other Christmas babies out there??). His one condition was that I capture some sick shots. I have had my SPL water housing for several months now and have gotten to mess around with it plenty, but mostly just in the waves on shore, and with either no subject or with human subjects...never with a wild creature subject like a SHARK. Despite my inexperience with this kind of photography, I was incredibly stoked to take on the challenge!
I have never been one to be deathly scared of sharks. In fact, you can ask any of my closest high school friends and they'll tell you that I wouldn't mind a nice shark bite scar somewhere on my body...I mean if it happens, it happens...ya know? And growing up on the east coast of Florida my whole life, I just understood that you're more than likely wading in the shoreline water with sharks swimming all around you without you even knowing it. Regardless, it is a little intimidating as you're preparing yourself to swim right next to these amazing ocean creatures, on purpose. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little freaked out about it. However, I can honestly say that I was the most scared before I even left my house to head for the dive. From the minute I arrived, there really weren't many nerves! Maybe some as I was dangling my feet over the boat to slip into the water to join my soon-to-be shark friends. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself...here's how the day went:
My camera battery had been charging over night, and everything else I needed was packed and ready to go. I was feeling the nervous excitement as I ran around the house gathering last minute things like my water bottle (gotta stay hydrated), sun screen, and a couple of tangerines to snack on for later. I headed out the door and made my way to a marina in Jupiter where I found a small group of people waiting under a tiki hut. While we waited for a few minutes for the last couple of people to arrive, I put together my housing, being as cautious as ever to make sure there was no room for leaks! Before I knew it, Capt. John had our group of about 9 walking down the ramp and onto the boat. After finding a place to sit, he went over a few details and really put any remaining nerves at ease, except for when he told me my bright yellow housing would really attract the sharks to me, but all I had to do was knock them in the nose with it to push them away...
So we pushed off the dock and headed for the jetty, which was definitely the roughest part! The Jupiter jetty plays no games! The waves were massive, and the spray drenched us. My sunglasses really didn't serve a purpose any more because of the salty spray! Finally, we made it out and it was a bit smoother sailing until we reached "the spot." The first thing they did was toss over the boat a crate of tuna and let it down about 80 feet until it was hovering over the ocean floor. This attracted the sharks to our spot, and then they threw chunks of bait onto the surface to attract them up. Despite the seagulls stealing some of the chum right out of the water, within 5-10 minutes, 2 or 3 lemon sharks had already made an appearance. Capt. John reviewed a few more details to keep in mind while we suited up and got our gear ready.
"So who's gonna be the first one in? You?!" Capt. John's finger was pointed right at me...I said "I can be!" So I pulled down my mask, swung my feet over the edge of the boat, and slid into the water. (Capt. John was kind enough to hand me my camera once I got in the water.) So that was it! I was in the water with sharks...my first thought wasn't to look around for them though, my first thought was to swim out of the way so everyone else could jump in. So I slid down the line they had out for us, and started taking some shots to make sure my lighting was okay.
I was getting the hang of it and just kept shooting and shooting! All I wanted was to just get some photos that were in focus and clear, but I couldn't tell exactly how they were turning out. It wasn't too long until we were totally surrounded by lemon sharks on all sides. They were in front of me, next to me, below me...I was actually accidentally kicking them with my fins! They would come so close that they could touch me! But they weren't aggressive, in fact, they were quite gentle, and very beautiful to watch!
After about an hour of snorkeling with my new friends, I was the last to get back on the boat to get ready to head back. But the trip wasn't quite over yet. Once we were all out of the water and back on the boat, Capt. John threw the remaining bate into the water, where there were now about 14 lemon sharks. This was a sight to see! Now we got to see their more aggressive side. Capt. John tied a piece of fish to a rope and dangled it over the side of the boat right in front of the sharks. All at once they would try to get the bait, basically biting and falling all over each other! And finally, it was time to head back to the dock. (Some in the group got sea sick and I'm sure were relieved to be heading back - although they still said it was an amazing experience!)
This was seriously the experience of a lifetime!!! I cannot thank my brother enough for giving me the opportunity to do this! The whole time I was in the water, I just couldn't believe it was happening! The sharks were such incredible creatures and I was truly in awe of their beauty and power. The entire rest of the day (really the rest of the week) I was unbelievably happy and filled with joy and enthusiasm for life! I know that may sound kind of weird to some of you, but there was just something about being able to swim alongside such powerful, and often times misunderstood creatures that gave me a rush.
The ocean and the life that dwells in it have always been exciting and life-giving to me, and that has only grown after this shark dive.
P.S. I highly recommend listening to Saltwater by Geowulf while scrolling through.
Shark diving company: Florida Shark Diving