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May 23, 2006

Navigating among basking sharks

BY: maureen

May 6, 2006

Today they have spoilt an hour’s shut-eye. Thank goodness! If they had not done so I would have torn their hearts out. My watch runs from eight to twelve, but at seven in the morning I jumped out of bed with the sleep still sitting heavy on my eyelids. What in the name of all that is holy did they want? Well, what had they spotted but a group of somewhere between three and five basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) peacefully feeding, without a worry in the world, right up against the Ranger. In a mere ten minutes the whole crew had been mobilised and the divers were preparing their equipment to try and get a few photo’s and do some shooting. We had filmed them from the deck at our will. Then came the attempt to come up close to one of the sharks in the water, a seven-metre-long specimen. A thrilling moment!

Jorge and Houssine (Huss) have gone down together. Huss has the photo camera and Jorge is manning the video. The shark is minding its own business, eating thousands and thousands of plankton with its open-mouth filtering system, as if it were a metro station, while its gill slits act as a kind of organic sieve. Skill rather than brute force have determined the course of the battle, given that in terms of the latter we have completely lost before even starting. We have brought the Ranger up to about 50 m from the nearest shark. Huss and Jorge have smoothly and calmly swum up to the target. The powerful animal kept at a distance which precluded getting a clear shot of him. I think he must hate the paparazzi, but what he doesn’t understand is that we are on his side, and like him, our men are cold-blooded creatures (as can be easily attested to by the fact that they went right up to the shark’s mouth, which when open measures some one metre in height!).

Carlos Pérez–Onboard the Ranger, heading for the north of Corsica.

After a number of failed attempts, the shark heads towards Jorge once again and this time instead of trying to get close up, Jorge has held on until the last minute and just as the shark is beginning its manoeuvre to change direction, Jorge has swiftly moved to catch up with him and has met with success. The shark came up as close as three metres to him and he has managed to get some marvellous shots of the animal swimming open-mouthed. Huss was on the other side of the shark, which also came up close to him after Jorge had managed to “catch” it. On film that is. The shark felt trapped, and by way of a thrash of its tail it dived under both. “Fare ye well, paparazzi, I’m off to put some distance between me and your cameras“.

We picked up our divers and after the normal and routine gathering and cleaning of equipment we went on our way. Well, today was the basking sharks’ day. We have seen fifteen or more and have tried to film them again, but this time the water was full of plankton and the water was not clear enough to allow for filming. For the second time, our divers have only managed to capture the image of this powerful and awe-inspiring animal live on their retina. Nothing more!

Ah! I forgot to tell you. We have the sharks with their backs against the wall so to speak, while many another of their species is in danger of extinction. It would seem that quite a lot of people are of the opinion that there is no problem, while others are asking what we are doing with their fins, perhaps something technological, but there is no proof as of yet. I would advise the sharks that if they come across other less friendly paparazzi than Huss and Jorge that they get the hell away from them, given that a lot of people would be only too glad to do away with them, while others say its got nothing to do with them.

There is another solution. Let’s give them a hand. It doesn’t matter how. Whatever way you can think of in order to prevent such barbarous acts. Enough is enough!

Carlos Pérez–Onboard the Ranger, heading for the north of Corsica.