Archive for silky

The Dark Room

Posted in conservation, news, photography, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2012 by shawnheinrichs

Warning – The following contains imagery that depicts the hard truth.

My soul was blackened. Where once I had seen light at the end of the tunnel, now there was only darkness engulfing me. How had mankind gone so far off the track, engaging in such barbaric acts, willful cruelty and reckless destruction? Nature has given us so many incredible gifts, but rather than cherish and protect them, we have set out to systematically eradicate them.

Fighting on the frontlines of shark conservation can be a lonely, frustrating and often depressing experience. In July of 2011, I had just returned from a long string of investigations focused on the shark fin and manta ray gill-raker trade. With a decade of environmental investigation experience under my belt, I have seen just about every imaginable act of cruelty and wanton destruction. Through these hard experiences I have learned to separate myself, developing an alter ego as it were, to cope in the heat of the moment and not subject myself to increased danger.

Over the years I have convinced myself that these two personas can coexist in harmony, that my thick skin and polished armor would safeguard my soul from the effects of the ugliness I have witnessed. I feared that if it the blackness seeped through a crack in my armor, it would poison my soul and I would lose the path. Folks often ask me what it is like to work on frontlines and how do I keep it up. I respond with a safe confident answer that I get used to it, that I maintain professional detachment, keep my cool, focus on the job at hand, and I don’t internalize it.

In the face of such destruction, I walk a fine line between bitter reality and hope. My job is to expose the destruction as a wake up call to the world, but also to preserve hope in the future; that mankind will wake up, will change and things will get better. I call this approach ‘strong medicine in small doses’. The problem is, in the process of collecting these ‘small doses’ I have had to expose myself to massive and prolonged doses. And as no surprise, this extreme exposure has proven toxic and painful and only now am I realizing this.

I live in a world of imagery. I am obsessed with the visual sense and addicted to the process of capturing powerful images. I am a storyteller and imagery is my medium. My ambition is to somehow get my camera to capture what my soul experiences through my eyes, an enhanced version of reality, order in chaos, focused, isolated and profound.

I present the following images and captions as a form of self-therapy; my way of explaining the investigation world I experience, as seen through my eyes, and the darkness that accompanies it.

I call this collection of images THE DARK ROOM

Raja Ampat, Indonesia – After 6 years defending our No-Take-Zone against poachers we intercept a shark boat on the boundary of the protected area. In the water, I look into the lifeless eye of a one of our sharks that had grown up in the safety of the protected area, only to suffocate and die in a gill net, its fins to be sliced off and body discarded.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia – Gill nets rake the fragile reefs on the seafloor trapping sharks and rays. My eyes follow the net as it rolls up and over the side o the boat. I watch desperate fishermen pull in the net, laboring against the weight of a Guitar Ray struggling to free itself, exhausted on the brink of survival.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia – The bodies of grey reef sharks pile up on the deck of the gill net boat illegally fishing for sharks in the MPA. After 6 years successfully thwarting poachers, the depletion of sharks throughout Indonesia drives fishermen to target the last remaining shark stocks in marine protected areas.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia – I step back as a young fisherman tosses the lifeless body of a juvenile gray reef shark onto a pile of dead sharks and rays. No shark is too small to be spared from the cruelty of the shark fin trade.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia – Like some ancient tribal masks, I stare at heads of sharks and rays drying on the roof of this shark boat caught illegally fishing in the MPA. Hammerheads, Guitar Rays and other endangered species are among the victims of this senseless slaughter.

East Flores, Indonesia – Motoring across the calm waters in the early morning light, we come upon a local fishing boat. My eyes lock on the dark beautiful eye of a lifeless Pelagic Thresher shark staring up at me, its skin a glistening gold in the warm morning sun. The value of the fins from this endangered shark are driving the mass slaughter of the species in this region.

East Flores, Indonesia – An excited village boy holds up a fetal Scalloped Hammerhead, cut from the belly of a large mature female, and like a toy, the children toss it around. In this remote village, any large marine animal is a target for the spears of the hunters. Later this fetal shark is discarded on the beach, only to be engulfed by the rising tide, lost forever.

East Flores, Indonesia – I survey the tails cut from hundreds of Pelagic Thresher sharks, now drying in the sun in preparation for shipment to Surabaya and Jakarta fin traders. In just 2 months, thousands of these sharks are landed in this village to satisfy the insatiable demand for shark fins in China.

Lombok, Indonesia – Longline vessels, often illegally fishing in Australian waters, dump the bodies of sharks into the water. I cringe as porters drive gaff hooks into the lifeless bodies, heft the sharks on the shoulders, and carry them to the auction. Everyday sharks are landed here, targeted for their fins.

Lombok, Indonesia – No shark is spared. I kneel down to examine this pile of baby Hammerhead sharks auctioned for sale in the street of the market. Never to grow to maturity, these small sharks bear witness to the insanity of the trade.

Lombok, Indonesia – The auction area fills as shark after shark is dumped on the filthy floor. Amongst the landings this day are 18 Tiger sharks, taken from a single reef. One fisherman confides in me that these Tigers were caught on a newly discovered reef where they had never before fished. In one day they stripped out all of them, generations of these sharks lost forever.

Lombok, Indonesia – No fin is too small. Fins are sliced from baby sharks and tossed in a pile at my feet. With populations of mature sharks so depleted, fishermen now target juvenile and baby sharks to satisfy the shark fin trade. Even these fishermen know that shark populations are collapsing.

Manta, Ecuador – Hammerhead sharks are landed as “bycatch” in longline fisheries off Manta Ecuador. In reality, industrial fishing fleets have so depleted tuna stocks that fishermen now turn to sharks as their primary targets. Fins from sharks captured in these directed fisheries head straight to Asia.

Manta, Ecuador – Mass slaughter. Blue, Thresher and Mako sharks are hacked apart on the beach in front of my eyes. Blood spatters my legs as body parts are tossed in piles. Whereas meat is of very little value, the fins fetch huge profits. This grizzly scene plays out each day on the bloody beaches of Manta.

Manta, Ecuador - Alone on a remote beach on foreign soil with camera in hand, shark bodies piled up all around, an angry fisherman wields around and in a rage thrusts his razor sharp machete under my chin, shouting words in a language I don’t understand. This is no place for fear, weakness, regret or any of those emotions we have the luxury of feeling in the safety of our everyday lives. You engage, become part of it, blend in and eliminate any concern that you are a threat… you do this or do you don’t last long in this game.

Kesennuma, Japan – The largest scale shark landings I have ever witnessed, thousands of sharks are unloaded from industrial longline vessels and lined up on the concrete floor in preparation for auction.

Kesennuma, Japan – Organized chaos, pile upon pile - I watch in disbelief as literally thousands of Blue Sharks are stacked in neat piles in preparation for auction. With a ruthless efficiency, the industrial shark fishery is taking a devastating toll on pelagic sharks populations – the scale of this destruction is simply beyond comprehension.

Kesennuma, Japan – The face of the 100 million. Blood soaked floors, the stench almost unbearable, hundreds of salmon sharks are lined up, weighed and then their fins are sliced off. I reflect that in this one port alone, millions of sharks are landed each year. Then the depressing reality hits me, the estimated 100 million sharks landed globally is likely an understatement. We don’t have much time.

Tung Kang, Taiwan – I watch as close to 100 ‘dressed’ shark carcasses are unloaded from a Taiwanese long-range longline vessel. The conspicuously missing heads and fins disguise the fact that these were once beautiful, awesome predators.

Tung Kang, Taiwan – Looking into the sad eye of a butchered Hammerhead, lying alone on the filthy concrete floor, it strikes me how this brutalized animal reflects the true consequences of the shark fin trade. For every set of fins, this is the cost.

Tung Kang, Taiwan – Longline hook still embedded in it lifeless jaw, this Hammerhead provides just a glimpse into the reality of industrial longline fisheries.

Tung Kang, Taiwan –Grotesquely fascinating, this orderly stack of Hammerhead corpses disguise a vicious reality, that hammerhead populations have been depleted by as much as 99% in some regions, ravaged by unbridled longline fisheries.

Tung Kang, Taiwan - Finned and gutted, the bodies of Hammerhead and Silky sharks are scattered on the filthy floor of the port. Though the fins are valuable, the meat is worth relatively little.

Tung Kang, Taiwan –Staring into the dark, beautiful eyes of these Mako and Thresher sharks, I am reminded how they are targeted intensively for their valuable fins and meat, and as a consequence, their populations have been severely depleted.

Tung Kang, Taiwan – What is the cost of the shark fin trade? For every set of fins, a powerful and graceful predator was needlessly slaughtered.

Tung Kang, Taiwan – Sliced, sorted and priced for sale, the Ocean’s apex predators are reduced to this, a basket of fins.

Tung Kang, Taiwan – As this man sorts through thousands of fins, I have to imagine that he doesn’t truly understand the significance of the industrial engine of destruction of which he is a participant

Tung Kang, Taiwan – Ignoring the longlines, the commercial fishing vessels, the ports, the processing facilities, all of it – I focus on what is driving the destruction – the absurd demand for shark fins that has fueled a global epidemic.

Tung Kang, Taiwan – I count over 120 bags and an estimated 10,000 fins offloaded from a single Taiwanese longliner! From the same vessel, less than one hundred shark bodies are accounted for. The quantity of fins is so great that frontend loaders are required to move them.

Tung Kang, Taiwan – Face-to-face with carnage form the destruction of several thousand pelagic sharks, I do some quick math. Taiwan has an estimated 2,000-registered longliners, each deploying as much as 100 miles of longline. That’s 200,000 miles of longline, enough to wrap around our planet 8 times – and Taiwan is only the 4th largest shark fishing nation!

Tung Kang, Taiwan – Strange, morbid beauty, the vibrant colors of the factory workers disguise the grisly reality – these workers are participants in greatest slaughter of large marine species ever in the history of our planet.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan – Beyond comprehension, thousands of fins dry sun in a Taiwan processing facility. I learn that this a daily occurrence and that this is just one of many facilities in this area processing huge quantities of fins.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan – Symmetry, shape, color and shadow draw capture my attentoin, disguising the cruel reality of the bloodshed behind the trade. I imagine that this is the detachment that the traders feel when they look upon these fields of fins.

Hong Kong – Fins in spiral, dry on a rack on sidewalk in front of a shark fin trader. To a local passerby, this is a common occurrence not worthy of even a glance. To me, this is the death spiral prorogated by the Hong Kong shark fin trade, historically the epicenter of the shark fin trade.

Hong Kong – Carefully sorted by size and grade, fins are displayed for sale in a shark fin trader’s store. Sadly, this is the end of the line for most sharks.

Amidst all this death and destruction, I sometimes ask myself why I even bother to persist? The reality is, the outlook is pretty bleak and we are fighting an uphill battle. The forces of destruction far outnumber the forces of conservation, and for every dollar spent to conserve a resource, 10,000 dollars are spent to extract it.

Fortunately, this massive imbalance in numbers is countered by the incredible passion and commitment of the people engaged in conservation. And nowhere are more dedicated and sacrificing individuals found than in the field of shark conservation. I am blessed to call these people my colleagues and friends, and I believe we will ultimate succeed in ending the slaughter.  Together, we are accomplishing more than I ever imagined. In the past two years, the tide has begun to turn with shark sanctuaries and shark fin legislation coming online in key regions across the globe. I take this moment to recognize these individuals.

Andros Island, Bahamas – In the setting sun, the Bahamas rises as a shining beacon of hope for shark conservation. In July of 2011, the Bahamas declared the waters or it’s entire EEZ a sanctuary for sharks, fulfilling a dream started in 2008.

Andy & Marit Miners –Pure sacrifice and uncompromising integrity are words that just scratch the surface when describing two of the most committed people in marine conservation. By their initiative, we have secured over 1200 sq. km. of some the most bio-diverse reefs on earth and restored shark populations in an area once ravaged by shark finners.

Paul Hilton –No nonsense and steadfast, Paul has been exposing the destruction of industrial fisheries and the brutality of the wildlife trade for well over a decade. I have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Paul in some of our most difficult and challenging investigations to date, and there is no person I would rather have by my side when situation gets heavy.

John Weller –A world-class photographer, writer, and orator, John is dear friend and my inspiration to become the best artist I can be. John is uncompromising in his commitment to perfection, and his uncanny ability to capture the true human connection to nature will change the world.

Jim Abernethy –The man who loves sharks - in addition to being an author and an incredible wildlife photographer, more than anyone Jim has shattered misconceptions about the nature of sharks. Following up on This Is Your Ocean Sharks (directed by my good friend George Schellenger), I look forward to producing our next exciting film together. I am honored to call Jim one of my closest friends.

Mary O’Malley and her husband Lupo – One of the greatest unsung heroes in shark conservation, Mary is a force to be reckoned with. Tireless and uncompromising, she has played a decisive role in just about every piece of shark fin legislation and shark sanctuary to date. In Florida, sharks are finally gaining much needed protection largely due to her efforts. Mary, you are awesome!

Stefanie Brendl & Clayton Hee - Teaming up with Senatore Hee, Stefanie’s personal sacrifice and unyielding determination resulted in a victory for the Hawaii shark fin legislation, probably one of the most decisive wins in shark conservation history. Stefanie has quickly become a force in Pacific shark conservation. In addition to being my colleague in the Pacific Shark Initiative, I am so excited to have Stefanie as my close friend.

Matt Rand - No ego, tireless and uncompromising commitment to true conservation, Matt with the shark team at Pew has reshaped the face of shark conservation. Massive wins in both sanctuaries and shark fin legislation can largely be attributed to his work. I am truly privileged to work with Matt and I am proud to call him my friend.

Michael Skoletsky - Never one to promote himself, Michael has quietly assembled an impressive team of the movers and shakers from the dive and underwater imaging community, to counsel and drive Shark Savers initiatives. Sincere and focused, Michael is a constant in the battle to save sharks. He is also a true friend.

Peter Knights - Unwavering in his commitment, Pete has been at the forefront of the battle to end the shark fin trade for well over a decade. A man of few words and serious action, under Pete’s leadership, WildAid has achieved the unimaginable, and bringing hard-hitting shark conservation media to hundreds of millions of people in China. Having worked frontlines with Pete for many years, I consider him a close friend and important ally in the battle to end the shark fin trade.

Rob Stewart – Rob created one of the most important films in shark conservation to date. Exposing the story of global shark destruction to the world, Rob’s film has inspired people to stand up and fight for sharks. Rob and I have faced together some of our most discouraging shark conservation experiences, but also some of the most inspiring victories. I look forward to continuing to work with Rob as an ally in race to end the destruction of sharks.

Howard and Michelle Hall – Passionate about the Oceans, their films have inspired fascination and appreciation of the Oceans by millions across the globe. The work of these industry icons offers a true testament to the power of media in engaging people in conservation. And above all else, they are kind, wonderful people and their friendship is something I treasure.

The California Coalition – They proved that we could all come together and truly make a difference. Refusing to yield in the face of massive industry opposition and powerful lobbying forces, the California team achieved a shark fin ban in one of the top 10 economies in the world. I cannot say enough about this team.

Yao Ming – When he speaks, hundreds of millions listen. Refusing to back down in the face of intense pressure levied by shark fin industry pundits, Yao is our key to securing a ban on the shark fin trade in China. Yao is a real-life hero.

My Family – Without the love, support and encouragement from my wife and two beautiful daughters, I could never have persevered in the face of such overwhelming obstacles. I believe we must act now to preserve the health of our Oceans for future generations, or face severe environmental consequences beyond even the worst predictions. My family sacrifices so much in support of my demanding work schedule and extensive travel, and for this I cannot thank them enough. I love you guys!

As I look back at the decade of work behind me and the lifetime of work that lies ahead, I take comfort in knowing I have the company of such a remarkable group of friends and allies on this journey. In the past 2 years especially, we have accomplished more than any of us could ever have imagined. I believe this has inspired all of us to work harder, sacrifice more and set even more ambitious goals. We will not stop until the battle is won.

Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness – The words of Rev. Seizan Kawakami serve as a daily reminder to me of why we must continue to fight in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. By taking a stand for what is right, we create a beacon for others, and maybe, just maybe, we will ignite a blaze that will spread across the globe and change the world.

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DiveFilm Podcast – Realm of the Sharks

Posted in production, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2007 by shawnheinrichs

Both Cocos and Mapelo Islands in the Eastern Pacific Ocean are home to an abundance of marine animals, including numerous species of sharks, rays, dolphins and whales.  Cocos Island is some 300 miles southwest of Costa Rica, and has been designated a Marine Park and World Heritage Site by Costa Rica.  Malpelo Island is a little over 300 miles off the coast of Colombia and is designated as a Colombian Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, and marine protected area.  The waters off both islands are considered by divers to be among the most exciting areas in the world for big animal sightings.  The immense schools of Hammerhead Sharks that gather in these waters leave divers awestruck.  The biodiversity is rich and vulnerable.

Join Shawn Heinrichs as he takes us to the islands of Cocos and Malpelo to experience the magnificence of these animals and many other marine animals that abide in these rich waters.

Shawn Heinrichs is a conservation filmmaker based in Longmont, Colorado, USA.  To learn more about Shawn and his work, please visit his website, BlueSphereMedia.com.

DiveFilm Podcast Video is proud to present this film as Episode 3  of DiveFilm’s new High Definition Video Podcasts and Web Videos.  To learn more about it, please visit DiveFilm.com.

-Mary Lynn

 

Cocos and Malpelo – Realm of the Sharks

Posted in travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2006 by shawnheinrichs

Having made the journey twice to Galapagos, it was time to complete the Golden Triangle of the eastern Pacific. The Golden Triangle is an area of water that extends from the northern most islands of the Galapagos (Wolf and Darwin), northeast to Malpelo Island (off Columbia) and northwest to Cocos Island (off Costa Rica). Within this region, flourishes some of them most abundant and awesome pelagic sea life found anywhere on the planet.

Our Journey began at the Sea Hunter headquarters on the coast of Costa Rica in the Guanacast region. From there we motored a grueling 50 hours out to Malpelo for 4 days of diving. Upon arrival we were greeted by a playful pod of pilot whales accompanied by a school of dolphins. We slowed the boat and the whales approached and circled the boat. What amazing and gentle creatures . But we had diving to do and time was a wasting.

Malpelo is a harsh, barren rock located some 250 miles off the coast of Columbia. To protect it rights, Columbia maintains a small base up on the rocks, complete with armed guards. How they get up there still confounds me! The rock may be barren but the sea life below the water is intense. Unfortunately we were not treated to one of the famous (but rarely experienced) Malpelo baitballs we had all secretly hoped for. To make up for it, however, we were fortunate enough to witness the other main attraction at Malpelo, the mass gathering of Silky sharks. On two dives, we drifted through a school of Silky’s one hundred strong. The were not at all threatening and just a little curious. We also enjoyed the other regulars including schooling hammers in Sahara, many cleaning stations, morays everywhere, huge schools of big eye jacks, grunts, an much more.

After four good days at Malpelo, we were ready to head to Cocos. This time we “enjoyed” a 40 hour crossing in unsettled seas. After starring at a barren rock for four days, the site of Cocos is nothing short of breath-taking. Over 200 waterfalls flow from the heights of this rain forrest island in the rainy season. And rainy it was…. but a few hours of stay, it rained constantly, oscillating between downpours and gentle spattering.

I had journeyed to Cocos Island for one reason only, to experience and capture footage of the mass hammerhead aggregations that have given this island it reputation. The scalloped hammerheads gather by the hundreds to have parasites attached to fresh wounds removed by cleaner fish. These wounds are inflicted by either the males during breading or by other females as they establish the “pecking” order.

I had kept my expectations in check as I have so many times experienced the random nature of the oceans. One day the seas are flourishing and the next, empty. This time we struck gold at a site called Alcyone. An underwater sea mount reaching to within 25 meters of the surface, Alcyone was discovered by Jacques Cousteau and quickly became one of his favorite site. On our first dive we descended into clear waters filled to the brim with hammerheads. We made our way down the line, tucked into the volcanic rock, flipped on our cams, and hung on for 30 minutes to enjoy the show. The sea was alive with sharks, everywhere…from a few feet away to the horizon…. overhead, in front and in back! They circled in all directions. Our dive guide estimated there were as many as 500 sharks in this one location! Eventually our computers were threatening to ground us and we had to ascend back up through the schools of hammers. It was undoubtedly one of best dives of my life and more so, one of the most truly awesome experiences (land or sea) of my life.

The following days we returned to the site. The huge school was there without fail but vis was progressively deteriorating. To compensate for this, the hammers came closer and closer. On the third day, they were within touching distance for the duration of the dives, enough so that my lights could easily light them up…what a treat!

We also enjoyed many great dives at other sites. At these sites we had wonderful encounters with masses of white-tips, the largest school of big eye jacks I have ever seen (maybe 10,000), abundant marble rays, hammerheads everywhere, eagle rays, manta rays, green turtles, the impressive silver tips of Silverado, dolphins and even a near miss with a mother humpback whale and her calf. And one cannot forget the awesome and infamous Manuelita white tip night dive featuring hundreds of white tips hunting in packs creating a moving carpet of sharks a meter below.

After an incredible 5 days of diving, it was time to return home. Shortly after breaking into open water, we heard over the radio that a long-liner had been spotted in park waters. A boat was being dispatched to intercept it, while the long-liner was reeling in its line as fast as possible. Further out, we came across a factory tuna boat drawing in its massive nets.

These two instances served as a somber reminder of how at risk these amazing marine sanctuaries are. Every day, long liners and tuna boats invade these waters and extract everything they can…nothing escapes including countless dolphins and sharks, manta rays and even the majestic whale sharks. As much progress has been made to protect these waters, it is still a losing battle. What is needed is more money and direct support. Groups like Mar Viva, WildAid and Sea Shepherd are among the few groups that actively patrol these waters and manage programs to reduce poaching.

Nevertheless, beauty still abounds below the surface in the waters of Cocos and Malpelo. It is a marvel I look forward to experiencing again with great anticipation.

Galapagos – Darwin and Bartolome

Posted in photography, travel, video with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2005 by shawnheinrichs

Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador straddling the equator, lies the volcanic archipelago of Galapagos. Formed 90 million years ago and composed of 14 islands and 107 islets, Galapagos is one of the most complex oceanic archipelagos in the world. A Biosphere Reserve since 1995 and a World Heritage Site since 2001, these remote islands attract some of the most abundant and diverse gatherings of pelagic marine life found anywhere on the planet.

This was our second visit to Galapagos and we were just as excited as the first time. Our sights were on Darwin, the northern most island of the Galapagos with the famous rock arch protruding from the waters. Below those arches, the waters are boiling with sea life. Hammerheads, galapagos sharks, black tips, silkys, dolphins, eagle rays, green and hawksbill turtles, wahoo, tuna, jacks, mackerel, seal lions, dense schools of creole wrasse, and the biggest of the biggest of all fish, the whale shark. As hoped, Darwin delivered on all of the above. Because of the Spring Tides, visibility was quite poor. The density and proximity of the sea life made up for this however. We enjoyed incredibly close encounters with hammerheads swimming within arms reach. To top it all, we had several whale sharks come gliding through the group like freight trains, the largest being a pregnant female over 10 meter long!

Galapagos is not just about the big stuff. At the island of Bartolome, the northern most penguins in the world have made their home. There are perhaps several dozen of these cute little birds in the Bartolome flock. They are elusive and hard to spot. A snorkeling encounter with one or two is a treat. We had the great fortune of stumbling upon a mini baitball of glass fish being herded but two dozen of the penguins. The penguins were darting and twirling as they drove the ball to the surface. Sea lions swooped up from below to get in the action while pelicans and sea gulls plunged from the air into the waters with mouths wide open. All of this activity was generated by these wonderful little penguins. After swimming through dense schools of hammerheads, beefy galapagos sharks and behemoth whale sharks, we thought nothing more on the trip would would catch our attention. We never would have guessed that these little penguins would be the crescendo.

Socorro Island – Silky Shark

Posted in conservation, photography, travel with tags , , , , on May 1, 2004 by shawnheinrichs

 

We were hanging at 15 feet on our safety stop, having just completed yet another wonderful and action packed dive in Revillagigedos (more commonly known as Socorro). Led by our fearless dive master Ray from our ship the Solmar V, today we were diving a site at Isla Socorro, the second stop on exploration of this remote island chain. The dive had been wonderful. 10 minutes into the dive at a depth of 60 feet, the silence was broken by the high-pitched calls from a pod of dolphins passing overhead. They noticed us immediately and within seconds, we were surrounded by playful dolphins darting this way and that. It took another 10 minutes before they finally tired of our antics and moved on their way. The remainder of the dive presented more of the treats so abundant in the Revillagigedos. We encountered game fish (wahoo and tuna), all kinds of reef fish, morays and out in the blue, The passing hammerhead and Galapagos sharks. Fully satisfied with our dive, my buddy and I began our ascent to our safety stop right below the Solmar V.

As we settled into our safety stop, I noticed a shiny/brownish silhouette approach from behind my buddy. I quickly identified this as a silky shark perhaps 6 feet in length. Now I know silky sharks to be quite curious but this one was down right friendly. As he circled closer, I noticed that the poor shark had a hook lodged in its mouth. As all forms of extraction fishing are banned in the Revillagigedos, this poor fellow could have made his way in from open waters to the safety of this sanctuary or just as likely been the victim of illegal long-line fishing activity within the park boundaries. When he continued to circle even closer, I began to fear he may be seeking revenge for the injury inflicted upon him by man.  My first instinct was to withdraw, however my curiosity and appreciation for this beautiful creature prevented me from backing away. He continued to circle closer and closer, so close as to almost brush against me. Upon one such approach, I was overcome by desire to offer some comfort to this poor shark that had been mistreated. As he drew close to me, I reached out and began to stroke the side of the silky behind his gills and along his back. He offered no resistance and seemed to enjoy it. Eventually our air gauges indicated it was time to surface. We said our good byes to our friendly silky and ascended to the surface. Our silky followed us to the surface, made one final farewell pass and then meandered into the distant blue.

I often reflect back on this encounter. It was so personal and so unusual. This was not just a shark encounter and this was not only a silky shark; this was much, much more. Our silky shark encounter was a wonderful and rare opportunity to truly appreciate the gentle and personal side of one of nature’s most impressive predators. I think of this silky as a friend one meets on a journey, a solitary traveler who has fallen upon misfortune and is now seeking compassion and companionship. I also reflect on other marine friends made on this journey through the Revillagigedos: the playful dolphins, the gentle humpback whales, the curios yellow fin tuna, and of course the incredibly close encounters with the giant manta rays. Upon such reflection, it finally dawns on me what makes this island chain so special. More so than any of the other great big animal diving spots on earth, the Revillagigedos offer the most personal big animal diving on earth!