Monday, September 29, 2008

Shifting my Perspective: The White Shark’s World

I have finally seen the world through the eyes of a shark.

For the last month or so, Paul and I have been on the National Geographic Crittercam deployment team thanks to Shark Angel Alison! Alison is working with the group to put cameras on the backs of white sharks and she needed a first mate and a cameraman. Enter Paul and myself.

Over the last several weeks now, the alarm has been going off quite early – as we are eager to get to Seal Island early to deploy cameras. The team consists of Mark and Graham (from Nat Geo), Alison, Paul and myself as well as a person or two on any given day from MCM.

Imagine my surprise to learn that Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) has actually come onboard to do a piece on the job I was assigned to. Yes, that is right – I am head chummer and it is considered, I guess, one of the grossest jobs in the world. That means I prepare the concoction that attracts the sharks (consisting of mashed fresh and very rotten fish as well as the dregs from the bottom of Alison’s fish freezer) and put as much in the water as I tend to get all over myself – including in my hair, eyes and mouth somehow. All day long it is stomp, mash, mix, dump, and pour. Oh, and I get to punch the eyes out of the fish that are used as bait. (Note to those of you who have never done it… fish eyeballs can squirt eye juices like 5 meters at an incredibly high velocity when the cornea is punctured which can even be directed at, say, an unsuspecting cameraman.) Funny, I love it and even more, the fact that I am contributing in some small way to learning about White Sharks.

Besides, these days I think any good day ends with me smelling like dead fish. I take great joy in getting as dirty as I can. I am beginning to love the aroma because I know that it means I have a chance to see the creatures I love. And, who wouldn’t love spending their days at the infamous Seal Island hanging with white sharks whom have been putting on quite a show – I am even lucky enough to have seen my fair share of predations, including breaches!

You see, we know so little about these animals. Even Alison who has spent 2000 hours at sea studying them has just touched the surface of the iceberg. The amount of time scientists study and are able to witness the behavior of white sharks is so limited, considering most of the shark’s time is spent below water and white sharks in captivity are not a feasible option. So the camera is a great way for Alison to get a first-hand view of how sharks behave when she isn’t bringing them to the surface to study them.

Being on the team is a chance of a lifetime that I know few will ever be lucky enough to experience. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to participate in ground-breaking research, learn much more about a mis-understood animal, and get into the field to study the creatures I spend my life trying to save. It has really added to my arsenal of first hand experience and knowledge, making me a much better conservationist I am certain.

I am bound by confidentiality and cannot share details about the cameras, process and the results. But what I can share is the hard work and loooong days for the past month were all worth it. We gathered over 20 hours of footage in several camera deployments that were barely noticed by the sharks and went almost flawlessly. And, believe you me, the world from a white shark’s eyes isn’t at all what you would expect. We watched the footage on the edge of our chairs.

I cannot wait to hear more from Alison as she continues her quest and the gathering and analysis of the data.

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