Manhandling Sharks   Leave a comment


A while ago I posted an article called The Ethics of Shark Photography. I stand by everything I wrote in that post but there is sometimes more to photographing a timid shark than meets the eye and the publishable images do not necessarily tell the whole tale.

For the first time on Elasmodiver I have loaded some pictures of a diver purposefully manhandling a shark. The animal is a Blind Shark that is barely two feet long and the diver is my girlfriend Claire. In Claire’s defense I should immediately point out that it was me who reached into a crevice and picked up the resting shark. After it stopped thrashing I handed it to Claire who floated nearby looking rather bewildered by my actions.

Neither Claire nor the shark were in much danger from this encounter but there are reports of disgruntled Blind Sharks turning tail and latching onto divers that have disturbed them in a similar fashion. As long as the shark is held gently but firmly on its torso, avoiding the gill openings or fins, it should be ok. Blind sharks are hardy creatures that are known to have good survival rates even when thrown back by fishermen and when you consider the abuse and indignity that shark researchers and fishermen put these animals through in the course of their catch and release activities, removing a shark from a crevice pales by comparison.

If you’re wondering why a photographer would manhandle a Blind Shark in the first place, the answer is simply that you cant get publishable shots of a shark that you can barely see tucked into a thin crack. This is especially true if your camera housing is so big that the dome port wont fit into the crevice anywhere near the animal. The answer is to either leave it alone (not a bad course of action) or to relocate the shark onto a surface where shooting is possible and that is exactly what I did (with Claire’s help) on this occasion.

Releasing the brown hued Blind Shark close to the beautifully contrasting green algae on the reef resulted in a series of images in which the shark was well defined yet still in its natural environment (although normally it would only hunt in this area at night). Within a few minutes the exhausted Blind Shark was back in its crevice, unscathed but no doubt happy that its ordeal was over.

This kind of encounter is not unusual in marine photography. I asked a prominent professional photographer how he had managed to photograph an elusive species of reef shark because repeating the method that I had used on the Blind Shark would be almost impossible with a fast swimming carcharinid. He told me that he had first caught the shark on rod and reel. He had then removed the hook from it’s jaw, tail looped the animal with monofilament fishing line, and jumped in with his camera. He was then able to get the shots he wanted while the shark (that would normally not approach a diver) swum in circles under his boat.

As I have never done this I am not sure how much stress it puts on the shark. Probably a great deal. Stress induced lactic acid build up inside the sharks body can quickly turn fatal even if the animal appears to be fine upon release. I have no desire to hurt any creature (let alone a shark) and I am not a fan of fishing but I can see how this is probably the only method that some species can be photographed. If it is your mission to catalog rare shark species, my only advice would be to make the encounters as short as possible.

Incidentally, sharks are not the only creatures that are sometimes manhandled in the name of photography. I remember marveling at those award winning images of octopuses in mid water, perfectly composed in front of a dramatic sun-splash, with their arms splayed out all around them. As I learned more about the ocean and the habits of its occupants, I started to wonder why any self respecting octopus would be floating around in the water column. Sure enough, most of these shots are achieved by someone swimming up to the surface with the octo and unceremoniously dropping back towards the reef.

The mollusks (like the sharks) are probably not harmed by these activities so there is no real cause for alarm. You may disagree with these photography tactics but if you simply want to protect sharks there are far bigger and more worthy battles to fight.


Follow this link: Blind Shark Pictures to see the images.


For the sharks,

Andy Murch


Host of the webs leading source of new shark pictures and information.

Posted August 28, 2007 by Andy Murch in Nature, Photography, Sharks, Uncategorized

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