Filming with African Shark Eco-Charters by Rachel Lacombe
Wow!! My husband and I just got back from an epic shoot filming with African Shark Eco Charters for the forthcoming documentary Great White Shark Legend. The footage we captured is INcredible!
It was such a privilege to get to spend so much time out on the water with Rob and his amazing team. They all looked after us so well! Ali is so knowledgeable about so many predators, it was fascinating hearing her stories. Gary’s enthusiasm was ridiculously contagious making every trip so much fun! And Wellie really knew how to work those baits, expertly enticing sharks and alerting us as to where to point our cameras. Together with Rob’s expertise in all things sea and shark this is one fab team to go in search of such an awesome predator with! We also got to meet some amazing people from all over the world! It was such a pleasure to spend time with fellow shark enthusiasts.
One question I was asked a lot was how the trip we were on compared to others – the truth is that each day was SO different! It really was amazing to see how so many things effected the shark’s behaviour.
Each morning trip we began chasing predations at dawn – the time when the sharks most actively hunt seal pups leaving and returning to Seal Island. The amount we saw each day varied considerably. Some days it was difficult to find a chase as the sharks were successfully killing seals on the initial attack. However, one day they were just everywhere, it felt like they were lunging from all directions and we just didn’t know where to point the cameras! We were filming one whilst another predation occurred behind it and then we saw a shark right next to the boat at the surface munching on his seal breakfast. We were able to capture a beautiful natural breach as a shark broke the surface swiping at a seal, displaying its whole white underbelly and pectoral fins with a huge red mouth gaping. Tiago, one of the guests, was able to capture the moment in a stunning photo! One day we didn’t see anything at the island at all but skipper Rob Lawrence’s extensive knowledge of the area guided the boat to a nearby reef where we witnessed an incredible display of a shark chasing a seal – it’s this kind of knowledge from the man who has been to Seal Island more than anyone else on the planet (!) that makes African Shark Eco Charters the ONLY company with which to experience the sharks. I have always been “Team Shark” but one event we witnessed later on almost changed that… We were on anchor and attracting sharks to the boat. Suddenly just off the back of the boat a shark leapt from the water attaching one of two seal pups leaving the island. Confused by the two seals, it then continued to chase the one it had not injured in the initial attack leaving the wounded seal to slip away. However, this seal was badly injured and bobbed about in the water for 10 minutes bleeding and trying to watch for the beast before he was spectacularly finished off. The notion that he was waiting for so long did make me root for him. However, the sad situation did make for an incredible photo opportunity!
“Floppy” the decoy seal, made of soft wetsuit material and sponge, often met a similar demise – much to our delight. This was dragged behind the boat to entice sharks to display their awesome power and breech out of the water. It was successful on many occasions, awarding us with stunning footage! However, we always had to be ready to capture it as the shark’s certainly like to keep you on your toes! We had had a few decoy tows that had not resulted in a breach. As wild animals the sharks decide when to attack Floppy and as I mentioned earlier many things have an impact on their behaviour such as water visibility and even how cloudy the sky is. Ali had wound out the seal just a few meters from the boat as we were setting up our cameras when we suddenly heard a loud splash and looked up to see white water crashing back into the sea – we had missed it, as had everyone else on the boat!
I didn’t spend a lot of time in the cage as were able to get wonderful footage using our GoPro on a pole allowing us to get dangerously close to the magnificent animals. However, I love being down there in their world and one of my favourite experiences of the whole trip was my dive with Tiago. On entering the cage we had a very curious little shark playing around the baits. She wasn’t even trying to bite them but continued to circle them right in front of the cage. She also took a fancy to our GoPros which were shining through the water, so much so that she slowly came to investigate the one I had with me in the cage. I had been enjoying watching such a lovely baby swim around and around when suddenly she slowly came steadily but directly towards me to investigate the twinkling object. It was then that I realised that whilst small compared to other sharks, at 2.5 meters she was still huge!! The experience was mesmerising – being nose to nose with a great white shark is certainly one I will never forget! Throughout our time there we got to know some of the sharks at the island – they were all so different! We enjoyed identifying them by their markings and seeing how each behaved so differently around the boat, some sweeping past, some playing with the bit of carpet in the shape of a seal, some determined to take the bait, speeding up from the depths, others playfully nudging it with their nose without ever trying to bite it preferring instead to bite our cameras! It was certainly an education.
Each journey to the island was an experience; the scenery is simply stunning! Every day we were treated to something new; a beautiful sunrise over the mountains, a scarlet cloudy sky, whales blowing clouds of water into the air, cheeky birds swooping down to pinch bait, never-ending rainbows over the island and a sky bigger than I have ever seen anywhere on earth. No one comes back from that place the same person that arrived that morning. It changes you. I learnt so much about the beauty and majesty of the great white and I look forward to sharing all with you very soon in Great White Shark Legend.