Shark Allies in Guadalupe Island
This past week, we embarked on our first Shark Allies journey together, to none other than Isla Guadalupe.
We departed from Point Loma, San Diego on Horizon Charters late Tuesday night. Walking aboard for the first time, we already knew we couldn’t have asked for a better mix of positive and fun shark divers. It was the most eclectic group: first time ocean-goers who have never snorkeled a day in their lives, Marine Biology students, shark lovers, shark fearers, Surfrider Foundation members, and pure adventure seekers. This made for one of the best trips we’ve been on. We were also honored to have Dr. Chris Lowe and his undergraduate and now PhD student Sarah Luongo from CSULB Shark Lab on board, testing out their new tracking programs. Dr. Lowe and his fellow researchers have tagged over 140 White Sharks off of the west coast of California and Baja, so his expertise beyond astounding.
After almost 24 hours of travel, a journey out to the middle of the ocean, we finally arrived in time for sunset over Isla Guadalupe. The stars that night were incredible. Every morning, we woke up as the sun came up and rolled right into the cages off of the boat. The orange morning light, deep blue water, and endless visibility was a photographer’s heaven. Each group packed in about four dives per day. So instead of dropping in for a dive, surfacing and changing locations, we got to experience the same White Sharks over and over, opening our eyes to their complex and unique personalities. That was such a treat, we all fell in love with every shark that checked us out. Over the three days of diving, we were able to see at least 30 different Great White Sharks, 8 of which where already tagged!
One shark in particular struck accord with all of us, Ropey (seen below). Ropey was tagged in Guadalupe in 2017. When the tagging crew first found her, she already had a closed circle rope embedded in her tissue, surrounding the circumference of her body around her gills. They cut the rope and opened the circle so she could grow into it a little more, but the rope was already so deep in some parts it created a black scar. Ropey hung out with us every single day we dove, and definitely stole all of our hearts. Despite her weak tail and extremely skinny frame, she caught tuna, was always smiling and even breached once. She is 11 feet long, so at least we know she is eating and taking care of herself out there. We see sea turtles, dolphins, whales and pinnipeds stuck in fishing gear all the time, but it was even more upsetting to see an apex predator restricted because of human impact.
In between cage rounds we all hung out topside with the crew, spotting the sharks coming in from every direction, calling out “White Shark!” Around sunset we would wrap it up, shower and sit in the galley to download footage, drink, eat and share our stories from the day. The first night Sarah taught all of us about the history of the island, their research findings and the known behaviors and makeup of the White Sharks found in Guadalupe. There is seriously so much information we never knew: the “Shared Offshore Foragign Area” where the Farallon and Guadalupe populations meet, exothermic pups vs. endothermic adults, dominance displays, the list goes on. On night two, Shark Allies’ Kinga gave a wonderful presentation on sharks in the media and what we can do to fix their bad boy image, and Stefanie shared our plans for the future and steps to take action. Each night we watched the stars and went to bed knowing that Great Whites were swimming below us.
One of the coolest parts of the trip was identifying the White Sharks that came around. Underneath their gills on each side of their bodies, there is a finger print of pattern where the grey meets the white (their dorsal fins, coloring in all areas and scars also help). Lalo had a book of every shark that has come through and could quickly tell us who we were seeing. If the shark hasn't been identified yet, you can name them! Sarah matched up her footage to a White Shark named “The Squirrel.”
Thousands of photos and hours of footage later, we arrived back in San Diego on Sunday night. Nobody wanted to get off of that boat but we walked away with the most rewarding and special experience to share with you and new lifelong friends. It is safe to say that every single diver on that boat is in love with the White Shark now and will spread stories of their positive encounters far.
Thank you to the amazing crew of Horizon Charters America's Shark Boat (Spencer, Scott, Lalo, Patrick, Franco, Cameron, Mark and Shea) for making us feel so welcome on your vessel, for feeding us delicious food and, most importantly, for always keeping the sharks best interest in the forefront. This is hopefully the first of many conservation-themed trips with us. Tell us where you want to go next!
photos by Laurel Irvine and Stefanie Brendl