Thomas P. Peschak [Photographer]

Posted: September 30, 2011 by admin in H2O

Photographed by THOMAS P. PESCHAK

When this photograph was first published in Africa Geographic, BBC Wildlife and later in Paris Match and the Daily Mail (London) it resulted in a flurry of e-mails, phone calls and letters from around the world asking if the image was a fake. The image became the most talked about of shark photograph ever.

To capture this image I tied myself to the tower of the research boat Lamnidae and leaned into the void, precariously hanging over the ocean while waiting patiently for a white shark to come along. I wanted to shot a photograph that would tell the story of our research efforts to track white sharks using kayaks. When the first shark of the day came across our sea kayak it dove to the seabed and inspected it from below. I quickly trained my camera on the dark shadow which slowly transformed from diffuse shape into the sleek outline of a large great white. When the shark’s dorsal fin broke the surface I thought I had the shot, but hesitated a fraction of a second and was rewarded with marine biologist Trey Snow in the kayak turning around to look behind him. I pressed the shutter and the rest was history. Throughout the day I shot many more images, most showing the kayak following the shark, but all lacked the power of that first image of the great white tracking the kayak. 

In 2003 my friend and white shark biologist Michael Scholl discovered large numbers of great white sharks in extremely shallow water near the southernmost tip of South Africa. We initiated a research project but all of our initial attempts were thwarted because the sharks were repelled or attracted to the boats engine’s electrical fields, disrupting their natural behaviour.

I have been sea kayaking for quite a number of years, frequently using it as a photographic platform and could not think of a better, less unobtrusive vessel from which to track white sharks from. Granted the first few attempts were a little nerve-wracking, even though we had observed the sharks reaction to an empty kayak numerous times. It is hard to describe what goes through ones mind when sitting in a yellow plastic sea kayak and a 4.5 m + great white shark is heading your way.

White sharks, despite their bad reputation are much more cautious and inquisitive in nature than aggressive and unpredictable. At no time did any shark show any agression towards our little yum yum yellow craft.

We believe that white sharks come inshore in such great numbers to socially interact with others of their species, perhaps even to mate or give birth to their young. We have observed sharks following behind or swimming tight circles around one another. To observe and document great white sharks mating or giving birth is the holy grail of shark research and photography, but it is also a extremely difficult and perhaps an even almost impossible task.

For a more detailed account of the research and to see more images please refer to the following book:South Africa’s Great White Shark, by Thomas P. Peschak and Michael C. Scholl, published by Struik in 2006. It is available from all good bookshops and online book merchants.

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