Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sevengill Shark

Since it's raining outside (again) and the swells are up, not the mention the tsunami watch, I decided to take another look at some of my photos. I've been wanting to reprocess this one in black and white and finally got the opportunity. This photo is probably my most well known, since it was included in an article in California Diving News and prominently featured on Mike Bear's Sevengill Sightings Blog, and even made it into the California diving community's Divebums calendar for 2010.

This is a female broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus). According to Mark Ball, Head Aquarist at Birch Aquarium, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, she was around the maximum size of 9 ft long (we didn't stop to measure her). They are named for their unique number of gills, as most sharks only have 5 gills. They are found along the west coast, with a higher concentration in Northern California, where San Francisco Bay acts as a shelter for young.

Barbara Lloyd ( and I encountered this shark while diving as a team in the kelp forests off Pt. Loma, CA. We did one dive shooting macro subjects and then switched to wide angle for the second dive. About 30 minutes into the second dive, after photographing Barbara shooting video and the kelp forest, the large shark appeared out of nowhere. I got off a few quick shots, but was not prepared for it. Barbara and I were both extremely excited to have seen it and very apprehensive at the same time. My pulse sped up and I became much more alert to my surroundings. We both kept looking behind us just in case the shark was going to sneak up on us. Apparently, Barbara's frantic motioning meant she wanted us to watch each other's backs.

Approximately 3 minutes later, the shark came by for another pass. Barbara and I were both ready for it this time. The shark was level with us in the water, providing a nicer background of the kelp forest instead of shooting down towards the sea bottom. However, realizing that the shark was interested in us and wasn't put off by our noisy bubbles and bright flashing lights was not a comforting thought.

The final pass by the 9 foot sevengill was approximately 7 minutes later. At this point, I was getting nervous and concerned that the shark was a little too interested. Not knowing the exact species at the time and how dangerous they were (or weren't, in this case), we decided it was time to start heading for the surface. The entire time we were returning to the surface, I kept thinking "...sharks like to attack from below". There was a thick layer of green gloom near the surface, which made it even more difficult to see anything below us. We did our safety stop and got back onto the boat without any problems, except for our jealous friends who hadn't seen the shark on their dive. Much later, while reviewing my photos from earlier in the dive, I noticed a dark shadow of a shark tail in the corner of one of them. Apparently, the shark had been with us a lot longer than we knew about.

I'll never forget that dive and what could have been a once in a lifetime encounter with a large apex predator. After reading more about the behavior of sevengill sharks, I wouldn't mind seeing one in the wild again.

Pt. Loma kelp forests:

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