I am writing this blog from the wheelhouse of the MV Rodney Fox. This boat, named after legendary shark attack survivor turned conservationist is now host to White Shark cage dive expeditions in the Neptune Islands in Southern Australia. I am joining them for 3 weeks as a volunteer crewmember to learn the ins and outs of running expedition trips of this nature as well as diving with white sharks obviously!!
Thus far, this has been a unique experience on many fronts. It is my first time in Australia, my first time working on a boat in a non-scientific context, and my first time diving in a cage. Cage diving is a very novel, and trippy way to dive, and the Rodney fox expeditions are the only group in the world to have a bottom cage. Every dive, the cage captain, and up to three guests enter the cage and are lowered to the bottom using a winch. The cage captain signals ascent, descent, and other commands through different rope pull combinations to the surface. Once the cage reaches a couple of meters above the bottom (~25m), descent is halted, and we swing on the back and forth with the swell for 25 minutes watching out for sharks.
As a photographer, this poses some challenges. In an enclosed metal space having a large camera with moving parts can be tricky. Also, it is not ideal to have the cage show up in the photos, and though there are windows in the cage, this is sometimes difficult to avoid. For experienced photographers, the cage captains can make the call to open the door of the cage, in order to get an unobstructed view. This is what my captain did for me on my first dive with the sharks. It is a weird experience to be leaning with half your body out of the cage to get some good photographs of the huge white sharks circling around you. This requires complete faith in your cage captain to pull you in by your tank in any sticky situation that may arise.
Another interesting challenge that arose in this environment came from the sheer volume of other fish impeding the view. In order to attract the sharks, Rodney Fox expeditions has a special, strictly regulated permit to bait, and chum the waters. Though this is effective for the sharks, it also brings in hundreds of trevally and yellowjackets who swarm the cage with every release of bait. While trying to use my strobes to illuminate the shark, it was so annoying to have the light reflect off of the many silver trevallies instead. Apparently I have to get more aggressive with my dome port to push them out of the way before pressing the shutter.
As this experience progresses, and I get more hours in the cage, I am hoping I can hone my skills in order to address these unique challenges. I feel so stoked to be in such a remote place, doing such an obscure type of diving. I have already learnt so much!