Explorers Connect

Blue Beauty

Trip ReportJames Hipkiss

Sudden movement flashes under the canopy of waves, her silver side reflecting brightly in the sun as she passes quickly just below the surface from bow to stern. Get in now Amanda! You're only going to have a couple minutes. Go! How big is she? I asked, but the answer I did not hear.

Fear of losing the encounter trumped the fear of the unknown as I eased myself into the water, ducking under the chum bucket and up along side of the boat; camera in hand, I was ready to shoot. The waters off Rhode Island are quickly becoming a shark diving Mecca, being one of a few key destinations around the globe where you are almost guaranteed encounters with two very distinct and beautiful species of sharks; blue sharks and makos.

This is largely in part to underwater filmmaker and Rhode Island native Joe Romeiro of 333 Productions. Joe has been documenting the behavior, movement and hot spots of these sharks for years, and has quickly become the go to expert for professional cinematographers and photographers worldwide who seek footage and encounters with them. A chance encounter with these large pelagic sharks are not only sought after by photographers alone however; every year thousands gather on docks and off the coast to participate in shark fishing tournaments held in New England's prolific waters. Although shark fishing tournaments continue to rally support in the Northeast culture, conservationist groups have been outspoken in the need to end such practices in other locations. In the Bahamas and Florida for example, many tournaments have switched to full catch and release models and now support Shark Free Marinas; where no dead shark is allowed within their boundaries. In an environment where shark numbers are declining at an alarming rate, moves to protect these animals prove invaluable to the welfare of the oceans.

This leads to the question, Why arent we fighting to protect the sharks of New England? Positioned tight against the side of the boat I scan the water column for a glimpse of the legendary fish that has brought me here, the mako. Known for their speed, agility and unyielding poster in the water, makos are high-energy powerhouses that can grow up to twelve feet in length and weigh over eleven hundred pounds. At an estimated top speed between fifty to sixty miles per hour makes this shark is one of the fastest fish in the sea and within seconds of entering the water I find myself face to face with one. A flip of her tail jettisons her towards the boat and in my general direction, but she is completely disinterested the lone diver she shares the water with. Fixated on her every movement I track her in a nauseating trail of twists and turns.

Eventually she turns, following the oil traces back to the boat and comes in fast to explore my dome port. I cannot help but shriek in delight as I watch her close the gap of space between her and I at an astonishing rate. My time with this beautiful mako is a painfully short five minutes, but I savor every moment. Mako sharks come in hard and fast, a stunning swim by, a couple exploratory nips and they are gone. Brian and Joe work the bait hard from the boat, twisting and pulling it through the water to keep her interest. Still positioned close to the boat as Joe had recommended, I pulse in excitement as she comes blazing in toward me over and over. Fire after fire my strobes light up the ocean as she darts around my dome port in a crazy swirl of energy. She is stunning, a beautiful site to behold. Shimmers of iridescence; brown, blue, purple and violet dance across her back and along her sides under dappled sunlight as she effortlessly moves through the water.

She is not without scars though; across her side she bares the painful marks of an encounter with another shark. Short lacerations ending in a gaping wound sprinkle her side. Pink flesh stands exposed as she twists and turns through the ocean. Perhaps due to her size, around four feet, she was attacked by a larger mako or other shark species; or these were simply mating scars, but her unrelenting power is unmistakable. With one small thrust of her tail she powers through the water zipping from one bait fish to the other on either side of me. Makos can reach speeds of twenty two miles per hour and are known for the short, but quick burst of speed. It becomes quickly apparent to me why Joe wants my back up against the boat. Her lightening speed makes her difficult to follow, and her forward gapping nips from an open mouthful of protruding teeth could lead to serious ramifications very quickly if she had so chosen. These sharks are not for the faint of heart. Encounters with this species are fast paced, adrenaline filled gut checks that demand you give the shark a healthy amount of respect while in the water with them. Twisting and turning, heart throbbing, mind racing, darting fins and flashing teeth all dissipate in a matter of seconds as she makes one last sweep and darts off straight down into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.

Sitting there motionless, I stare down into the depths hoping for another glimpse of her, but she doesn't return. My time with her is over. The ocean gives us these gifts, these encounters that I cherish with every fibre of my being. Whether its the five minutes I spent with her, or the hour long encounters I've experienced with whale sharks off Isla Mujeres, these animals never cease to amaze me. Every moment spent in the ocean with the immense diversity of marine life leaves me eager for more. I come away from these experiences forever changed and longing to fight harder to protect the oceans and all the life that lives within them. In an amazing twist of fate I received word from Joe two weeks later that my mako has been spotted twelve miles from the location we first encountered her. To the best of his knowledge this is the first ever known double sighting of the same mako in these waters. This news is all the more exciting knowing a local shark tournament started the day after my departure from Rhode Island in the same area we were diving in. In honor of this joyous event Joe proclaims I should name her. I choose Nani, which means Beautiful in Hawaiian.

The waters off the coast of Rhode Island are magical. On previous trips Joe has encountered countless blues and makos; basking sharks, leatherbacks, mola molas, hammerheads, tiger sharks and more. Frequent sightings over the last few years of white sharks in the area have lead researchers and photographers to Rhode Island in search of this species as well. The wealth of marine life in this area can serve many generations to come with opportunities in interacting with the Mother Nature on her terms. As divers, ocean enthusiasts and neighbors on this small planet, we must take it upon ourselves to protect the oceans that hold these vast amounts of ceaseless treasures within her bounty. Without education and protection we stand to lose a vital component to the health of our aquatic eco systems.

Learn more about Amandaby visiting her website atwww.acottonphoto.com"