Sharkman: First of all, what made you decide to start diving and how old were you?
David: Actually, I was 14 when I got certified in Racine Quarry, Wisconsin. Ever since I can remember, the idea of breathing underwater was an obsession with me – as were sharks.
In order to get my bubble blowing fix I had to dive the icy cold, murky waters of the “nothing much to see lakes” around Chicago – where I grew up. I think the largest fish I saw prior to my first saltwater diving experience during a pilgrimage to Aruba at age 18 was an 18 inch Northern Pike.
Sharkman: Diving in Aruba is a big change. Tell us about your first dive there.
David: Sharkman, it was nothing short of spectacular. To begin with, the water was warm – I wasn’t confined to a full 7 mm wetsuit with Farmer Johns, a hood, booties and 16 pounds of lead. The water was 83 degrees – not 38 degrees. But the most amazing memories from my first saltwater dive had to be the 100 foot visibility and stumbling upon a 5 metre emerald Green Moray. In retrospect, I am certain that eel was probably more like 2 meters, but back then, it looked like a school bus underwater.
Sharkman: What pushed you towards underwater photography?
David: It seemed only natural to want to share my underwater experiences with my friends who were less adventurous. In actuality, I started with underwater video. Commercial photography was my livelihood and video offered me something different; instant gratification as opposed to waiting for film to be processed. However nobody wanted to pay me for my video and a few people asked me for underwater still shots, mainly of Great White sharks. I purchased a housing for one of my Nikons and a couple of strobes and never shot another second on video.
Sharkman: David, do you remember your first shark encounter ?
David: Asking a shark aficionado if they remember their first shark encounter, is like asking a skydiver if they remember their first jump. I have enjoyed a love affair with sharks from the time I was 3. However books and films afforded me my only shark encounters until age 18. Upon returning from Aruba, I knew I had to dive – a lot. I postponed college for a year and moved to the big island of Hawaii so that I could “dive my wild oats.” I was working as a divemaster and when I wasn’t leading awesome (but sharkless) dives, I cleaned the bottom of boats in a harbor. It was in that harbor that a small 4-foot hammerhead shark swam by me. My adrenaline pumped through my body, as though I was looking at “Jaws” himself. That night I went out drinking (and bragging) with some of my friends who laughed when I told them the story. They said, “Hey bro, you like to see one shark?” The following day they took me diving off Hawaii’s southern coast. During that dive I saw a 10 foot Tiger shark and I was instantly addicted.
Sharkman: Now that is a Shark!! Out of all sharks that you have photographed and dived with, which is your favourite ?
David: It’s definitely a toss up between the Whale shark and the Great White, but if I had to choose, it would be Carcharodon carcharias.
Sharkman: Did you ever feel in danger during your dives ?
David: I imagine on occasion everyone feels a bit of danger during a dive. Otherwise we’d probably all be getting our thrills jumping from bridges with rubber bands attached to us or racing motorcycles.
Last year, I was lobster hunting all by my lonesome, off Boynton Beach, Florida and a 14 foot Great Hammerhead shark swam up behind me and closed in only 8 feet away. It swam almost to the end of my line of visibility, turned on its tail and started swimming back toward me. My first thought was, “DAMN, WHERE’S MY CAMERA!” But my second thought was, “This bloody shark is huge, could it be hunting me or the 14 lobsters I have in my bag?” It was as big as most Great Whites I’ve seen and it is heading straight toward me. I unhooked the mesh bag full of lobsters hanging off my BC and put it in front of me as a sort of peace offering. The huge shark didn’t go after it – or me. He just swam away never to be seen again – on that dive anyway.
I’ve seen him once since and showed him to a woman who had always wanted to see a Hammerhead but never had the good fortune. It was her first real shark encounter (Nurse Sharks not included). Needless to say, she was thrilled!
Did I feel I was in danger? Only to the extent that I knew this giant shark could take me in a heartbeat if he wanted to, and there wouldn’t be a whole lot I could do about it.
Sharkman: David, you have a lot of great photos, but which is the one you would pick as your favourite?
David: First, thank you for admiring my photographs. Without question, “BELCH” is my absolute favourite. It is a shot I envisioned capturing in my head for years. On my sixth South Australian Great White shark expedition, it happened right in front of me. As a little boy, an obvious huge fan of the movie “Jaws”, I often wondered what it would have been like to be Matt Hooper in a cage with a Great White shark on full attack and trying to get in. This was hardly the case when I took “BELCH” but it sure looks like it.
Sharkman: Is there a wish, or a dream that you still wish to achieve?
David: I assume you’re still referring to sharks. Schooling Hammerheads come to mind and being the first photographer to catch a live birth of a Great White, is up there as well. It would be nice to acquire a truly unique and unusual image of a Great White shark.
Sharkman: What do you think about the global shark situation?
David: I think it is a pathetic nightmare. I don’t imagine our grandchildren will ever witness and enjoy what we’ve been fortunate enough to see in our lifetimes. It always amazes me, that it has only taken mankind a couple of hundred years to completely destroy what nature built over millions of years of evolution.
Sharkman: Is there a final comment or message that you would like to pass on to our readers?
David: Let me say thank you for your obvious devotion to the animal that we, and so many others, have come to love and respect. As a last comment, I would like to remind your readers that sharks are not only incredibly beautiful animals to admire and marvel over, they play essential parts in our ecosystem. Without these great predators, I think we are doomed to a very different and disturbingly sad future.
Sharkman: David, it was a pleasure to meet you and thank you for being with us here at Sharkman’s World.
David: You’re welcome.
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