Travel

Ocean First in Guadalupe 2016

By OceanFirst on 8/24/16

Great white sharks. Diving with them is as incredible as it sounds, even if it is from behind a cage. Of course when you think about it… would you really want to dive with these impressive animals any other way?

This trip was sold out several months in advance and right from the start the group was fantastic. The group was primarily from the Boulder area and we had 3 join us from California. Our common threads were a love of great diving and the thrill of adventure! San Diego was our meeting point were everyone gathered for the 2 ½ hr drive across the border to Ensenada, Mexico to board the exquisite Nautilus Explorer Belle Amie. When we arrived at the marina and saw this brilliant white yacht there was a simultaneous silence as everyone thought the same thing: DAYUM. Belle Amie is spacious, luxurious, well-appointed and as we soon found out had a great staff and an amazing chef! Margaritas flowed as we started the 18hr crossing to Guadalupe Island and the lair of the great white shark!dji_0260_28572380413_o.jpg

After a relatively smooth crossing we arrived at Guadalupe. This is 20 mile by 6 mile island is 180 miles from the northwestern tip of Mexico and is relatively barren and uninhabited with the exception of a few fishermen who live on the western shore. Belle Amie moored up on the eastern shore. Elephant seals and sea lions rested comfortably on the black sand beaches, their raucous calls breaking the quiet of the morning. Mornings were cool and the conditions calm; water temperature ranged between 68F – 71F.

There are 5 cages on the BA; 3 submersible cages (starboard, port & center) that go to 30ft and 2 surface cages on the stern. All diving is done via hookah and divers are weighted down so you don’t bop around in the cages. Surface cages are open at 6:30am and there was a crew ready to roll! The crew prepared the wrangling buoy: a tuna head tied with twine which is then tied to a buoy. This draws the sharks in but the goal is to pull the fish head away as the shark tries to get it. There are very strict rules on how to interact with the sharks: no chumming and no intentional feeding. If the sharks get the bait the crew must wait at least 3 hours before putting another in the water.

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Now, these are wild animals. Although there is a very high probability of the sharks showing up, they cover a lot of ground. There are times when you spend 45 minutes in a submersible cage with nothing to look at but your cage mate and the ubiquitous tuna that photo-bombed constantly.  So, you stare out into the blue and start getting creative with “things to do in the cage while you wait for sharks”.  Cage running, kung-fu, selfies, rock/paper/scissors… we tried it all. And then someone points out into the blue and boom…things get going!

August is primarily frisky, male shark season. We didn’t expect to see any females this early. Our first visitor was a 12ft male who cautiously approached the submersible cages, sizing us up & seeing what we were all about. The action really got going once this shark became interested in the tuna head and became quite agitated as the tasty morsel was constantly pulled away. Cindy & Erin were in one of the surface cages and got quite the show!

When a shark approaches the bait at the surface the crew calls out “shark at the surface!”. If that shark starts to wrangle with the bait they yell out “we have a player!”. It is seriously exciting to see a 12ft shark thrashing about at the surface; you get a very good idea of just how big and powerful they are.

guadalupesharks-25_29158740026_o.jpgOn our second day the big females showed up. This was an unexpected surprise and these girls mean business! The largest was 16ft. She went for the bait, missed it and was really, really pissed off about it. As she descended to get back into position she approached the center cage and proceeded to bite the corner. Our new friends, Ryan & Jay from Houston had to move quick to get out of the way! It was sweet! Later in the day she buzzed the center cage again and yours truly got a camera full of teeth! Talk about an adrenaline rush, wow!! The females stayed around pretty much all day and provided our crew with some incredible experiences.

Evenings were spent with presentations from the crew on shark behavior and ecology. We even played shark bingo, identifying sharks that frequent Guadalupe. The crew of the Belle Amie is one of the best I have ever experienced. They run a tight ship but are very attentive and accommodating. Breakfast and lunch were brought out to divers who didn’t want to get out of their 7mm wetsuits; talk about service! Accommodations were spacious and well-appointed.  Did I mention how good the chef was? Unbelievable.

This was an amazing experience and something every avid diver or non-diver should put on their list. You cannot fully appreciate the majesty of these sharks without seeing them in their natural environment. They are graceful, purposeful creatures and are to be respected as apex predators that fill an important part of a balanced ecosystem. On our very last cage dive, (literally the last 2 minutes of it) we had a sea lion buzz the starboard cage. There was a 12ft male cruising about. The sea lion checked us out, checked out the gnarly tuna head, and then proceeded to chase down the shark. The sea lion followed the shark down to about 30ft and was pulling on it’s tail. This predator/prey interaction was unreal. The shark kept on swimming, the sea lion kept on harassing it. This is balance in action. At any time the shark could turn around and have a snack. The sea lion knew it could move faster than the shark from the position it was in and was clearly not concerned. It was truly amazing to watch & made me feel a little small and insignificant. The simplicity and harsh reality of life was right there in front of me.

What a privilege it is to have these experiences and witness nature at it’s best. Get out there and travel; the world makes more sense when you see it in action.

Thank you all for a memorable experience! Onto the next epic adventure…

Ami

 

 

 

 

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Sunday, 28 Aug | post by Cindy Fiorillo

We (my husband and I) have had the pleasure of traveling all over the globe with Ocean First. From Belize to Thailand, Fiji to The Galapagos, Palau to Truk.......the list goes one, and I must say this trip was epic. From the impeccable planning to the amazing accommodations (thank you Amy) the trip did not disappoint. Never did I believe I would enjoy cold water diving so much. The pure delight of being in the water with one of these amazing creatures (and I'm not talking about my cage mates) was second to none. I can't wait to do it again. Thank you Oceans First for continuing to help us check off our bucket list items. I can not wait for our next adventure.

Cindy and Steve


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