In the article “Brave diver keeps his cool as he is circled by 8ft man-eating sharks in crystal clear Caribbean waters,” Tom Gardner focuses on photographer Vincent Canabal, who comes within feet of “one of the most fearsome predators on the planet,” the oceanic whitetip shark, with spectacular photographs by Michael Patrick O’Neill.
A relaxed diver drifts with the ocean current – as a fearsome 8ft killer shark circles around him. But Vincent Canabal, 34, seems unphased by the oceanic whitetip –despite the species being thought responsible for the most human deaths by sharks in history.
The powerful hunters have a grisly reputation for dining on shipwrecked sailors – most famously during the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. ‘One of the key things for an underwater photographer taking pictures of sharks is to not only pay attention to the shark being photographed, but to others that may be swimming or approaching from the back.’
He said: ‘Despite their reputation, the oceanic whitetip shark, and most sharks for that matter, are very cautious and reluctant to approach people. ‘The only reason why they are near divers is because we attracted them with a little bit of chum. ‘The main thing is to always be cautious, swim slowly without splashing and jerky movements, and to always know where the sharks are located.
Oceanic whitetips, along with many other shark species, have experienced a dramatic decline due to the shark fin trade. But in 2011 the Bahamas prohibited commercial shark fishing and its waters have now become a ‘sanctuary’ for about 40 species, according to Mr O’Neill, who lives in Florida.
He said: ‘Divers come from all over the world to see them. In short, Bahamians have monetised their sharks, turning them into a recurring source of tourism revenue – a much smarter alternative than killing and selling the fins.’ Oceanic whitetips, along with hammerheads, received protection at the conclusion of the 2013 CITES meeting in Bangkok.
Mr O’Neill, who was born and raised in Sau Paulo, Brazil, is an an award-winning photographer, author, and conservationist specialising in marine wildlife and environmental issues.