Oceans of Opportunity

‘basking’ in the sun

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael Lombardi

On the eve of Discovery’s Shark Week, I was invited by Captain Charlie Donilon (Snappa Charters)to head offshore of Rhode Island to assist with underwater filming for a feature film production by Garth Donovan.

I’ve headed offshore to dive with our local sharks out in bluewater annually for about the last five years, with a kickoff project being a writing assignment for Rhode Island Monthly Magazine about blue sharks. I am constantly taken by this environment’s ability to envelope and intimidate. There’s nothing but blue – deep and vast – within which is home to en entirely new underwater world. I remain convinced that exploration of these offshore waters by humans is a new frontier for the taking.



English: Male Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus).
English: Male Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, as these offshore shark diving days go, we spent the bulk of the day waiting, sharing sea stories, and wishfully thinking that our time for a unique shark encounter will come. We wait, and wait, and wait…

Near ready to throw in the towel, we took one last dive to film Garth – doubling as lead character in his new film – in the shark cage. After a few short minutes, he pointed over my shoulder. Expecting to see a silhouette off in the  distance, which is typically where the first sightings are, I turned around and nearly swallowed my regulator to find a 12 foot basking shark staring literally right over my shoulder. Anything that big will take your breath away – the fact that these basking sharks are often mistaken for white sharks given their stocky body shape was of course cause for a double take. Fortunately, enough knowledge of these beasts helped me calm my immediate spike in anxiety as I realized that this beast was totally harmless – yet it was a BEAST nonetheless.

Interestingly, Captain Charlie reaffirmed that this was an extremely unique sighting for this time of year. A sighting at all is a unique event – consider the vastness of the ocean, coupled with the relative infrequency of human presence and interactivity, and the size of the population which is very much migratory – this interaction was a special moment.

So, as you take to your Shark Week viewing pleasure, consider the uniquity in each event captured on film – each represents a tremendous amount of time in the field, dedication of the researchers and filmmakers out there trying to get the job done, and an evolving relationship between humans and these apex predators that remains only at its infancy.

For more from the author, visit oceanopportunity.com.

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