Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

The Andy Show

Posted from Isla Guadalupe, Mexico at 7:45 pm, September 29th, 2019

Unfortunately I was sick with a migraine yesterday, too nauseous to eat, and only able to make two trips to the cages in the morning before crawling back to bed; now that we’re heading back to Enseneda I’ve fully recovered. I managed to rally for one more dive this afternoon after the pounding in my head had reduced to where the thought of compressing my body in neoprene and descending underwater sounded only slightly terrifying, and while half the boat was a no-show for dinner due to rough seas I was ravenous after not eating anything yesterday, so overall being out of commission for a bit didn’t impact the trip too negatively.

Catching up on all of the action during the past few days, it was a really unique trip. We spent the entire three days in the same anchorage in a bay on Guadalupe. The boat is 130 feet long and has two surface cages and two additional cages that were lowered down 30 feet below the surface, but surprisingly the surface cages seemed to be more fun – there were usually two baits made of tuna heads or tails thrown from the back of the boat, and with the sharks going for them regularly the action was better closer to the surface. Over the two days we met several different sharks, but “Andy” was the star of the show. This 13-14 foot male was the alpha for the area, and he spent hours with us every day, to the point where Audrey started referring to the good dives as the “Andy show”, and cheered whenever he could grab one of the baits before one of the boat’s “shark wranglers” could yank it away. While it obviously would have been a dramatically different experience without cages, from the safety of a cage we were able to watch the sharks stalk the baits, interact with one another during the times where two or more sharks were at the boat, and also just kind of sit back and gasp every time a giant fish with rows of razor-sharp teeth swam by.

It’s gratifying, and a little bit terrifying, to know that places like this one exist in the world. Looking out from the top of the boat and seeing massive shadows and fins in the water is a reminder that Earth has a primordial and savage side that humans mostly don’t see anymore. It’s also gratifying to have gained that knowledge from behind the safety of reinforced steel cages.

Full-speed and slow-mo versions of a great white attacking the bait behind the boat. The sharks had all sorts of different attack strategies; this video shows the scariest one – hard and fast from directly underneath.

Our new friend Andy

Posted from Isla Guadalupe, Mexico at 6:10 pm, September 27th, 2019

Two takeaways from day one of shark diving:

  1. Seven hours in the water with great whites will reduce your core body temperature to scary places, even in a 7mm wetsuit. Clearly only an idiot would spend that much time in the water; I hope my internal organs eventually thaw.
  2. If a great white shark wants to eat you, you have no chance. Zero. After witnessing massive sharks appear out of nowhere to chomp bait, I can say with certainty that the only reason surfing is popular on the California coast is because the sharks choose to ignore the dudes riding waves.

Most of the time spent in the water today was awesome, but the last part of the day things got slow and the cages emptied out, so when Audrey and I climbed back in at 4:15 we had the water to ourselves and didn’t know the show that was in store. It was quiet for a bit, but when Andy the shark returned and started tearing bait apart and then smiling at us as he swam by, the day moved from memorable to unforgettable.

Andy the Shark
Andy in the background, terrified looking mackerel in the foreground.
Andy the Shark
In open water it’s hard to tell how big he is, but Andy was a healthy 14 feet long and put the other sharks on notice when he was around.

Guadalupe Island

Posted from Pacific Ocean en route to Isla Guadalupe, Mexico at 4:15 pm, September 26th, 2019

For the first time in far too long, the journal is actually going to have daily travel postings. We’re on the first day of a five day trip to Guadalupe Island, which if you’ve ever watched Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is where they get some of their best footage of great white sharks. The experience of seeing sharks leaping out of the water in South Africa was incredible, but we didn’t have much luck underwater. This time we’re staying on a boat that will be anchored at the island for three full days, the water should have about 150 feet of visibility, and the island is home to hundreds of sharks, including some of the biggest great white whites known to science.

I don’t want to jinx things, but with four cages in the water from 6:30 AM to 6:00 PM every day there should be a better than average chance of some fairly excellent photos and videos in the coming days.