Guadalupe Island is a volcanic isolated island 180 miles southwest of Ensenada, Mexico. In 2005, it was designated by the Mexican government as a Biosphere Reserve due to its importance for many migratory seabirds, marine fish and mammals. White sharks, which are normally solitary animals, would stop here between August and October every year in the crystal clear water sheltered by the island. Tell-tale signs of their breeding activity would be seen on the females’ gill plates as males would hang on by their teeth – a scene yet to be witnessed by a human.
Once upon a time, there used to be a vibrant forest on top of the mountain. Now, only a few sparse trees remain as early settlers chopped and sold the lumber for a living. Once the trees disappeared, so did most settlers. All that remains is a tiny artisanal fishing village on the south eastern side of the island. They are the only ones allowed to fish in these parts, however, white sharks are off limits.
White sharks have been the favorite shark of horror stories and media as it is the closest living relative to the extinct Megaladon and a fearsome looking specimen. White sharks can grow up to 20ft long and can weigh nearly three tons. Better yet, they can propel themselves above the surface in one quick swoop in an attempt to catch fast swimming prey such as sealions and fish. Overfishing and the shark fin trade diminished this species to an IUCN status of ‘critically endangered’ in the Mediterranean and Europe and it is globally listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’. Thankfully after years of study and education, they are now the most protected shark species and are showing signs of recovery.
Speaking of recovery, sharks have an incredible ability to heal from injuries rapidly and also possess special genes that reduce the occurrence of chronic diseases such as cancer. Dr. Mahmood Shivji at the Guy Harvey Research Institute based at Nova Southeastern University led a team of scientists to decode the white shark genome. With the human genome already decoded in 2003, they can now compare the two to see what genes are specifically responsible for initiating the fast healing process. This discovery has only added to the value of living sharks. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is putting together a documentary film to showcase the recent genetic discoveries and how it could potentially impact human health.
This expedition was done aboard the Socorro Aggressor over a five day period. The incredible crew provided the means to dive with these animals within a choice of three sturdy cages just off the edge of the boat. The weather was perfect and on the first day four sharks were seen at once! Even though it was cold, the team sat in the water for hours at a time waiting for the perfect pass and enjoyed every minute. Special thanks goes to
Captain Wayne Hasson and the Aggressor Adventures team for coordinating this expedition.