“It’s hard to describe what goes through one’s mind when, sitting in a “yum-yum” yellow plastic sea kayak, a 15-foot (4.5m) great white shark heads toward you.”
Cue heart attack, followed by furious paddling, for 99% of the human population. Not photographer Thomas Peschak though, in fact he was the test dummy for the photo, the one where a stupidly large shark is following a man in a piss weak looking plastic kayak that the shark’s going to munch like a big, yellow banana.
“I suggested using a kayak as both a photographic platform and a less obtrusive way to track white sharks. I was met with what I would call cautious enthusiasm, so I was voted to be the one to test the waters. Even though we repeatedly tested the sharks’ reactions to an empty kayak, the first few attempts were a little nerve-wracking.”
A, “little nerve-wracking.” O.K. For the final shot, Peschak climbed the research boat tower while the research assistant/sacrificial lamb intern literally got thrown to the sharks and they waited for a great white to come along. Camera ready, Peschak saw a biggie approaching and watched as the shark dove down to the seabed to suss the craft out, before surfacing above. Peschak then waited a second for his assistant to realise that “free time with kayak for working so hard” meant “please be live bait in some floating plastic,” and snapped the pic.
Although an amazing photo, Peschak has an equally good arsenal of underwater photography, which he takes free diving up to eight hours a day. He doesn’t scuba dive, as it disturbs the sharks with bubbles and noise from the equipment.
“The only way to shoot powerful imagery underwater is to get close and most of my work is wide angle where my subject is less than half a metre away. So I have to gain my subject’s trust and find ways for it to allow me to enter its personal space without radically altering its behaviour.”
He gets half-a-metre away from a shark. I scream when a piece of seaweed tickles my foot in murky water. Different strokes for different folks. Originally a marine biologist, Peschak realised he could do more for sea-life conservation with his photos, than with stats that no one reads. One of his focuses has been documenting the shark fin industry, which has caused some shark populations to decline up to 98% in the past 15 years. It’s estimated that around 100 million sharks are killed every year for the soup, a delicacy in China. Enjoy his incredible photos from the safety of the internet.