This image shows an oceanic whitetip shark swimming past marine biologist Wes Pratt in the waters off Cat Island in the Bahamas. The oceanic whitetip is a shark species whose stocks have plummeted worldwide in recent times, a species targeted by commercial fisheries for their large fins. Once commonly seen offshore in the Bahamas, I hadn’t heard of anyone seeing oceanic whitetip sharks underwater in decades at the time I made this picture (2005). But after hearing tales from sport fishermen claiming sightings near a place called Cat Island, off I trekked on a highly speculative, 16-day search.
We spent day after day cruising and diving and searching with no luck. But then one afternoon, we struck gold. It was late in the day and we had positioned the dive boat over a deep drop-off and throttled back the engine when a large dorsal appeared off our stern; a fin splashed on top with white!
A few moments later, I was floating within the crystal blue water when she materialized in the distance, a female oceanic whitetip about nine feet in length moving directly towards me. She reached me in seconds and was highly curious, bouncing her nose off my dome port repeatedly. The shark eventually settled into swimming large, lazy circles around the cage, often moving in close to check me out, then returning to her orbital path. It was an experience I didn’t want to end. I was light-years away from everything else, just drifting in the ocean with this beautiful shark. As she made her approaches, I began to see a picture in my mind’s eye, an image that would silhouette her exquisite form with those large pectoral fins and dorsal against the Bahamian blue water backdrop. Soon after making this picture, the sun was very low on the horizon and light levels underwater were falling quickly, so reluctantly, I exited the water. – Brian Skerry
Equipment and settings: NIKON D2X, AF Fisheye-NIKKOR 16mm f/2.8D lens, Subal underwater housing – 1/60th @ f/8, ISO 100.