“Swimming With Sharks” By Tommi Kokkola

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Seacam housing, double Inon Z-240 strobes; 24mm, ISO 320, f/8, 1/200 sec.
Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Seacam housing, double Inon Z-240 strobes; 24mm, ISO 320, f/8, 1/200 sec.

Born in Finland, I now live in Taipei, Taiwan, and even though diving is very nice here, there are no longer sharks around as they’ve been fished out for shark fin soup. Environmental protection of seas isn’t sufficient yet, but it’s good to see that the popularity of shark soup is going down due to active campaigning in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I hope that the slowing market will give change to see sharks here in future, but in the meantime, I have to travel elsewhere to photograph them.

Last November, I took a one-week live-aboard trip to the Red Sea, Egypt. We started from Marsa Alam and headed first to Brothers Islands, where these photos were taken. Oceanic whitetip sharks were one of the main subjects we were hoping to see, and thus, it was planned to stay two days there diving with them. That time of the year, they’re often close to reefs on these islands that are actually just rocks over the surface in the middle of the open ocean.

Jacques Cousteau described the oceanic whitetip as "the most dangerous of all sharks.” There are no records of them attacking divers, but they’re very curious, mainly to check out if there’s something they could eat.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Seacam housing, double Inon Z-240 strobes; 24mm, ISO 320, f/8, 1/200 sec.
Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Seacam housing, double Inon Z-240 strobes; 24mm, ISO 320, f/8, 1/200 sec.

The routine was the same for every dive. We dove directly from the boat and headed for the reef. The sharks would hear that something was in water, and after awhile they would come check us out. Then we would wait for them in the very deep, open blue water fairly close to the ship, but staying at just five-meters depth. Every dive we saw them, sometimes farther away, but often they would make a pass just one meter from us. It felt very calm, and I just loved being out there with those amazing animals in their natural environment. They moved very gracefully, but it seemed that they’ve learned to be a bit weary of humans.

Taking good photos underwater is very difficult. Of course you need an underwater housing for your camera—in my case it’s just a normal full-frame DSLR. Even in relatively shallow water, you need to bring light with you (dual underwater strobes) in order to show the real colors. Problem is that strobes light all the small particles in water, so position and power of strobes need to be carefully adjusted.

Canon 5Dm3, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Seacam housing, double Inon Z-240 strobes; 24mm, ISO 320, f/10, 1/200 sec.
Canon 5Dm3, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Seacam housing, double Inon Z-240 strobes; 24mm, ISO 320, f/10, 1/200 sec.

I like that when non-divers see the photos they think about how they could protect the waters. Usually what you don’t see, you don't care about. The last few decades have been very bad for the seas, and it will impact all of us more than we know. Showing animals like sharks in their own environment hopefully will make some people think about how they can help to protect these beautiful animals.—Tommi Kokkola

See more of Tommi Kokkola’s work on his website at www.tommikokkolaphotography.com. You can also follow him on Facebook, Instagram and 500px.

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