In 2011 Shark Diver and our film and television team at Shark Divers was asked to tackle a technically challenging commercial shark production by one of the largest advertising agencies in the world BBDO.
Over the years we have come to be known within the film and television community as the company that successfully pulls off challenging and unique productions with sharks. From Mythbusters to "walking on water with sharks," our teams always look at shark environment in new and truly unique ways to keep audiences interested and engaged.
That's not to say we take the animals we are fortunate enough to work with for granted, or treat sharks as just props. In fact the animals welfare, and the entire production design, starts and ends with the sharks.
We have turned down countless productions that fail to meet or exceed our policies towards sharks in this game there is only one way to do shark productions. Safely.
We are one of the few shark production companies that have designed a shark production protocol that has been approved and adopted by the American Humane Association.
In this behind the scenes look from Gillette you can see the entire team in action. There's no room for error and everyone works in tandem with professional speed and direction.
This recent commercial is now on nation wide television, seen in every market in the U.S and was featured at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
Over the years Shark Divers has worked with a number of outstanding film and television productions on shark shows that have ranged from Discovery Channel to Ushia Natural History.
We have also turned down many shark productions like Endemol's "Killer Shark Live" at Isla Guadalupe for reasons that ran the gamut from poor production value to the actual name of the show.
This year we have been busy once again on a series of shark productions in the Bahamas, most notably a Gillette commercial that involved a huge crew and a boatload of dignitaries from the Bahamas Film Commission. Getting to meet the "Queen of Productions," Donna Mackey in person and wrangling sharks together on the back deck was one of the many highlights of this amazing shoot.
When we got the call months ago with a "kernel of a commercial idea," it intrigued me.
How do you produce a main stream commercial that involves live sharks that is scientifically accurate, and commercially valid at the same time, without going over the edge into territory reserved for the moniker Shark Porn?
This was the challenge, additionally we wanted this high value production to benefit a local community as well, so we chose the Bahamas as the target site for shooting. In the end this production bought out 3/4 of a local resort to stage from, and involved many levels of the Bahamian government who had never seen a shark production in action and who were also very interested in the value of a live shark. They joined us on our last day of production to see how a production with sharks was done in the Bahamas.
The commercial value of a shark to ongoing conservation has been talked about a lot recently with several first rate studies coming out on the subject. The Bahamas just recently recognized this and declared all of the Bahamas a Shark Sanctuary a stunning development, but when presented with industry figures of a valuation of $80 million a year for live sharks you can see why.
Often left out of this discussion are film and television productions that drop many millions of dollars into local communities, keeping local business alive, and none more than the Bahamas West End on Grand Bahama, which has seen tough times as of late.
We always work with the same small production group and we tend to tackle projects that are technically challenging and at the same time exciting to work on. The premise for the Gillette commercial is absolutely "tongue in cheek," it's in the same vein as a recent commercials featuring white sharks and Snickers bars, or white sharks and Nicorette gum. The answer to the question of Shark Porn is to produce a commercial that is based in humor. The outrageous notion of two guys shaving in shark cages with one of them cutting themselves, is so far out there you discount it, until you see the actual sharks. That's the hook.
We were gearing up to do a live shoot and as the old saying goes, "never work with children or animals." You have to rely on the animals to be at the right place at the right time with the right conditions to make it happen. Sometimes it does not, and we know this first hand.
You can watch the Behind the Scenes Reel from this shoot and see the dedication and seriousness we all put into this production. It was always "go time" on the back deck while we were out there.
You also have to have the right crew in place, because there's no way a shoot like this involving as many folks mixing it up with large, wild, sharks has any room for "mistakes," and we take shark diving seriously.
After a decade in this game we remain "shark accident" free and it's one of the reasons productions seek us out time and again. I must say our DP was also one of the best in the field. Johnny Friday is based in La Paz, Mexico and shoots RED, and he's simply amazing. With the time we had on site he utilized every second and got every shot, he also one of the nicest commercial guys I have had the pleasure to work with.
We also had Luke Tipple on site as overall production manager and as one of the talent for this shoot. Luke is a marine biologist, and has been the driving force behind the Shark-Free Marinas Initiative, a conservation effort for sharks supported by the Humane Society, the Guy Harvey Institute, Slash from Guns n Roses and a host of fine folks from all over the shark conservation spectrum.
Day one saw as many as nine Tigers on site, and no Lemon sharks. This, as turned out, was too much of a good thing. By pure coincidence another shark boat three miles away was shooting a Spanish speaking documentary, we knew this after Johnny came up with his underwater comm gear and said, " I hear some guy talking about sharks in Spanish." It became evident that we had his Tigers and he had our Lemon sharks and both groups were in a mini shark purgatory.
Frankly, I am o.k with nine well behaved Tiger sharks on a shark production, but for this one, we needed Lemon sharks and lot's of them. As I like to tell folks on shark trips, "tomorrow is another day."
Day two was everything we had hoped it would be, thanks to Scotty and crew on the M/V Kate who kept our animals interested overnight, we acquired some 20 Lemon sharks the next day and that, with the Tigers, gave us the limited window we needed for the shoot. But time was running out as a boatload of Bahamian dignitaries was going to arrive that afternoon with the Vice President of BBDO, one of the largest advertising agencies on the planet who was paying for this.
We had to get busy and all we needed were sharks interested in cages.
It took time for the animals to "season up" to the two cages we had dropped the previous day, and as far as chumming we ended up using 20% of the total allotment we had on site. The idea was to appear as natural as this impossible scene could, and that meant limited chum. In fact we had submitted a complete shark site protocol written by Luke Tipple to the American Humane Association which they signed off on. No sharks were to be harmed in any way on this shoot, that meant animals getting into cages, caught on rigging, or any manner of production abuse to the wildlife.
We stand by that at Shark Diver, we're here for the animals first and foremost and it has always been the case.
It was the afternoon when the pure magic happened. For whatever reason, the current, the animals, our team pulled off the extraordinary and we got into a amazing rhythm of animals approaching myself on the back deck and then peeling off to investigate the crew on the seafloor with the cages. This fantastic production scene went on for two hours delivering everything we needed, just in time for Donna Mackey's arrival and her boatload of Bahamians who watched with some fascination at the scene unfolding in front of them.
I have wanted to spend some quality time with Donna on a professional level for several years, ever since we met her briefly in 2006 on a shoot. Donna is Bahamas Film, if you need anything to make your shoot work she is your go-to gal, and the reason why the Bahamas works so well for film productions involving sharks.
She and I ended up wrangling a few sharks on the back deck while we chatted about productions with sharks in the Bahamas and how, one day, the Bahamas might in fact become a Shark Sanctuary, that day has come, and it is thanks in part to the value of live sharks to the Bahamian community.
The final shark commercial is now on national television and we like it. It's a fine line that you tread when you get involved in shark productions. But over the years we have managed to tread that line well, and often, and this commercial is one in a series of shark productions you'll be seeing from us as time moves forward.
As for the crew, I have to say once again guys, from Scotty and the M/V Kate with Blue Iguana Charters, to Luke, Moondog, Johhny, and the L.A based production staff who were top notch, it's been an amazing few years doing magic with you, let's do it all again.
As the CEO of Shark Diver I have been fortunate enough over the past decade to meet some amazing divers, work with some great dive crews, and experience sharks in ways that few people are fortunate enough to.
This spring I spent a month in the company of sharks at Tiger Beach with the M/V Kate. We shot a couple of film projects, entertained a host of excited divers from all over the planet, and basically had a stellar shark season.
Here's a trip report I wrote in April. I celebrated 43 in the company of a very large, very curious female Tiger on Rob's Reef, a spectacular encounter.
2011 Tiger Beach Expeditions
It’s sunset on day one of our latest adventures to Tiger Beach. With us on the M/V Kate and Blueiguanacharters.com are two groups of three divers each. Matt, Kathryn, and Magnus on one side and Diana and her two amazing sons on the other.
Speaking with these guys on the phone for the past few months I knew we had some fun people on board. Diana and her small tribe were boomeranging in from Tahiti and a private yacht trip for the past 14 days to join us in Freeport.
Day one is when everyone gets to know each other, the dive site, and the sharks. Today was one of those gold standard days. When I woke up this morning I saw two of the other shark boats already on site, looking down with a cup of Scotty's "hard brew coffee" I watched not one but three Tigers (Galeocerdo cuvier) milling about in crystal clear waters, this was going to be a great day, starting with our favorite sharks.
Our first couple of dives introduced us to a wonderful Tiger shark I have taken to calling Popeye, on account she has a messed up jaw and looks like the old school cartoon Popeye now, probably from a tangle with a fisherman.
Popeye was a really gentle animal, as were the next characters on site, Tip fin, another female with a missing piece from her tail, and Smashmouth a much larger female who looks like she ate a grenade. That’s some wound she has. We all tried really hard to get closer to Smashmouth to see what caused that wound but her shyness kept her coyly away from our cameras. Really sad to see an animal like that in such a state, like a prom queen with an ugly inkvine scar on her face, her inner beauty still shines though and tomorrow our cameras will be on her first and foremost. Our last dive introduced all of us to Shredder Two, a female with a messed up dorsal fin and an attitude.
While all the other Tigers were shy and gentle Shredder Two showed up like a backyard bully on lunch money Tuesday, shoving aside Lemon sharks and announcing her arrival with sheer size and bulk, this was a fat and happy 13 foot predator and as I watched her for over an hour I could not help thinking how lucky I was to be here diving with her.
For a first day of diving I would have to say the Bahamas delivered again. Tomorrow more of the same, hopefully the water clarity gets a shade better, it was fine today but not prime - and we like prime.
Jacked up on Tiger Beach this morning. We have had waves for the past two days but this morning things are messy on The Beach. Capt Scotty tells us there’s a tight storm moving our way so we get one dive and then we run for the calm of Sandy Key to wait out the storm. Our dive is classic, gin clear waters on the morning tide and covered in gigantic Lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris), and they are getting bigger here I don’t care what anyone says. Capt Rob was bait guy and we had some fun with the benthic cages and about 20 snapping Lemons. Just regular shots of sharks are cool but anything with the mouth open and a chance to look at the dentition of a shark always is a crowd pleaser. With the morning dive over it’s time for the run and two hours later we are tucked into the Key just as we get hammered with two successive waves of high energy storm systems. We’ll stay put for tonight drinking Kalik beer and watching Master and Commander because tomorrow it’s back to the sharks and calm conditions for the rest of the week.
That's diving on the bank for you, sometimes you have to let nature do it's thing.
By the way a note on Kalik Beer, best stuff on the planet bar none, and no better post shark celebration beer, just before we popped the tops on the first round I dropped all our chum buckets over the side…just in case…in the Bahamas you never know and tomorrow is always a better day.
As promised back to The Beach and the animals do not disappoint. By 10.00am we have 20 plus Lemon sharks and a few Tigers milling around. We float one of our surface cages for some serious predatory shark imagry. What’s nice about seeing sharks be “sharky” from the safety of a cage is the appreciation you get of predatory power up close. You cannot get that from outside the cage in a strongly baited situation with any real degree of safety and our divers are thrilled.
We also have a secret bait that our sharks consider “ambrosia”, yes sharks are connoisseurs.
After lunch we get wet again this time on the bottom and are treated with the arrival of not one but six Tigers. Back are Shredder Two with her messed up dorsal fin and tipped tail fin, a new shark we called tail rope, it looks like someone tail roped this girl compressing her flesh at the base of the tail, Popeye is back, and Baby a tiny 3-4 foot female is new to us and very curious as well. The other animals are indistinct fortunately having no major markings. The day finished big sharks and more sharks. We had a completely full and happy day of shark diving, clear conditions, and great light.
We’re cruising this morning and off to Sugar Wreck, an amazing shallow dive site. Even the most hard core sharkies need a break and Sugar Wreck delivers. The water clarity is better than gin and the profusion of sea life astounds everyone gets their dive on here and our photographers all switch to macro for the next several hours. After lunch we’re off to Mount Olympus an amazing deep dive site and home to some seriously big Tigers. We had not even got wet when the first titan showed up trailing a 40lb Cobia, the crew started salivating, that was one tasty fish, but it was also the good trolling buddy of a 14 foot female Tiger so we left it alone.
Our Titan stayed with us the whole dive, and Mount O is one of the finest reef dives in the area we saw lots of Reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi), grouper, snappers, a profusion of life and a great series of dives.
We decided to bail on the dolphin grounds today, our divers are sharky and you gotta hand it to them. By now we're small little family. Magnus is the funniest guys I have met, his buddy Matt from the U.K keeps him and Kathryn from getting into the brother/sister mode, she gets picked on mercilessly, but she's a trooper and has become a first rate shark diver on this trip as well.
Diana and her sons Josh and Sam are nothing but accomplished. Josh and Sam arrive with some of the best underwater photography gear going in a never ending series huge pelican cases. When you meet folks like this you know you have serious shooters on hand. Watching these two guys work underwater was a joy. Some photographers enter into the environment of the animals and never quite settle. Both Josh and Sam "work with" the animals in a way I find absolutely enthralling, there's a moment I watch one of them literally "dance with a Lionfish," the animal is caught on video in full spine extension, amazing light, and in 360. It's the kind of imagery that you expect from a top tier shooter, and this is as good as it gets.
I also didn't mention that both these guys are under 20.
We’re back to Tiger Beach, more sharks, Tigers, Lemons and even a small little Nurse shark who wandered in looking for a free snack. I love Nurse sharks, they are complete throw backs to earlier shark forms when matched with the grace and power of a Tiger but fun none the less.
Tip fin is here, Smashmouth, Popeye and even Baby all make an appearance and we play with animals until sunset. I watch these animals in awe, every single time I encounter them, it's an honor to be in the company of these magnificent predators.
The decision was made last night to jet off to Rob's Reef, we need some background to shoot sharks and want some variety today. It is also my birthday. 42 years old. When I look back on the past decade it astounds me. So much has changed in the industry, so many new faces, old faces, industry advancements, the meeting of conservation and industry. That for me is something that I have watched unfold with happiness. Back in 2002 when I started talking about working with researchers, and supporting conservation for most part no one in the industry was interested. Today, it's part of the culture, and as I dove off the side for another encounter with sharks I was thinking about the future of the industry when I was interrupted.
Every once in a while I get a sixth sense in the water. Usually I turn around and there's a something truly interesting right behind me. In Socorro a few years back it was a huge Humpback Whale and calf who snuck up on me. In Honduras it was what looked like mating reef sharks, at Guadalupe it's been all manner of white shark behavior including a full water breach that only I was fortunate to see early in the morning, right at eye level.
Today on my 43rd birthday it was one of the largest Tigers I have ever seen, she had cruised into the area once she had sensed the Reef sharks getting active. We have started spearing invasive Lionfish on the reefs in an attempt to slow down the invasion, it has gotten so bad in the Bahamas that finding 20-30 of these critters is not uncommon. The Reef sharks have developed a taste for them, freshly speared, and that brought in this big momma Tiger who I know found myself face to face with.
Spending private time with your own personal Tiger sharks is about as much fun as you can have and this huge female was graceful, gentle, and very curious in a laid back way. We spent about ten minutes together with her cruising around me looking with huge black eyes while the rest of the our divers were down on the bottom of the reef.
Once in a while we get our own special encounters with sharks that just realign and reaffirm what we are doing out here. After a decade in this game some wonder if it ever gets old for me. The answer to that is no, there's always another reef just around the corner, always another shark, and always another challenge. It's been an amazing journey.
The rest of that week was more of the same we had great weather and huge numbers of sharks, and when we got back to port it was a scramble to get our next crew on board. This year we hosted two film crews with tough assignments. You'll see it on television soon enough, for this project I brought in the usual A-list team of divers and safety guys and needless to say, once again, we delivered the impossible.
Thanks to Diana, Josh and Sam, and Kathryn, Matt and Magnus for the great company, the good times and the bottle of Birthday Tequila (Diana, you know your beverage).
Special thanks to Capt Rob, Captain Scotty and the entire crew of the M/V Kate including Pasha. We return to the Kate year after year because she's one of the best Bahamas shark boats going right now and she has it where it counts.
There's no dive operations that she cannot handle and no film and television project that cannot be done - it's been a great ongoing partnership.
Cheers,Patric Douglas CEO
Vancouver Sun March 2011
Eye to eye with the Great White
By Craig Reynolds
North Americans are closer than they think to what is arguably the best place on earth to experience Great White Sharks.
When you tell people you’re going on a shark dive, you can almost guarantee that you’ll get a fairly similar reaction from most people. “You’re crazy,” they’ll say. But for those of us guys (and yes, girls too) who think of our time off as a time for adventure, there is an island where you can do what very few people have done.
The Isle of Guadalupe, Mexico, the same place where Disney chose to film its spectacular encounters with Great White sharks in the movie Oceans, is accessible by charter from San Diego — an easy flight from most North American cities. And as guys-only getaways continue to grow in popularity, the adrenalin junkies on Shark Week aren’t the only ones discovering this remote feeding ground.
The company that I have entrusted all of my limbs to for the next five days, Shark Diver has been providing eco-shark tours for 10 years now. The research and tourist dollars collected help protect a species that is actually now under serious threat from humans. CEO Patrick Douglas explains, “We have an obligation to these sharks, as a site steward and operator. I see my job as one of research support, education and safety for these magnificent animals.”
What’s more, he understands that every year from mid-August to mid-November, Great Whites congregate in large numbers near this volcanic sanctuary, 150 miles off the coast of Baja. It is a breeding ground for thousands of northern elephant seals and fur seals, a preferred prey of these 15 foot-plus apex predators. With up to 100 feet of visibility, it is without a doubt, one of the best places on earth to view the Carcharodon carcharias — the scientific name for the large shark with jagged teeth.
For many of the U.S. and Canadian born passengers on this 80-foot vessel, we’ve become familiar with Guadalupe’s reputation from its many appearances on Shark Week. What surprises me though, is that a kiwi passenger, Dave has travelled all the way from New Zealand to be on this particular live-aboard because it actually guarantees shark sightings — something he hasn’t been able to find in other famous shark hot spots like Australia or even South Africa.
Now on board the Horizon, we drown some seasickness pills with a Budweiser and prepare for the full day voyage.
When the morning of truth arrives, I drop out of bed like a kid on Christmas and try to find my sea legs as I navigate the spiral staircase upward. And of course, I’m not even the first one up. My fellow Shark Week geeks are just as into this as I am. With only the island’s silhouette revealed by the first suggestion of sunrise, it kind of feels like I’ve arrived at Skull Island.
Outside on deck, the crew is running a hose through the fresh buckets of chum. The purpose of which is simply to attract the sharks. We are only here to observe these predators in their natural habitat, not to create a man-made “feeding frenzy.” As the fish blood spills overboard and into what looks like just any other blue sea, two reinforced steel cages are lowered off the stern of the boat and into the water. We haven’t even slid into our wet suits yet and a crew member signals, “White Shark!”
It’s perhaps 14 feet long, and has eaten its fair share of seals, I’d say. Yet somehow, with all the time I’ve spent in the water during my life, having never seen a Great White swimming in front of me, it looks perfectly normal here: the trademark dorsal fin, big black eye and gaping grin are all plainly visible from the deck above. You’ve never seen divers get into their gear so fast.
The only thing that requires any real skill is that with no fins to steady our movement, we find ourselves bobbing up and down in the cage and before I can even figure out how to properly manage my underwater camera while still holding onto the cage to steady myself, its stalking us.
Then, as if using an underwater cloaking device, the shark suddenly appears out of nowhere. And you wonder how something this spectacular in size could ever sneak up on you in just a split-second. Only the seals that have their head on a swivel for their own self-preservation are able to tip us off as to when the sharks are approaching.
By day two, my cellmates are jumping up and down on the steel floor making vibrations that they know will attract these two-plus tone predators.
And soon there are three, perhaps four 10-plus foot sharks circling our cage, coming in waves from all angles. But secure with the knowledge that humans aren’t a preferred food of this often-misunderstood “maneater,” I am thrilled beyond belief. To me, these are just wild animals doing a drive-by. Making their surveillance, they come closer and closer to us and, with each successive pass, I can finally see into the blacks of their eyes.
From the December issue of Cigar Aficionado Magazine:
Written by Jim Cornfield
Image by Jim Cornfield
Your adrenaline kicks into the red zone as the shark glides past, dead silent, an arm's length from your face. He's Carcharodon carcharias, the great white, and this isn't an aquarium. It's his realm. You're sharing the water with the world's largest predatory fish, protected (this is the good news) from his infamous dental work by a cocoon of welded aluminum bars, floating at the stern of a luxury live-aboard trawler. Welcome to shark-cage diving, a thrilling, increasingly popular breed of adventure vacation.
The excitement begins underwater, as everyone nervously scans the void around and below the cage, searching for the day's first sighting. Suddenly, some eager diver will pound out a bass drum soundtrack on the bars, to announce the approach of a great white, looming up from its cruising depth. The drama is palpable. A shark rises into Windex-blue water near the surface, and muffled cries of "wow" can be heard beneath the noisy bubbling of everyone's breathing regulators. As the shark slows to inspect these strange creatures in their metal enclosure, a rare communion occurs-an intimate close-up glimpse at one of nature's most mythologized wild animals. But this is no kumbaya moment. Keep your hands inside and respect these efficient killers.
Adult great white sharks typically grow to lengths of around 15 feet-plus, and weigh upwards of a ton. They are the ocean's "apex predators," the ultimate expression of a line of marine vertebrates who've lived on this planet for 400 million years. To scientists and shark buffs, the great whites are a feast of complex behaviors: they're coy in their breeding and migration habits; they're surprisingly wary, calculating hunters; and they're probably the most skillful killing machines in nature.
The inshore waters of Guadalupe Island, located 250 miles off Baja California, are among the few known stopovers for migratory great whites. Patric Douglas, of Shark Diver, the San Diego-based cage-dive operator, believes Guadalupe is "the most robust white shark habitat on earth." It's now a popular venue where tourists in wetsuits and face masks can safely observe this ancient, dangerous life form in its natural lair.
Strictly speaking, shark-cage diving isn't really diving at all. Usually, no scuba certification or even swimming skills are required. In a typical scenario, "divers" are safety-briefed, then descend just beneath the surface, with unlimited air supplied-hookah style-from topside, via scuba mouthpieces and rugged 12-foot hoses. Most cage dive boats spend about three days at the island, (Shark Diver's price for the total five-day expedition is around $3,100), each diver making four to five one-hour "rotations" daily, with periodic rest breaks on deck.
We have fielded a lot of calls for production support with sharks over the years. Usually shows have been pre-pitched and our crew are there to provide safety, site support, and of course the sharks.
Not so with AT and T.
The production company we were working with this year had been tasked with providing promo spots for shows on AT and T's U-Verse. Shark Divers was tapped to provide the show spots featuring sharks from the ground up.
The kind of stuff we love to do because this gave us the chance to get creative. Really creative.
For a long while I had been toying with the concept of a "Jesus Walk" for a shark show host. Basically the creation of a unique and compelling visual to keep the audience through the commercial break.
The Jesus Walk had never been tried, and never in the middle of the Caribbean in June. The walk itself was a technical marvel, two eight foot sheets of ballistic plexiglass over twin steel beams for support, with 1500lb of flotation on each end.
The concept, done right, would have the show host "walking on water" with a chum bucket surrounded by sharks. The show hosts absolutely calm demeanor, juxtaposed with the swirling sharks just under his bare feet would be the actual visual. Shot by the camera team just at the surface to capture the sharks and the show hosts and sharks every movement.
A show host who walked on water with sharks? Now there's a visual.
When it comes to shark shows these days few really consider the 3D environment they operate in. I like to look at the total environment as a visual canvas. To that we also added a red Victorian couch, same visual, except the show host would do the intro sitting on top of the water on the couch, casually tossing huge chunks of dead fish to snapping sharks while speaking to the camera.
Absolutely classic stuff - and totally out of the box.
We had one of the shortest lead times on record for this shoot and I went to my A-Team for the deployment. The crew of the MV Kate and Scotty Grey, Scott Cassel for dive safety and underwater photography, Richard Theiss for topside and underwater photography and Luke Tipple as the show host.
We had five days for the build out and four days to shoot, the final result was seen this summer on AT and T's U-Verse and with the additional "visual canvas ideas" we threw in, AT and T were very happy with the end result.
After 30 years of shark programming it is time to start rethinking how we engage the audience with sharks. The days of bite meters, snapper cams, and show hosts who shout their way through man made near disasters are played out. There's a whole new world of shark programming out there, you just need some vision, a tight crew, and as it turns out a way to acquire ballistic plexiglass when 99.9% of the stuff is currently in Iraq.
How we got our hands on sixteen feet of BP is another story for another time. Suffice to say, once you say "Go" to our crew, they get the job done.
Next shoot concept, "Undersea Undertakers."
Patric Douglas CEO