Science Expedition to Guadalupe Island

I booked the trip to Isla Guadalupe (Guadalupe Island) with Shark Diver of San Diego to fulfill a long held desire – since reading Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s “The Shark” and meeting his son in San Diego when I was a boy. And, in every way possible, this trip exceeded my expectations owing to the efforts of an outstanding Shark Diver team (particularly Martin Graf and Cindy Michaels), the Guest Marine Researcher Nicole Nasby Lucas, a fantastic Horizon crew, and great group of fellow shark divers. This is a must do in my opinion for anyone with a passion, interest or bucket list item relating to Great White Sharks – it’s fun, safe and amazing. Many details follow.

The Main Event:
I don’t want to bury the lead, so I’ll get right to our guests of honor. The Great White Sharks are impressive, majestic, and beautiful. They move by the twin cages, quite closely, at a stately pace, and look at the folks in the cage with large deep blue eyes; and, they appear utterly calm and in command. They make passes at the two bait carcasses off the stern, sometimes lazily and on occasion quite quickly. We were fortunate enough to witness a breach on one occasion – a male, who had previously made half-hearted passes at the bait, disappeared, the emerged from deep below the boat, under the cages, at speed, and hit the bait vertically from below, taking himself halfway out of the water – to the astonishment, screams and overwhelming joy of everyone aboard.

The visibility, typically, is very good at Isla Guadalupe, so the sun penetrates deep into the water and the boat casts a long shadow into the depths. Often our first sightings each time into the cage(s) were of the dark silhouette emerging from the shadow cast by the boat, coming up slowly from below and then circling the cages, bait and boat for some time before silently disappearing into the shadows again. Though each of us kept eyes peeled in all directions, it was amazing how frequently we were taken by surprise by a shark suddenly appearing. On deck, between dives, the crew is very experienced and keen eyed; and, they will call out “White Shark” as they approach, usually well before any guests see them. From above or below it is mesmerizing, and difficult to turn away.

Isla Guadalupe:
There are a few places worldwide to see Great White Sharks with predictability. Both South Africa and the Farallon Islands offer this opportunity; but, both have limited underwater visibility and challenging water temperatures. Isla Guadalupe has better water clarity, 100 foot visibility, and weather, and very few (we saw only three other) boats, some distance away. Unlike other locations, Isla Guadalupe will not force you to deal with cold and murky water, crowded boats and cages, quick “in and out” quick thrill experiences, etc. You will have days on the dive site, in relatively warm and very clear water, and good weather.

#153 he needs a name! You can name him by clicking here

Isla Guadalupe is a designated Bio Sphere, a marine sanctuary. It sits about 200 miles southwest of San Diego. It is made up of volcanic remnants and has a stark beauty, with tall, steep cliffs diving hundreds of feet down to sea. There are large populations of, and rookeries for, elephant seals, sea lions – all of which you are very likely to see, with approaches to boat on occasion.

Typically, though as Martin notes there are no hard and fast rules with White Sharks, they tell us the males will show up in earlier months – e.g., July, August, and September – and in greater numbers. And the typically October and November are when they have female sightings – the females being fewer but much larger than the males. Also, typically, the wetter weather comes later in the year, with the Pacific hurricane / wet season; but, this too is not always the case.

The Drive Out:
It is a long trip out to, and back from Isla Guadalupe from / to San Diego. It was some eight hours from San Diego to Ensenada Mexico, where we docked to have passports checked, and then a long 18 +/- hours to Isla Guadalupe. Note that the return trip is the same itinerary, in reverse, with a stop in Ensenada before entering U.S. waters. Along the way out to Guadalupe, a large pod of dolphins escorted us. The sea can often be a bit rough to quite rough, with good swells causing a fair bit of roll onboard. Owing to timing, much of the initial leg is spent hanging out in main cabin getting to know fellow divers, with folks eventually heading to their beds – sleep and good anti motion sickness remedies work well. Most folks used some combination of ear patch and oral medication. It’s a long drive, so be smart and just bring your meds.

The Boat:
You won’t “Need bigger boat”  The MV Horizon the Horizon is roughly 80 feet long with 8 state rooms and several bunks. There are two restrooms and showers that are shared by all. The accommodations (two persons to a room with curtain for privacy and in bunks) are not lux, but they are nice, and you won’t care anyway  The Horizon is used only as diving vessel; and that’s all season long. They determine who bunks together once everyone arrives in San Diego, based on number of couples, individual travelers, etc. The sleeping quarters are below,, and the main cabin contains the galley and a series of booths along each side used for dining and spending time together with travelers in route or between dives. Net / net, this is a large and comfortable boat.

The Cages:
There are two, kept on deck astern for the trip and each night when diving is completed. For each day’s diving, each is suspended off, but affixed to, the stern at the surface (that is, they do not sink below) – so you simply climb down a ladder and into the cage (easy); and each easily holds four divers. One cage is aft port, one aft starboard. You will alternate each dive, so that everyone has plenty of time in each cage.

 The Dives:
The divers are assigned to two teams. Each team dives for an hour, and then rests and re-hydrates for an hour while the alternate team dives. Each team has four people in each cage, and the team alternates cages each time, so everyone gets to try both cages and gets plenty of dive time and rest. There were a couple days of early open diving as well – starting just after sunrise – during which anyone who preferred could climb into either cage.

The crew will size you for suits, equipment, weights, and Martin himself oriented each of us to breathing via air hose and made sure we comfortable before we stepped fully down into the cage.
Safety is primary and at no point was anything but utterly assured all was well and well in control. No divers are ever permitted out of the cages – for the sake of the sharks, the marine preserve, as well as the divers. You are completely safe at all times. There were folks of all ages, bith genders, and widely varying experience levels. Past trips have included folks in their 60’s and 70’s, and quite young divers as well. The always amazing Cindy at Shark Diver can advise on particulars.

Breathing with the hookah system is easy – no metal tanks to strap on, simply a long hose that goes from on deck tank system to each diver’s regulator (mouthpiece through which you breathe). So, if you’ve ever snorkeled and used a mask, you’ll be just fine. The cages are beyond sturdy, offer complete visibility around, above and below, and are plenty large enough for each set of divers.

The Purpose:
In addition to the opportunity provided to guests to see these amazing creatures, each shark observed is photographed (Martin, Nicole and the divers get to participate in this) and compared to a database of previously observed sharks. New sharks are named and tracked in the database each successive year. This is a joint effort between the Marine Conservation Science Institute (MCSI) and Shark Diver. 

#172 Freya a shark that was newly named this season.

Newly identified sharks on a particular dive are named by the people on the dive in a bidding process (proceeds of which go to the MCSI and shark research effort). On a side note, I was fortunate enough from a 2014 dive with Shark Diver to name one – Hooper (after the Richard Dreyfuss oceanographer character in Jaws) – great fun and a great way to support the cause.

# 159 Hooper

Isla Guadalupe is home to a marine preserve and a research station manned by a researcher named Mauricio – who will visit the Horizon and give an excellent presentation with Martin on Great White Sharks and the Isla Guadalupe Bio Sphere.

The Shark Diver Team:
Martin Graf, the CEO and dive leader, teacher, host is a deeply experienced and great guy. He is hands on, overseeing everything on the dives. He also gives talks and a presentation to the divers on Isla Guadalupe, Great White Sharks, and many experiences with both. If Nicole Nasby Lucas (again, researcher from MCSI) is leading Science Expedition, she, too, will give a fine presentation, talk. Both Martin and Nicole worked each evening on identified sharks seen from photographs taken during the day. All the reservations, logistics, arrangements, and care taking of the divers before and after is led by the excellent and omnipresent Cindy Michaels, their Director of Communications – Cindy was a rock star and took care of every question and need leading up to the trip.

The Horizon Crew:
In a word, excellent. Experienced captain, crew – professional, easy going, genuinely friendly, and they take care of anything you might need. I cannot say enough good things about the crew of the Horizon.

The Food:
As noted elsewhere, the food is outstanding. The quality and quantity of the meals is positively surprising and uniformly excellent. There is also beer and wine aboard. There are large and delicious breakfasts every morning cooked to order, excellent lunches (including Sashimi), and absolutely fantastic dinners, including prime rib near end of stay. The galley will account for you preferences and restrictions with no problem.

Thank you David Moore! We appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with us and our future divers. We are glad you enjoyed your expedition and hope to see you again on another shark trip.

Martin Graf
CEO Shark Diver

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at

Do sharks feel pain?

There have been quite a few articles written on wether sharks feel pain or not. There is a lot of contention on both sides of the issue and the debate has gotten quite personal and ugly.

“Dr. Bob” with big bite marks on his gills.

“DaShark” has summarized what’s going on quite well and you can read his thoughts in his blog here.

I’m on the fence on the issue myself. I love sharks and personally would like to see a complete ban on shark fishing. Having said that, I know that this is an unrealistic expectation and that is why Shark Diver started the shark free marina initiative and began working with shark tournaments to include a catch and release division. Now catch and release has become highly controversial as well, specially in light of post release mortality and the above mentioned “can sharks feel pain” debate. Catch and release, with it’s post release mortality rate, is certainly not ideal, but it’s far better than catch and kill, with a 100% mortality rate.

As far as the pain is concerned, I’m not a scientist, so I can’t argue with scientific facts. I have been diving with great white sharks at Isla Guadalupe for 14 years and my observations have led me to think that they do not feel pain like we do.

Ila France Porter, in her blog, writes “Since animals cannot tell us how they feel, scientists have searched indirectly for evidence about their subjective experiences, in the studies of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and behavior. Researchers have developed strict criteria, all of which need to be met, before they can conclude that an animal can feel pain”. 

Fish meet all of these criteria, as has been shown in a wide variety of experiments. (Sneddon et al 2003, Reilly et al 2008). 

The blog further states that “the animal should be able to learn to avoid a painful stimulus. This should be so important to the animal that it avoids the threat of pain right away. The painful event should strongly interfere with normal behavior — it should not be an instantaneous withdrawal response, but long-term distress.”

and “Yet no evidence has ever been produced to support the idea that an animal could live successfully, and survive, without the ability to feel pain, which is an important warning sensation. It would result in inappropriate behaviour, and the fish would go straight into evolution’s garbage can. Only a small percentage of fish who come into the world live to adulthood, and any weakness would doom them”

My problem with these statement is this. If they are true, how would white sharks, along with other species, whose mating is an extremely painful event, survive? If their feeling of pain causes them to  “avoid the threat of pain right away” and “the pain strongly interferes with their normal behavior”, wouldn’t they learn to avoid mating in the first place and thus become extinct?

The very survival of a lot of sharks is dependent on what would be a very painful mating procedure, pain, that this article says the animal feeling it, would avoid at all cost.

I know, this is not going to be popular, but based on the above reasons and my observation of sharks with severe bit wounds, like “Chugey” in this picture, swimming around without any signs of distress, I’m not convinced that they feel pain in any way similar to humans.

Like I stated above, I’m not a fan of catch and release fishing and don’t want people to mistreat any living creature. What I’m saying though is this. If we want something to change, we have to address it scientifically and not emotionally. It’s easy to convince other people who love sharks as much as we do to protect them. If we want to save sharks, we have to convince those who do not share our love for the sharks to change. In order to do that, we need scientific facts and not rhetoric.

Martin Graf
CEO Shark Diver

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at

“Sharknado” is real!

When the syfy channel aired “sharknado” last year, we all assumed that unlike  the Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives! “documentary” on the Discovery channel, it was meant to be a spoof. Well, we have been wrong.


Just before the release of “Sharknado 2”, Tara Reid, in an interview with GQ magazine said:  

“I mean, the chances of it happening are very rare, but it can happen actually. Which is crazy. Not that it – the chances of it are, like, you know, it’s like probably ‘pigs could fly’. Like, I don’t think pigs could fly, but actually sharks could be stuck in tornados. There could be a sharknado.” 

Ahhhh,…… well,……. wow!

Tara, I mean the chances of it happening are very rare, but it can happen actually, which is crazy, not that it, the chances of it are rare, like, you know, it’s like you actually have a coherent thought, like I don’t think you could have a coherent thought, but actually you could be waking up one day, with a coherent thought. You could actually make sense one day!

In a related story, Discovery Channel has announced that Tara Reid will be joining them as a “shark expert” on  shark after dark.  We applaud their decision to add Tara to their lineup of shark experts. It will greatly improve the quality of those experts.

If you want to see those sharks in their natural environment, before they’re all sucked up in a tornado, join us on one of our our expeditions.

Martin Graf
Shark Diver 

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at

Good news? Bad news?

Popular wisdom holds that Sharks do not get cancer. That is why shark cartilage is widely used to prevent/treat cancer. Turns out that popular wisdom is once again proven wrong. According to an article in “livescience” sharks can indeed get cancer. …

Coming face to face with a great white shark. A spiritual experience?

We just finished our 2013 season, diving with Great White Sharks at Isla Guadalupe. We had the pleasure to be able to introduce 173 divers to our smiling friends!

Here is a letter from Jen Saunders, one of our divers, describing her experience.

A Shark Story: The Day I Saw God (He Healed Me)
As the only agnostic member from a devout Protestant household, I was always the black sheep at family reunions and was probably prayed for by aunts, uncles and grandparents more than anyone else in the Saunders clan. I just never bought into the whole “God thing”, but always maintained the highest respect for all walks of faith and those who follow various teachings. 
The year before my father passed away from pancreatic cancer we had a conversation about faith and God. My father, a retired professor of English literature, asked how I could feel complete without knowing and feeling the presence of a higher power. I simply replied by stating that his question was equivalent to one asking how I can sleep at night without having ever seen a space alien. My dad was unwavering in his notion that the little pit of emptiness I had always felt in the back of my soul stemmed from my disassociation with a spiritual deity, but it wasn’t until I journeyed to Isle de Guadalupe and gazed into the eyes of an 18 foot great white shark named Thor that this emptiness was filled with an awe for a god that had been absent all my life. 
As an avid scuba diver and lover of marine life, I had read various books on the great white shark. These creatures are pure perfection of evolutionary art. They boast six thousand pounds of muscle, are the only animal that devours its weaker siblings in the womb, is immune to cancer and is constantly awake. While navigating south from San Diego on the two-day boat ride, I thought about these facts and asked myself if there was a single creature higher than the great white so designed to live forever. 
Before I open the pages into the details of my spiritual awakening, permit me to set the stage: Upon entering the cage it only took about 10 minutes before the first shark appeared. It circled the cage carefully studying each diver. In the movie ‘Jaws’ the rugged shark hunter Quint states that great whites have “lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes”, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Great whites have a variety of eye colors that include blue and brown. Additionally, each shark made eye contact with every single diver. Later that day a great white named Thor made eye contact with me. I don’t know if sharks can sense emotions in humans or if our heart rates serve as a language they can understand. I stared into Thor’s eyes and felt a calming wave of warmth wash across the face of my soul. I looked into his intelligent eyes with awe and total respect, as a misunderstood creature, and marveled at his powerful mass. Just then he moved in and slowly approached the cage while never breaking eye contact with me. Then, two feet from the cage bars, he broke his path and headed to the right of the cage. Before he vanished into the blue, he swerved to the side and met my gaze once more, as if he was saying “farewell for now fellow soul”.
We shared a moment. I was sure of this. As a well-travelled individual who has lived and seen enough to fill 10 lifetimes, never had I witnessed something so spiritually moving. I felt the presence of a divine being within this shark. This powerful, sensitive creature that never sleeps imprinted his soul into mine. 
Two months later I can happily report that the emptiness I once felt has been filled. Perhaps my father was right; it may be that my soul simply needed to be filled with the spirit or energy of something ethereal and divine. 

Going face-to-face with a great white shark isn’t just reserved for the thrill-seeker or the curious. This is an excursion I would recommend to anyone who feels a void deep within their being, or someone who is suffering from any number of personal or health issues. The great white shark is a healer; he is the misunderstood shaman of the sea. 

Coming face to face with a Great White Shark can mean a lot of things to different individuals. What is universal is the fact that you will never forget the first time a Great White Shark looked you straight into the eyes.
Let’s go shark diving!
Martin Graf
Shark Diver

About Shark Diver. As a global leader in commercial shark diving and conservation initiatives Shark Diver has spent the past decade engaged for sharks around the world. Our blog highlights all aspects of both of these dynamic and shifting worlds. You can reach us directly at