Underwater cameraman Jason Isley, co-founder of the underwater filming and photography company Scubazoo, takes us back to a storm on the sea where he feared for the worst.
Back in 2001, we heard stories of an island in the Philippines where it was said you could encounter thresher sharks on a daily basis. Of course this was the now-famous Malapascua, to the north of Cebu Island, but back then there were just two resorts in the entire place and hardly any video footage or images of threshers to be found online. During the first week, we were completely blown away by the regular sightings of the sharks underwater, but little did we know we were about to be very literally blown away topside!
At that time, my main role was as an underwater cameraman, but I was also taking my marine stills photography very seriously. So I hatched a plan to try and make the most of my time underwater at the shark cleaning station. I took the video camera down as normal, plus a tripod with an extra weight belt to keep it secure on the rubble, but I also brought my underwater DSLR along, complete with strobes. After positioning the tripod in the cleaning station and pressing record on the video camera, I would back off and wait patiently, hoping to capture some still images. On one particular morning, I could feel the surge down at 20 metres. I was alone at one of the cleaning stations and when I glanced up at the surface, the conditions were not looking good. As there were no sharks around, I decided to cut the dive short, gathered all the kit and slowly made my way to the surface.
Once there, I could see that the bow of the boat, where the ladder was located, was giving the sea an almighty spanking. I swam for the ladder and attempted to pass the video camera up to the crew; they snatched it from my hands along with the extra weight belt before the ladder decided my head was next for a spanking. Eventually, I managed to gather myself and throw the tripod onto the boat, but when I reached down to grab the DSLR, I found it had come loose from my BCD attachment. In a moment of panic, I swam around on the surface, but my search was in vain. It had simply disappeared. After a very rough journey back to the resort, I reported my sad loss to the dive manager.