Into hostile territory to save the ocean
Text Scott Cassell | Photos Kerry Franciscovich
Sharks are the basis for many fears in Man, including myself. My fear, however, is not of being attacked or eaten by a giant shark, rather, of a sea without them. Over the past 40 years, I have come to love sharks the way most people love beautiful dogs.
My love affair with sharks has led me to hand feed grey reef sharks, rolling them over and even petting them, riding Great Whites and playing “fetch” for nearly an hour with a 900-pound Tiger shark off the Bahamas using a car license plate with a 6-foot line attached. She would swim off to pick up the license plate and swim near me again so I could grab the line and yank it out of her mouth, which she reacted to with apparent enjoyment, then I would toss it away like a Frisbee only to have the process repeated again and again.
Not so long ago, off SoCal, I would dive with dozens of blue sharks for hours on each kelp patty without chumming. Over the years, it became harder to find blue sharks until almost overnight, they all went away.
During my career, I spent years as a combat diver, sniper and counterterrorism operative, which I don’t discuss. I’m still hired as an independent contractor and my work involves sneaking into hostile bodies of water and using reconnaissance techniques; we go in and look for bad guys in teams of two. Simple is better. These techniques work well for protecting sea life!
On one dive, I filmed the illegal catch of shark being pulled up to its death by a coward. I felt a sharp scratch on my chest… as I moved my camera away from my face I saw a broom handle next to my cheek… then felt the boat hook puncture my wetsuit, then the skin on my lower chest, and wedge into my xiphoid process and muscle. The panga fishermen had hooked me and tried to pull me up… but my head was wedged against the hull.
The O2 cylinder on my LAR V (closed-circuit O2 rebreather) stopped the hook from entering further, so I drew my fighting knife and slid the blade up the broom handle until I felt his hand, then I shoved my knife into his hand hard and cranked it over breaking the bones. He dropped the broom handle and yanked away so fast I lost my knife.
Final score? I got the shots of his lawless act and his $10 boat hook (plus a few scars). He got my $200 fighting knife (and reduced dexterity).
Like night diving? I often use a LAR V to stealthily swim dive about half a mile (with no lights), sneaking into marine preserve harbours in the middle of the night, swimming underneath poacher boats and crawling onto land. I then disguise myself as a bush and spend two unmoving days capturing the poachers’ faces and boat numbers with night vision and a thermal camera. I have filmed them killing sea turtles, dolphin and sharks inside reserves. Often, our evidence mysteriously ends up on a district attorney’s desk. Poachers and shark fishermen are cowards. I’ve put over 10 poachers in prison.
Besides strong currents, cold water and risking boat strikes, I have also had to “tangle” with man-sized aggressive Humboldt squid. Over the years, these squids have broken my wrist several times (as I guard my face and life support gear), pulled my right shoulder out of its socket, ripped my face and neck open with their sucker disk ring teeth (they have about 30–50,000 of them) and ruptured my eardrum.
I’m impassioned about the declining shark population. Due to the popularity of shark fin soup and a bustling Chinese and Japanese economy, there have been more sharks and tuna killed in the last 20 years than all of history. The shrinking numbers have given rise to Humboldt squid, what I call the locust of the ocean. Sharks give birth to 10 to 20 pups in a lifetime. A single female Humboldt squid may have 20 million eggs! Without predators to keep them in check, the squid are wreaking havoc on the ocean’s ecosystem. It’s one indicator of many that oceans are failing.
The 25th anniversary of the largest and longest running dive show, Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) is set to occur on the 11-14th April 2019 in Singapore. Centred on the theme – Plastic free Future, ADEX is more than just a dive show with its commitment to the environment. Among an exciting lineup of programs, attendees can look forward to a Future Forward Series of Panel Discussion on the Single-Use Plastic Conundrum in Asia, on 13th April.
So join us at the event, get inspired and for all you know, you might just liberate the inner diver in you! More details of the event here.