Monday, October 13, 2008

Filmmaker's Journal: great white shark biopsy

In my capacity as a filmmaker with a special interest in nature, I've had the opportunity to film some fascinating animals. Sharks in particular, like tiger sharks or great whites, can be exciting because 1.) you're in the presence of an apex predator - not that you're on the menu, but 2.) they can be unpredictable.

In filming a sequence for Island of the Great White Shark involving taking a biopsy sample, the plan was to lure a white shark close to the cage to allow the researcher, Mauricio Hoyos, to take a small sample using a biopsy pole spear. Taking the hangbait, the shark turned unexpectedly towards the cage and there were a few tense moments as the shark, weighing in between 1,500 and 2,000 lb., thrashed back and forth, slamming the cage several times with its tail before turning aside and moving on. Being in the cage at that moment was like standing inside one of those huge Buddhist temple bells; with each swing of its tail, the "gong" effect of the rattling cage could be felt right through your bones!

While responsible shark diving means not exposing the "paying customers" to unncessary risks for both the sake of the shark and the diver, researchers and professional documentarians often put themselves in less than ideal situations. As a filmmaker, you occasionally get to offset hours of tedium with a few heart-thumping moments of pure adrenaline.

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