LOCATION: Cocos Island, Costa Rica
STORY: Cocos Island is a tiny speck of land, located about 300 miles west of mainland Costa Rica. It’s an incredibly tough journey, usually involving lots of seasickness medication, and then puking all that medication up. But after the 36-hour weight-loss program, you arrive at the Land of the Sharks. This is advanced diving, not just because of it’s remote location and distance from medical facilities, but also because of it’s unpredictable currents, deeper than average depths, and it’s abundance of beautiful apex predators in the form of tiger sharks, Galapagos sharks, Silkies, duskies, white-tips, silver-tips, and my personal reason for coming – the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), which schools only in a few locations on Earth.
On this 12-day voyage, 4 days were eaten up getting there & back, leaving only 8 days to dive & shoot the underwater photos of sharks that I had previously envisioned and sketched out. And on an average trip, there are usually only 1 or 2 days available for going to the distant underwater coral pinnacle where the hammerheads sleep in schools during the day. I knew from experience and research that when there’s a group of divers, the exhalation bubbles typically wake and scare off this shy & skittish species, so I made a plan. Using my connections, I had already started to chat up the captain & crew before arriving. And when I arrived, I was, I must admit, pretty relentless in my polite, but nagging requests to be taken there alone. At first, the Spanish-speaking crew was insistent that this pinnacle was too far out, too deep, too remote, too dangerous. But I have my ways! And eventually, we made a plan for me to get my dream shot.
With the captain and a dive crew on the dingy, we motored 75 minutes to the spot, examined the current & conditions, and agreed on me coming to the surface at exactly 45 minutes, shooting my safety sausage (big inflatable orange floaty thing) on a reel to the surface at exactly 40 minutes, and doing a 5 minute shallow stop. I was to go directly down to 110′ to look for the school just below the tip of the underwater pinnacle, and had my breathing gas optimized for 145′, since I needed to get below them. I backrolled off the dingy, the crew handed me my camera, I got to 5′ deep to start my descent, and what I saw completely shocked me.
The school wasn’t ~120′ below the surface, as expected, but rather occupying the water column between 35 and 15′ deep. They were literally right underneath me, and the school was heading right for me! I expelled the CO2 from my lungs in a series of short but full breaths as I was barreling downwards to 40′ deep, flipped upside down, and held motionless as the school passed silently overhead. Squinting into the sun through the viewfinder, I fired off multiple shots, and just before the urge to breath overcame me, I remembered why I became an underwater wildlife photographer in the first place. I took just a moment to stop clicking, and just take in the glory of this once-in-a-lifetime experience that is perhaps the world’s greatest wildlife spectacle. That moment passed quickly as my puffed cheeks released, and my cloud of bubbles rushed upwards. They scattered, and I knew I wouldn’t see them again, now that they were aware of my presence.
So I immediately floated my safety sausage, and was the the surface a minute or two later. The dingy was only 100′ away, but I could already see their look of concern, as they weren’t expecting me for another 40 minutes. “Que ocurre?” “Cual es el problema?” they shouted. “Nada – lo tengo! Ya terminine!”, I replied. They were in disbelief, but after I got on the boat, I told them how shallow the hammerheads were, and after I showed them the shots on the back LCD of my camera as proof, they said to me that in their 10 & 12 years there respectively, they had never seen them shallower than 85′. I guess it was my lucky day! But I prefer the old saying; “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”.
Some other photographs that have a similar feel, see the grey reef sharks in Smooth and Sleek and the mobula rays in Squadron. And for a deeper dive into the techie nature of the photograph itself, read the October 2023 blog post where I describe how the newest version of Photoshop v25.1 was able to breath new life into this photo.
For printing, Hammerheads is flexible for cropping away from it’s native ratio of 3:2 into 2:1 or 3:1 panoramic art, or even a square, and is available up to a maximum of 120″ wide. You can purchase this luxury wall art online in our standard sizes, but if you’d like to discuss a custom crop or size, please contact one of our design consultants at the art gallery. Get it printed on aluminum if your décor is more contemporary and has good lighting, or get it printed on canvas if your décor is more transitional or traditional, and the lighting isn’t set up for highlighting artwork. For canvas pieces, our silver floater frame adds an elegant touch.
For some history & tech-talk about the original processing, and then modern re-processing of Hammerheads, check out this blog post.