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How beautiful they are, the longfin sharks! I loved to observe and photograph them in the Red Sea. But I must admit, they are also a bit scary...
Fascinating face-to-face with sharks
Whale sharks, hammerheads, blacktip and whitetip sharks, grey reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks, thresher sharks, walker sharks, bearded sharks... This is not the first time that I have the chance to observe, photograph or film sharks while diving.
But longan sharks, also known as oceanic sharks (Carcharhinus longimanusof their scientific name), this is something new for me!
Below is a short 30-second video, made in the Red Sea in October 2016during a cruise on board l'Exocetby one of my diving buddies, Doniphane Lachat. We can see a longiman coming to meet me, not really frightened by my little person...
The longfin can measure 2 to 3 meters long. It is a magnificent shark! I find it very beautiful, very photogenic, almost elegant with its long fins (hence its name of longiman shark or "long hand") with a rounded white tip and its faithful cohort of small pilot fish.
What a look! And watching him swim is absolutely fascinating.
Here is the series of three photos I took during this little face-to-face that you can see in the video:
Brothers Islands, the two brothers
I came out of the water with stars in my eyes, after my very first encounter with a longiman. And I will see more of them during the following dives! It was at the Brothers, two arid and isolated islets in the Red Sea, in Egyptian waters.
Big Brother and Small Brother are famous diving spots and the area is a protected marine park. When the swell is not too unfavorable, you can also explore two wrecks.
The Brothers Islands are located far off the coast, their drop offs are exposed to the currents and go down to several hundred meters of depth, so that you can meet a fauna called pelagic (which lives in the open sea and does not normally come close to the coasts) in addition to the usual small reef fauna.
In addition to the longimans, I saw a huge tuna and barracudas. Several of my diving companions managed to observe a thresher shark and hammerheads. As for the coral, it seemed less spectacular than in Indonesia, but some parts of the reef are splendid.
For a more detailed description of the Brothers and the diving conditions, I refer you to this page of the DAN website:
A "detail" that made me appreciate being on the huge and comfortable Exocet The crossing to the Brothers takes long hours and is not exactly a quiet sea ride, at least during my visit in October. The swell and the waves can be strong. Several of us were sick and I, who didn't think I was prone to seasickness, must admit that I wasn't very strong on the way there...
On the way back, it was much better: I didn't play hard to get, I opted for the pill against sea sickness. Effective!
A dirty reputation
Even among divers and ocean lovers, the longiman has the reputation of being a shark to be wary of.
"This species has a bit of a dog-like behavior, explains the underwater photographer Phil Simha, organizer of the cruise, the day before our immersions to the Brothers. The longiman is curious, opportunistic, it comes to prowl under the boats, and everything that moves on the surface attracts it. Underwater it is not afraid to approach divers, to come sometimes in contact..."
In short, where most of the other sharks I have already met while diving prefer to keep their distance when they meet a group of sharks with plumes of bubbles, the longiman, on the contrary, will be intrigued, attracted, and will willingly come to see what is going on...
Update 2017. I crossed again the path of longiman sharks, by returning to dive in the Red Sea in November 2017, still on board theExocetone year after the dive-cruise I talk about here. I invite you to watch below the video I made, where I was given a very close look at a very (too) curious longiman:
Although I find it beautiful, the sinister reputation of the longiman is not really usurped. These last years, in the Red Sea, there were deadly attacks (one in 2009, several in 2010 and one in 2015, among others). Each time, bites inflicted from underneath or from behind, on people swimming on the surface, swimmers or snorkelers. But never on submerged bottle divers, to my knowledge.
Updated 2018. There were unfortunately at the Brothers two cases of bites on scuba divers in 2018, one on the thigh, the other on the calf. I take this opportunity to add below the educational sheet designed by Steven Surina of Shark Educationon the right attitude to adopt when you are in the presence of a shark underwater:
Very strict instructions
On the boat, we are seriously briefed before our dives at the Brothers, territory of fascinating and worrying longimanes ...
It is forbidden for snorkelers to go in the water and for everyone else to splash around in the sea. To observe sharks, only bottle diving is allowed, with a few precautions: one should avoid hanging around on the surface during the immersion as well as during the ascent, one should stay together underwater, especially when one is under boats where sharks like to hang around, and, at the end of the dive, one should not surface all together but one after the other.
Of course, you are asked not to lose your buddy, to stay calm underwater and to keep an eye on the blue in different directions...
Drift in the blue
But during one of our dives in Small Brother, my partner Françoise had the misfortune to lose her camera, while launching from the stern of theExocet. There is a lot of swell, I just went down a few meters to wait for him and, already a little displaced by the current, I attend the scene under the surface, powerless.
I'm a little too far away to rush in and try to recover the device, which I can only watch sink... 😱 The longiman that roams near the boat and that I watch out of the corner of my eye is sharper than me. But it immediately loses interest in this non-eatable object, which continues its race towards the depths... There is a hundred meters of bottom where we are moored, alas, which makes any recovery project impossible.
Atrociously frustrated, terribly disappointed, Françoise still wants to go diving and joins me, with big sad eyes behind her mask. 😢 I sympathize wholeheartedly and check again that my own device is well secured, attached to my stabilizer vest .
We stayed at a shallow depth, between 10 and 5 meters, captivated by the spectacle of this longiman that turned around us. As a result, we drifted, and when we started to swim again, it was already too late: we moved away from the reef of the island, towards which we were supposed to go. After a few minutes, we came across a group of other divers from theExocet. A little lost too, one would say. Like us, they were surprised by the surface current ...
But it is two longimanes which turn around us now! And they pass very close. What luck! I was a bit disappointed by the dives at Big Brother, where not a single shark had deigned to cross my path. But Small Brother is a real treat for me! The longimanus are there and they are there. And they are not shy models... 😮
We are several photographers in the group and everybody is quite happy, I think, to be able to take pictures... But anyway, we have been drifting for a while without really knowing where we are. It is better to report without further delay to the surface and to go back up. This dive lasted only 20-30 minutes instead of the usual 50-60... But what intense minutes!
One of us deploys his parachute (for the non-divers: it is a buoy in the shape of sausage, that we fill with air under water and that we let rocket towards the surface, so that the boatman spots us and knows where to come to recover us). The Zodiac appears at once. Françoise is the first to go up. One by one, we hoist ourselves on board of the dinghy, without encumbrance, while those who wait under water watch the sharks which pass and pass again.
Of course, we all have a touching thought for the last one of the group to come back up: alone under the parachute, he lived a little moment of solitude with the longimans... Rich in emotions, this dive! I will not forget it.
Overfishing and fin soup
I came back amazed from this Red Sea cruise thanks to the longimanes. But like many other sharks, the species is a victim of overfishing: its huge fins are highly coveted for the Asian market, where they end up in soup in restaurants or in supposedly medicinal or aphrodisiac remedies...
As the longiman willingly follows boats, cetaceans and schools of pelagic fish for opportunism, it also often ends up in the so-called by-catch...
Widespread in all tropical seas of the world, it was once one of the most abundant sharks. Today, it is one of the most threatened. Will the conservation measures and regulations put in place succeed in reversing the trend? The longfin shark figures on the IUCN global red list (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and in 2013 it was added to Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
I realize how lucky I am, as a simple tourist diver, to have been able to observe these magnificent sharks in their natural environment. In ten or twenty years, if the shark-finning (finning) continues at the same pace as today, there will be nothing left to observe under the sea...